Saturday, November 25, 2006

#326 - A Troubled Path In (Not To) the White House

ccwbass at Way Off Bass [Full Disclosure Statement: Yes, he is my literal brother by birth. Deal with it.] points out the rising tide of interest in Mitt Romney's seemingly inevitable campaign for President.

In this case, "interest" may not necessarily represent a good thing, depending on which side of Romney's de facto campaign you happen to be. I, of course, think it can only be a good thing to have a faithful Latter-day Saint in the White House. So much should be obvious. But I advise caution on one point:

Having a Latter-day Saint in the White House does not equal having an infallible man in the White House.

I say this without having given Brother Romney a whole lot of study. I say this more from the perspective of one who has come away from election after election being disappointed in the reality versus the promise of any given candidate - particularly those who have ended up in the White House.

In 1976 I was just barely old enough (I'd made the deadline by something like a whole week) to vote in the general election. In fact, I turned 18 between the primary and the general, so I hadn't even participated fully in the decision-making process that year. It goes without saying that my only recollection of that election was the choice between Ford or Carter for President. Even though a purely nascent Republican at the time, I remember instinctively mistrusting Carter. Perhaps it was his smile. I well remember the old joke that said "never trust a smiling politician." The problem is, they all smile when they're running for office.

Anyway, Carter made it to the office having ridden a wave of anti-Establishment sentiment. "I will clean house," he'd said, hoping that we would believe that Nixon's criminal misuse of the office was somehow the only thing that needed fixing. Ford had been the "caretaker" President, and never could get folks behind him. His "healing act" of pardoning Nixon was, I suspect, the true death knell of his too-short term in office. Inflation and other national woes might have been overlooked but for that.

There is no doubt that Carter is a good man. If we measured him strictly by his adherence to his beliefs (and isn't this what Romney will be subjected to over and over again?) he stands as a man of far more integrity than, say, Clinton. Reagan was another man of integrity who simply let his government get away from him. His personal beliefs never wavered, but he had many unscrupulous people working for him. This had the effect of tainting his presidency with hints of scandal while he himself seemed able to rise above them to the end of his term.

Both Bushes have been men of integrity as to their personal beliefs, but both men have also been products of the professional political machine. In other words, while their intentions have been honorable, they both have shown blindness to some principles so they could defend their actions to pursue other means. This makes them good but misguided men.

As one who sees another Clinton in office as one of the predicted signs of the Apocalypse, I must look once again to the Republican slate of candidates in 2008. McCain will court the moderates because he knows that's where the safer high ground lies. But Mitt Romney has a triple disadvantage where the national press is concerned. He is not only a conservative (as opposed to McCain's moderate), but he is a right wing conservative by association. Worse still, in the eyes of a rather large voting bloc, he is a Mormon right-winger, which will have him continually being roasted and barbecued by the Southern Baptist Convention, among others.

Fortunately, the SBC has not had a wonderful track record of predicting winners or losers in any given election. They will be, however, a force to be reckoned with in the press, which is where this coming election is most likely to be fought.

But let us assume for a moment that Romney somehow keeps it clean and finds himself sitting in the White House. Mission accomplished, right?

Not entirely.

The first thing Romney will find himself fighting is the long-established, well-oiled machine that is Washington politics. He will find himself - as every president has ever done - having to dance with the devil to get things accomplished. And the "devil" does not necessarily represent the guys who voted for the Donkeys, if you get my drift. As Reagan found, the devil often masquerades as a trusted advisor who is left to manage things pretty much on his (or her) own and conveniently fails to inform the Commander in Chief when treading a treacherous path. Thus the Chief Executive becomes guilty by association, and any attempt to correct such things "quietly" always becomes a scandal of cover-up.

Could such a thing happen to MItt Romney? Of course. And this would be the bad thing. Not just because such a thing might happen, but because such a thing might happen to a "Mormon" president of the United States.

I say this because it has always amazed me that the press reports things two ways: Either a man bit a dog (news), or a Mormon man bit a dog (bigger news!). It never fails. No matter how significant the crime, it always becomes somehow more significant if committed by a Mormon. Always.

You know that scene in the book "All the President's Men" where the crooks are brought before the judge at their arraignment and one of them, when asked his name and occupation, mumbles "CIA" under his breath? Remember how that catapulted Watergate from "just another break-in" status to "full-blown constitutional crisis" status in, like, fifty pages? This is what happens whenever the term "Mormon" is applied to any report of a crime, scandal, or misunderstanding as reported in the press.

So, yes, I root for a Romney campaign. Given the current choice, I'd much rather have a Romney than a McCain in office come 2009. But I'm also realistic enough to realize that no matter who takes that office is going to have their hands full if they wish to both govern and yet remain a person of integrity.

It just goes with the territory.

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