Meet Mitt Romney, seeking the power of the presidency. He seeks to convince us that his conservative economic theories will save us from ourselves.
For him, there is magical power in the market. For him the pain of unemployment is actually the incentive for finding work, because responsibility is a personal, not social matter. He chides those who would address unemployment with charity. That encourages dependency.
He is a self-proclaimed conservative, who actually says that the discipline of the market (suffering and poverty) redeems people. Social rescue has to be fought "like the poison it is ... (causing) death to initiative, risk-taking and opportunity." (Jan. 7, 2008, at a Conservative Political Action Conference.)
Does the right wing observe any limitation on its efforts to subject all of us to its hard-line agenda? Some suspect that its target is democracy itself. No? What about Citizens United, or free speech for money, without limit? That disenfranchises most people, but enfranchises accumulations of wealth.
Supposedly we are a country of checks and balances. But where have the checks and balances on congressional lobbying and fundraising gone?
Ask John McCain, who tried to construct some. The Supreme Court's free speech for money buried his rules under cash, which led the senator to say that the court had been "undisciplined, arrogant and naive."
In right-wing ideology, responsibility is on the individual, not social factors. But for them, freedom gives license to serve self-interest with little regard for social consequences. It is hard to reason with the right wing, because they already "know" you are wrong before you start.
For Romney, civil rights takes second place to police surveillance of "potential terrorists." But just how are such dangerous people to be identified?
He plays the (divisive) fear card, saying: "If people are coming to this country terrorizing or talking about terror in such a way that it could lead to the violent death of Americans, we need to know about that, track them, follow them and make sure that in every way we can we know what they're doing and where they're doing it. And if it means we have to go into a mosque to wiretap or a church, then that's exactly where we're going to go because we're going to do whatever it takes to protect the American people." (Feb. 5, 2007, GOP presidential debate.)
In effect, he says that on his watch public safety would trump civil rights. (Feb. 20, 2010, Conservative Political Action Conference.) He is known to be quite pragmatic in his policies. What he opposes is interesting. It starts with his own health care bill in Massachusetts, which he renounced when campaigning for president. He opposes the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. He tends to pander to large companies on environmental issues.
He blew kisses to the NRA, extolling gun rights as among the most basic to our functioning as a free society. Stand your ground, with guns, for example. If you feel scared, shoot first and ask questions later. It seems to be a killer argument. I guess guns serve as individual safety nets in his world.
But he is against social and economic safety nets as leading to dependency. Many would say that such benefits actually promote private initiative and risk-taking.
Romney became increasingly conservative as he moved into presidential politics: Pro-NRA, less pro-health care, converted to anti-tax pledging, and backed off corporate tax reform. Flexibility as a manager may show strength, but in policy debates it comes across like opportunism.
When Romney was a youth, he led peers in subduing a long haired-teenage boy whose long hair offended him. The others all recalled the event vividly but with regret. Not Romney. He could not remember. He wielded the shears. The victim was in tears.
Righteous Romney knew what was right even then. Bullies do. He grew up in rooms of wealth and corridors of power.
He feels clear on right and wrong, but making someone cry was not even a memorable event. How sensitive is he to the dignity of others, less fortunate than himself?
Mitt Romney is certain he knows what is right for this country. But we need leadership that is able to see what feels right to all the rest of us.
William Masters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.