Thursday, May 20, 2010

No Apology

I try to make it a habit to read books that are outside of my comfort zone. I just don’t think it’s healthy to walk around and only accept input that just reinforces what you already know or want to believe. So that’s why I decided to read No Apology: The Case for American Greatness by Mitt Romney.

Some have accused me of being an antagonist who just goes against the grain of those around me because I enjoy that. I’ve done a fair amount of introspection on this subject and I can completely accept why they might come to that conclusion. I do have a tendency to play devil’s advocate just for sake of a discussion. It often gets interpreted as having opinions that I don’t necessarily have. I find that I have to careful not to adopt an opinion or belief just because I took that position in a discussion. A few weeks ago I had a discussion about organic gardening with a friend. He took one side and I took another. My real views on the subject are on the same side of the aisle as the position I took with him, but I do not share some of the extreme positions that I used rhetorically in our discussion. Those points were just brought up to get both of us to think about the issue.

Spending so much of my life around other Mormons I get a lot of people who just assume that I’m a fan of Romney. I personally believe that many of these people would vote for him just because he was a Republican and a Mormon without doing any further research on his positions and views. So quite a few times I’ve asked people leading questions worded something like “How do you feel about Romney’s position on X?” They then give me their view on X and assume that since they are Mormon and Republican that the two must jive. All too often they do not and it is apparent that they haven’t really done their research on the positions of the man they trust with their vote.

So with this in mind I read No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Now that I’m finished I think I’ve probably spent more time vetting this one particular candidate than I have ever spent on any other. I’m sure it’s the frequent subtle and not so subtle encouragements to give him my vote that have caused me to really be sure that I understand him. I just felt like I had to be sure that my opinions on Romney were based solely on the fact that I had gathered the facts on his positions and weighed them on their merits. I felt I had to make a conscious attempt to resist the knee-jerk reaction of going against the grain.

Had this book omitted the introduction I would have been able to accept it easier. Before chapter one even started Romney gives a list of things that the book is and what it is not. One thing he claimed that it was not was an attack on his opponents. Unfortunately, much of the book is exactly that, an attack on the policies of President Obama. As Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I think many of the President's positions deserve criticism. It’s just a little misleading when your introduction says you weren’t going to go down that road. The very title of the book is thinly veiled criticism of what he and other conservative have dubbed President Obama’s apology tour. I think an honest admission of fault is a sign of greatness and not a sign of weakness. I think we all know how hard it is to patch thing up with a friend or a family member when one side refuses to admit any wrong-doing. That being said I too think the President took it a little too far by showing up everywhere with his heart on his sleeve. I would add that all through this section I was very proud of Romney for always referring to the President as “President Obama” and not by a pejorative like so many other conservative writers do. Romney is a class act and his respect for the office even when he disagrees with its policies is something more of us could learn from.

If I were ever to vote for Romney it would be because of his profound understanding of finance and economics. His track record has proven this again and again. He has also showed that he has a clear ability to explain his position. The man is articulate and truly brilliant. I can’t for the life of me figure out how he lost the nomination. Perhaps it was that he was too articulate and didn’t have the folksy charm or the “wanna sit down and have a beer with” image.

I took a little bit of issue with his criticism of the Fair Tax. He has a different strategy for tax reform, actually one that I agree with more than the Fair Tax. But I was disappointed with how he defended his position. A common way to attack the Fair Tax has been, rather than to judge it on what it really is, to quote a few critics’ opinions of what it might look like once implemented and them destroy that straw man. He took the same tired path of ignoring the reduction in cost once the imbedded tax is removed and even increasing the new tax to a percentage that isn’t even proposed. Now, as I said, I actually like Mitt’s plan a little better since it doesn’t create such a huge windfall for the extremely rich. He just could have defended his position without having to take the same, logically flawed position that so many others have taken before him.

While speaking about Islamic fundamentalism Romney praised Jefferson for helping to create a form of government that is separate from religion. I found his praise of Jefferson comforting but also a little hypocritical from someone who so frequently uses his own religious views to attract votes and even thinks he is a better candidate because of his Mormon faith.

The chapters that I really found the most disheartening were the several chapters where he kept repeating the call for the U.S. to go back to its Cold War military strength. Romney’s foreign policy is little more than "peace through superior firepower" and might makes right. If we aren’t the world’s police officers then who would you choose? I found this false question amusing, and a little sad.

With these criticisms you might find it hard to believe that I am actually a little swayed towards voting for Romney based on reading this book. Right now his economic positions might be just what we need. I also was swayed by his immigration position (i.e. doing more to keep the most qualified immigrants in as well as protecting the borders). Despite my serious disagreements with his foreign policy right now his economic policies and tax reform ideas may be just what this country needs. I sure don’t see myself voting for him yet, but thanks to this book I’m more open-minded about him and I feel like I understand his views.

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