The Character of Mitt Romney
Posted at: 06/25/2012 6:19 AM
By: Dr. Timothy Kneeland | WHEC.com
Historians have utilized psychological insights when writing biographies for many years, and recently they have had a fondness for using the largely discredited work of Sigmund Freud to do psychoanalysis of people long dead. The results can be fascinating, but they are more likely a Rorschach test of the writer than the person being studied. See William McFeely’s fascinating portrait of Frederick Douglass for an example of what I mean.
Political scientists have also taken a turn at this with works such as James David Barber’s Presidential Character: Predicting Performance in the White House. Barber constructed hypothetical categories for presidents based on his reading of their psycho-biography. They might be active-positive; individuals who enjoyed power and had an activists vision for the presidency, men such as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy were in this category. Active-negative individuals who were compulsive, did not enjoy power but served out of a necessity to battle low self esteem, men such as John Adams and Abraham Lincoln were included in this category. Passive-Positive presidents are driven by a desire to be loved by others and often have an ingratiating personality. Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have been included in this category. Finally there is the passive-negative, men who eschew power but serve because they feel they are needed or have a duty to serve. George Washington is an example of a passive-negative president. Can you guess what Mitt Romney might be?
The source for Romney’s character is of course his own history. He was the grandson of a man who gambled on a life in Mexico but lost everything due to revolution. He is the son of George Romney who gambled everything on turning around American Motors (note the word turnaround which is the title Romney chose for his own life story) and succeeded. George Romney then used his fame to earn two terms in the Governor’s mansion in Michigan but then had a failed bid for the presidency in 1968 – famous in political science lore for his utterance that the military had “brain-washed” him on the Vietnam War. The Republican response was a humiliating defeat in New Hampshire and a quick exit from the primaries that year. In 1969 George Romney accepted a position in Richard Nixon’s cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Alas George Romney got into a televised and widely reported shouting match with flood victims from Hurricane Agnes in August of 1972 and was forced to leave the Nixon administration. George Romney’s political career was over. Lesson for young Mitt, do not gamble, do not be outspoken.
We can already see from his campaign that Mitt Romney is a very cautious candidate. He works tremendously hard at making sure that nothing is left to chance and to making as few mistakes as possible. He is more intent on playing a prevent defense than discussing a bold vision of America in the twenty-first century. Read for example the two books he has published, Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games (2007) and No Apology: The Case for American Greatness (2010). These books reveal that Mitt is a skillful administrator, someone who can work within a system, and someone who loves his country. Yet his vision for the future is less clear than his vision of the past. I will grant that all politicians revert to platitudes and slogans (i.e. Hope and Change) but the kind of slogan they choose provides insights into their character. If Mitt governs as he campaigns, if the past is prologue for the future (nice platitude if I do say so myself), then we can glean some idea about how Romney would function. Using Barber’s framework I would place Mitt Romney in the category of a passive-negative. I know this sounds awful but I did not invent the categories! Also remember that this category includes distinguished and beloved presidents such as George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower. Both of these men governed during interesting times and have the respect admiration of students of history and political science. One method to study Romney is to listen to his rhetoric and read his speeches. Much like those found in the passive-negative category, Romney is a man who likes to raise principles and is comfortable with procedures when making policies and decisions. He will be responsive to events rather than one who initiatives. Thus, his governing style in many ways may be much like Eisenhower’s. President Eisenhower’s called his own policies “dynamic conservativism.” Coming into power aft the New Deal, Ike did not abandon it but reshaped it for his own ends. This explains Romney’s behavior as Massachusetts Governor. Looking at his behavior Romney can be seen on the one hand as liberal – he pushed for near universal health care in Massachusetts. One the other hand, he appears so conservative – he opposed same sex marriages. As Governor of Massachusetts he also showed a willingness to balance the budget through a mix of spending cuts, government reorganization, and new fees (careful not to call them taxes). It is this admixture of his governing style that has raised suspicions of him on the left and the right How Mitt Romney diffuses these suspicions will be fodder for later blogs.
My next blog will be a comment on the Supreme Court decision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which is expected sometime in the coming week.