In the first presidential debate last week, Republican Mitt Romney made much of his working with Democrats in Massachusetts to pass health-care reform, a bipartisan initiative he said President Barack Obama failed to achieve in passing a very similar law on the national level.
Yes, Romney’s remark was silly: Of course Democrats worked with a then-moderate Republican governor to pass an initiative that they favored! If Romney had offered to raise taxes, the Democrats of Beacon Hill would probably have gone along with that, too. Ask yourself: How did the bipartisan Romney fare when he tacked to starboard, and, say, opposed stem cell research that he deemed morally objectionable? Veto overridden, stem cell research intact.
Journalist and author Robert Draper takes a deeper look at Romney’s gubernatorial tenure in this week’s New York Times Magazine, and a revealing look it is. Draper argues from history that Romney is anything but a bipartisan negotiator able to work across the aisle to get things done. The relevant passages:
But for the most part, the only unconventional ideas that Romney managed to enact were those he could ratify unilaterally.
Romney’s failure to master such a consensus had little to do with his party affiliation: other Republican governors in Massachusetts, like Frank Sargent and William Weld, long profited from excellent relations with their Democratic counterparts in the state Legislature. But what Sargent and Weld had that the Bain CEO lacked was experience in forming political alliances and reaching compromises.
Building grass-roots support was not part of Romney’s world experience, and he made almost no effort to enlist the public in his crusade.
Instead of working with the Democrats on Beacon Hill, Romney decided to recruit a host of Republican challengers to unseat them in 2004. The tactic backfired. “He ended up losing three seats and a lot of good will in the bargain,” [Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation President Michael] Widmer said.
Moreover, Romney will not face the Massachusetts state Legislature circa 2003; he’ll face a Congress full of hostile Democrats and hostile tea party Republicans. Draper’s piece ends with a quote from Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador: “If Romney comes in here and feels like he has to capitulate and govern from the middle of the road, not only will it be disheartening: I predict that you will see the conservatives in the House rise up. We’ve been pretty quiet — everybody claims we’ve been rambunctious, but we’ve been pretty quiet. I think you’ll see something different.”
A government in which your political opponents refuse to compromise in any way makes uni-partisan action virtually the only way to move forward. A true leader is not one who waits to form a consensus in those circumstances; a true leader seizes the moment to do what must be done. And that — in a nutshell — is what Obama did. He shouldn’t be criticized for it.