Mitt Romney has a well-deserved reputation as risk-averse and cautious. His campaign team has made no secret of its strategy to have their man tiptoe to the presidency by focusing almost exclusively on President Obama’s stewardship of the economy. The execution of this strategy depends on Romney doing nothing to “distract” from the economy, meaning that Romney’s innate caution is being reinforced at every turn by those around him.
To some extent, this approach is understandable. For months, voters have told pollsters that the economy is the most important issue in the election, and handling the economy is one of the few issue areas where Romney enjoys a real advantage over Obama.
But there’s a downside, too. Voters may care most about the economy, but they don’t care only about the economy. And by seeking to avoid doing anything controversial, Romney has done some foolish things.
Bloomberg reported last week that Romney’s campaign had asked Florida governor Rick Scott to stop talking about the drop in unemployment in the state during Scott’s time in office. The story makes the Romney team look like it’s hoping for bad economic news. Not surprisingly, the Obama campaign quickly distributed the article as evidence that Romney wants to ignore good news about the economy. Scott understandably wants to tout his accomplishments and in a speech on Friday ignored Romney’s request. “We’ve had the biggest drop in unemployment than any state but one,” Scott said. “We’ve gone from 516,000 people on unemployment to 340,000.”
Earlier in the week, Romney made an appearance in Janesville, Wisconsin, as part of a bus tour of small towns the Obama administration has ignored. Representative Paul Ryan joined Romney on stage, along with Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ron Johnson. A local businessman who spoke at the event noted that Ryan is from Janesville and joked that Romney could make news by announcing him as his running mate. Walker introduced Romney to the enthusiastic crowd, which still seemed to be on a high from Walker’s recall triumph two weeks earlier.
Given that Romney was in -Ryan’s hometown in the state that has brought more excitement to the Republican party than almost anything since the 2010 midterms, one might have expected a discussion of Ryan’s work on entitlement reform or Walker’s impressive budget reforms and his electrifying victory on June 5. Indeed, one might have thought Romney would want to hold up these conservative reformers as a model for his own approach to post-Obama governance. Romney not only failed to do that, he made just one passing reference to either man—a promise to balance the budget as Wisconsin’s governor had done.
It was not just a missed opportunity; it was a slight. And several Wisconsin Republicans took note.
The following day, Jonathan Karl at ABC News reported that the Romney campaign had not asked Senator Marco Rubio for vice presidential vetting materials. There are reasons that Rubio as a running mate could be problematic (see Stephen F. Hayes’s May 14 piece in these pages on his relationship with Rep. David Rivera, R-Shady—“The Rise of Rubio”), but Rubio has huge upsides. He is probably the best public speaker in the Republican party; he has a firm grasp of policy details on everything from taxes to Syria; he generates enthusiasm with all kinds of voters—from independent Florida oldsters to Tea Party enthusiasts wearing tricornered hats. Oh, and in an election that will feature a pitched battle for Hispanic voters, his personal story is a compelling example of the American Dream.
But Karl’s story was accurate. Romney wasn’t giving Rubio a serious look—at least not until the report generated grumbling among top Republicans and conservatives outside of the Romney campaign. That response prompted the candidate to declare, in a rather bizarre statement, that he is in fact vetting Rubio very thoroughly. The fact that this back-and-forth came as Republicans tried to respond to Obama’s campaign maneuvering on immigration and on the day that Rubio launched his book tour made it even more painful.
Taken separately, these incidents might not be a big deal. But together, in the space of a week, they suggest a candidate and a campaign in a mutually reinforcing cycle of cautiousness. And the problem with strategy based on risk-aversion?
The bumptiousness of the left never ceases to amaze The Scrapbook.
There was the chanting demonstration against President George H. W. Bush in 1990 when he attended his brother-in-law’s funeral in Boston. There was Harvard’s refusal in 1987 to confer an honorary degree on Ronald Reagan—which was Harvard’s privilege, of course, but made ugly by its adolescent gesture of awarding a degree, instead, to Tip O’Neill. There was the rude—indeed, deliberately rude—and widely publicized response of poet Sam Hamill to his invitation to a 2003 White House literary symposium (“I was overcome by a kind of nausea . . . ”). Several days ago MSNBC talking head Lawrence O’Donnell spent some minutes on the air deriding Ann Romney’s interest in dressage as therapy for her multiple sclerosis.
