“While Romney is conservative, his approach to governing is not ideological,” writes Fred Barnes for the Weekly Standard in a puff piece titled The Man Who Wants to Fix Washington

“He’s super-pragmatic,” says an adviser. “He’s an eclectic conservative.” And this has alarmed several conservatives who have met with Romney. “He kept saying he’s a problem solver,” says an economic adviser who believes this would put Romney at a disadvantage in Washington. “He may not be ideological, but Nancy Pelosi certainly will be.”


So what guarantee do we have that Romney will not, on pragmatic grounds, abandon his newly improvised conservative line as quickly or as easily as he acquired it?

Answer: none.


Back to Barnes:

The Romney way is very simple. It consists of attacking a problem or considering an issue or policy through vigorous debate, with dissenting opinions encouraged and outside advice eagerly sought, and relying on as much hard data as possible. At the end of the process, the leader makes a decision that may or may not coincide with the “vision” or “concept” or “framework”—Romney’s words—that initiated the discussion in the first place.

Here’s how Romney describes the process:

You diagnose the problem. You put the right team together to solve the problem. You listen to alternative viewpoints. You insist on gathering data before you make decisions and analyze the data looking for trends. The result of this process is, you hope, that you make better decisions. You typically also have processes in place to see if it’s working or not working, and you make adjustments from time to time.

This is the Romney way? Well, OK., but this is also the Harvard Method, i.e. standard case pedagogy. Here is a description we found at random using google:

Case method teaching as developed by the Harvard Business School is centered on the performance of the professor. Students prepare for class by reading a case study written by experienced case writers, select a strategy and prepare to defend it. If time permits, they discuss their work with a few classmates before coming to class. The real action is in the classroom. The professor, who is a skilled discussion leader, asks provocative questions, pits one student against another, compares alternative solutions and goads the class into reaching significant conclusions [Bonoma, 1989]. Given typically large class sizes, the individual student’s participation consists of one or two verbal contributions and a lot of watching and listening

The curriculum of the top-managerial and executive classes is the case method. Though case instruction invites inquiry and dissent from within a circle of executive adepti and specialists (i.e. the team), it is not a democratic process—it is the precise antithesis of a democratic process or even a political process—it is democratic only in the sense that e.g. the perilous court of an Abbasid Caliph, his wazirs, secretaries, client amirs, tribal elders, mercenary captains, and courtiers—was democratic. A typical business case centers on someone with a decision to make, their story, and lots of various data of varying degrees of relevance. The actor in every case is himself or herself an executive, a decision maker. It is with this actor that the student is to identify. The classroom becomes the conference room of the executive—like the court of the Caliph—where toadies and flunkies claw, scrape, and clamour to forward their solutions and verdicts to please the person of the executive. The process centers upon—i.e. is obsessed with—the person of the Caliph, er, we mean executive, who in the end gets to render a decision.

Please understand: the case method is not a method like the scientific method is a method. You can find examples of the sorts of cases that Romney must have used in his studies here.

Though we profess not in business but in the humanities, we use case pedagogy in our classroom too. We were trained in the Harvard Method by way of the Richard Ivey School, academics from which offer seminars in how to write teaching cases (we often teach in Canada). The chief limitation of case pedagogy for our purposes is this: teams require strong leaders otherwise they fail to perform. If a group has a strong leader the group may or may not perform, but it will be the strong leader doing most of the performing—the others will support the leader. Hence: it is a method and a pedagogy optimized to produce not citizens but executives (and their toadies) in the most abstract sense of the term.

Back to Barnes:

That’s it. Romney loves the give-and-take. “I have to see conflict,” he says. “The last thing you want is people coming in saying ‘We all agree. Here’s the recommendation.’ I know I don’t want to proceed on that basis.” As governor of Massachusetts, Romney balked at extending Boston’s mass transit system until he’d heard the case against it. Once he had, he decided to approve the extension.

Romney loves the give-and-take? He has to see conflict? Yes. But only within the ambit of his control, within his team, and he constantly preens himself on his “team building.” Please recall, Romney as Governor famously claims to have submitted conservative policies that his legislature merrily and effortlessly overrode. So his love of give-and-take and his need to see conflict apparently do not extend to the political process where he tends to alienate and estrange other actors in the process.

In the political process conflict and dissent are not contained within the safe confines of the team.

Romney used this method of analysis and decision-making for six years with Bain Consulting in Boston, where his task was reviving failing companies. He used it again for 15 years when he headed Bain Capital, which specialized in investing in start-ups and late-stage turnarounds. Romney emphasized it while keeping the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah from collapsing and later in putting together a health insurance plan for Massachusetts that covered all the state’s uninsured and got the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and Senator Ted Kennedy to sign on … etc.

This is what Romney offers?

Not a man but a method?

And not even an interesting method?

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 Vennochi: “You know how Romney is always promising to consult with experts to figure out the best solution to urgent problems? In Massachusetts, he ignored the experts with whom he consulted”—more about how Romney would organize his admi

    […] Romney would organize his administration on the model of an Abbasid Caliph according to Fred Barnes […]

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