Mitt Romney is a man with impressive credentials. He is a Harvard business and law graduate, management consultant, venture capitalist, hero of the 2002 Winter Olympics, former governor of Massachusetts and a former presidential candidate. In his New York Times’ best seller, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, he presents his credentials and gears up to take on Barack Obama in 2012.
No Apology is one of the most thorough “here’s how we fix America” pieces that I have read in awhile. I do recommend this book, but pack a lunch and bring a pencil, you’ll need them both. Facts, figures and even a few graphs make this work of only 300 pages seem much larger.
Romney treats the geopolitical and economic forces facing America in a style that is straightforward but, unfortunately, lacking in passion. Like confronting a big bowl of brownish, high fiber cereal, we can easily see the logic to consuming Romney’s recipes for America’s recovery. But the book’s over all tone is so lacking in snap, crackle, or even pop, will enough people be bothered? Romney needs to connect this book, and his message, to the energy of the street.
The book’s title, No Apology, is a direct rebuttal of what conservatives have labeled President Obama’s “apology tour,” a series of speeches, mostly given abroad, in which the President has said, in tone if not actual word, “Dear world, we are sorry if America has offended you.” Romney is not sorry, and uses his book to present a clear and firm contrast to President Obama’s vision of America. The United States is, Romney argues, powerful and unique. That power and uniqueness do not threaten the world, but are essential to making the world a safer and better place.
This book can be divided into two, unequal parts. Romney tackles foreign policy in the first (the shorter of the two), and in the second, domestic issues.
On the foreign front, his analysis of the cultural, economic and military challenges facing America from China, Russia, Iran and the global jihadists are detailed and sensible. He accurately explains the difference between international soft power and hard power, and how America is under-utilizing both. However, Romney’s presentation of the issues is so… flat that the first third of No Apology sounds more like Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers than a cry from Paul Revere. Even if he were eligible to run for political office in the United States, Paul Kennedy (who is British) would never be elected president.
Romney gets to the meatier, domestic issues facing the country in the second two-thirds of the book. In a confident, gentle, CEO-like style, he makes his case for how labor union protectionism, excessive government regulation, dependency on foreign oil, poor performing schools and the entitlement mentality of the baby boomers will be America’s ruin. Romney asserts (correctly, I believe) that these negative forces get in the way of what German sociologist Werner Sombart called “creative destruction,” a sometimes painful process of economic or social transformation that accompanies radical change. If America the beautiful is to survive, Romney insists that creative destruction must occur, especially in our union-dominated educational system and in unsustainable programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Again, Romney’s style in discussing these domestic issues is so non-intrusive and blandly fluid that one does not feel alarmed by the scale of the problems he outlines. This disconnect dampens the book’s intended impact. By painting such a serious picture of the current state the country with a style that is so practical and data driven, Romney runs the risk of coming off less like a man with an eleventh-hour solution, and more like a better looking version of Michael Dukakis.
Despite Romney’s hawkish foreign policy and his opposition to labor unions, No Apology is not a handbook for the laissez-faire, conservative want-to-be. Romney favors government spending on education, especially on University driven R&D; he was pro-TARP (the Trouble Assets Relief Program of 208-2009), believes in man-made global warming and supports some government regulation. Conservatives may also be surprised to find that he spends less than six pages on the topics of abortion and marriage. Romney states bluntly, “I am unapologetically pro-life,” but does not discuss how the abortion issue is paralyzing American politics.
No Apology is data-driven through and through. Along with its cool-headed style of delivery, there seems to be no reason to doubt the book’s numbers or Romney’s conclusions drawn from them. However, when one reaches chapter seven, “Healing Health Care,” one might rightly question Romney’s interpretation of the facts. In this chapter, Romney details how, as Governor of Massachusetts, he designed, negotiated (even with Senator Edward Kennedy), and eventually implemented MassCare, the state health care program that covers, according to Romney, some 98 percent of people who did not have coverage when he took office in 2003. Though he acknowledges that the final bill did not contain everything he wanted and even some things he did not want (like a one-percent increase in budget spending to pay for the program), he signed MassCare into law. As of 2010 the program is, according Romney, “getting the job done without breaking the bank.” Really? The conservative advocacy group MassResistance has documented how MassCare pays for abortion. Additionally, both recently elected U.S. Senator Scott Brown and Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill have sounded the alarm that MassCare is bankrupting the Bay State. Who are we to believe?
To conclude his manifesto Romney provides us with a list of indicators, a balance sheet of sorts, by which we can track America’s strength as it trends either up or down. Also, at the insisting of his wife Ann, Romney included an epilogue containing a “brief” sixty-four point agenda “for a free and strong America.” Well done, Ann.
As I finished the book I recalled the reason that Romney gave for writing it: “This book gives me a chance to say more than I did during my campaign.” That is understandable. What presidential candidates say about the issues is often reduced to news sound bites or short media spots. However, it is precisely what Romney does not say enough about in No Apology that weakens this book and could be a problem for him in 2012.
The enacting of health care legislation in the Unites States has already dramatically changed the country, an 8.0 quake on the political Richter scale. Billions of taxpayer dollars are now available for abortion and stem cell mutilation. Any viable conservative candidate for the presidency should prepare to explain how and why we must resolve “the abortion issue,” an issue so divisive that most candidates work hard not to discuss it. The moderate middle ground in America is shrinking, and folks are increasingly demanding that candidates stand taller and speaker louder about foundational issues, like the right to life, than the tired, old moral pygmies who squeak “it’s above my pay grade.”
The newly passed health care laws will also force any 2012’er to focus intensely on health care law. Romney’s MassCare, which was expected to cost a mere $88 million, is presently costing over $4 billion, a disaster for the state. Romney must explain, beyond the rosy treatment that he gives health care reform in No Apology, how such a plan on a national level would not also be a fiscal train wreck.
Finally, Romney promises to update his material on the book’s website, NoApology.com. Updates are, like most of Romney’s proposals, the sensible thing to do, and in certain sections of the book they are needed.
The over-all design of No Apology seems to be a reasonable vehicle that could transport America back to the future of its greatness. But what the whole plan needs, in addition to some updates and expanded features, is energy and lots of it.
Jeff Garner is an American journalist, broadcaster and co-founder and CEO of Catholic Radio International. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org