But the winner of this week’s prize, in The Scrapbook’s judgment, is Sonia Pressman Fuentes, an 84-year-old cofounder of the National Organization for Women and former board member of the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington.
Since 1929, the Sewall-Belmont House has been the headquarters of the National Woman’s party, and the historic structure largely functions as a meeting place and museum of women’s rights and the suffrage movement. Every year the Sewall-Belmont board confers an award—the Alice Award, named for veteran suffragette Alice Paul—and past honorees include Tipper Gore, Billie Jean King, Cokie Roberts, Olympia Snowe, Evelyn Lauder, and Hillary Clinton.
This year the Alice Award will go to former first lady Laura Bush, whose commitment (in the executive director’s words) “to education, health care, and human rights . . . has made an impact on women’s lives both at home and abroad.” The Scrapbook would include her stalwart efforts on behalf of the status of Afghan women and her championship of women’s rights in the Middle East—where such efforts require a considerable measure of courage. But the board’s summary strikes The Scrapbook as a fair description of Laura Bush.
Not so, Sonia Pressman Fuentes, who, on behalf of 21 other self-described feminists, released a letter to the Sewall-Belmont board protesting the award in strikingly offensive terms. Laura Bush, she declared,
is not known as a champion of women’s rights. She has done little or nothing to advance American women’s equality. . . . [S]he has been conspicuously absent in every major arena of American women’s rights. . . . To give the Alice Award to such a partisan political figure in an election year is highly questionable. To give it to a non-feminist Republican figurehead, at a time when the Republican Party is doing its utmost to demolish women’s hard-fought rights, reflects a stunning lapse of judgment.
This is, of course, wholly inaccurate, deceptive, and deeply insulting. To its great credit, the Sewall-Belmont board has reaffirmed its choice of Laura Bush, and Sonia Pressman Fuentes’s letter has generated considerable public support for the former first lady and her long history of toil on behalf of women’s rights. This episode is, unfortunately, the sort of irritant that comes with life in the public eye.
It is, however, worth noting that Sonia Pressman Fuentes’s letter is sadly characteristic of what we might call left-wing intolerance. On the Sewall-Belmont website, for example, the recent event most lavishly touted was a luncheon in honor of Nancy Pelosi, who submitted to questions from MSNBC talking head Rachel Maddow.
And so The Scrapbook commends Sewall-Belmont House for its nonpartisan approach to the issue of women’s equality, in marked contrast to the rigid, dogmatic, intolerant, and uncouth response of Sonia Pressman Fuentes and her 21 fellow feminists.
The Scrapbook has its book bag packed for a vacation next week, and the volume we are most looking forward to is America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obama-crats)—the latest from our contributing editor David Gelernter.
We’ve already dipped into its bracing pages, with great pleasure. Here are a couple of samples:
It’s hard to believe, but the man we have elected president of the United States doesn’t know what he’s doing. . . . He has so often spoken and acted as if he didn’t know what he was doing, hadn’t mastered the minimum job requirements, that at last we have to face the truth. The man doesn’t know enough to be president.
How can that be, you might ask? The man is a graduate of Columbia and Harvard? Ah, there’s the rub: Obama is a product of what Gelern-ter terms “the rise of Imperial Academia”:
Elite universities had always been influential in American culture, but in the generation after World War II they took charge. Thereafter, American culture was in their hands, because of the enormous influence of their alumni and the direct influence of the institutions themselves—on journalism, business, the arts, every other college in the country and (most important) on grade school teaching at every level.
Buy your copy now!
Weekly Standard contributing editor Charles Kraut-hammer seeks a full-time research assistant for a one- or two-year tenure. Send résumé to firstname.lastname@example.org.