Can Republicans be altruistic and, well, nice? It doesn’t seem like it if you listen to a Democrat. During the Republican National Convention, speakers often attacked Democrats for fostering a society of dependence (Politico Staff). Bill Clinton responded the following week and made a very credible case that “If you want a ‘you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”(Washington Post) Based on what we typically associate with altruistic, kind behavior (sharing, helping when someone needs it, etc.), the Dems seem nicer. To date, they’ve been portraying Republicans as out-of-touch, unsympathetic to the needs of common people, and more concerned with caring for the rich than helping the poor, and the attack ads that advocate for this government-provided kindness (ironic in itself) are everywhere.
One glaring example is an ad called “Understands” that was released by the pro-Obama super PAC PrioritiesUSA. In it, a former steel worker essentially blames his wife’s death from cancer on Bain Capital’s decision to close his plant, a company that Romney was affiliated with for many years (Condon). Like many political attack ads, it stretches the truth. The wife of the worker who was profiled, Joe Soptic, was diagnosed four years after Bain closed the factory, while Soptic claims the diagnosis “shortly afterwards”. She also had her own health insurance (Rovner).
Through the “Understands” ad and others like it, the Obama campaign has sought to portray Mitt Romney as someone who lacks compassion. But consider this: when Mitt Romney ran unsuccessfully against John McCain for the Republican nomination in 2008, his campaign ran an ad claiming that he was instrumental in finding the missing child of a Bain employee. In the ad, the girl’s parents said that Romney insisted on participating in the search personally instead of just sympathizing and delegating the responsibility to the police. He closed Bain for the day, and ordered that his employees fly to New York and hand out missing person flyers to passerby. He set up a command centre in a hotel room and coordinated between local authorities and his own employees. Not only that, he called in favors and had colleagues at New York investment banks go out and join the search. The publicity resulting from ostensibly wealthy businesspeople in suits handing out missing person flyers meant that the girl was eventually found and returned to her parents safe and sound (Politifact). Politifact.com has confirmed the accuracy of this story, citing articles from the New York Times archives, and Romney has reused the 2008 ad on his 2012 campaign YouTube channel.
I am always skeptical any time someone attacks another person’s personal character, because he rarely knows his adversary personally. I have no reason to believe that Mitt Romney is not “a nice guy”. He probably is a nice guy, but does that mean I want him to be the 45th President? In the immortal words of my economics professor, Dr. Peter Kennedy, “not necessarily”.
The Mother Jones video featuring Romney at a $50,000 a plate dinner where he insulted 47% of the country was astonishingly tone-deaf, but among the many now-controversial statements he made that evening, there was some truth. It would be a strategic mistake for Romney to spend time and money trying to convince die-hard Obama voters to switch their vote. He should instead focus on the key minority of undecided voters that swing an election from one party to the next. This is simple strategy. Of course, writing off half of your electorate is no way to win an election, and implying that they were all just waiting for a government hand out is highly questionable, but he was pandering to a very wealthy crowd, and some of them might believe that Americans should not expect the government to provide basic necessities like food (Mother Jones). Romney could either admit to pandering, or to stand by the statements and risk being viewed as unsympathetic. Between a rock and a hard place, Romney chose the latter.
During his convention speech, Romney spoke of uniting Americans behind his plan, which would bring tens of millions of jobs through non-specific policy reforms like “cutting the deficit” (with no mention of what he would cut out) (Politico Staff). However, Romney the uniter was not on display while talking to donors. As Adam Hanft argues in The Atlantic Monthly, this was the businessman talking. He was just coldly accepting the facts and doing a frank assessment of what he needed to do to maximize his chance of winning. Hanft refers to this as “Bain Brain”, and it makes him an astute businessman, but an inept politician, because politicians are expected to be likeable. They’re expected to have some empathy for the common man. Does this necessarily mean more money in your pocket or better health care for your children? No, but people still want this, and it’s this that Romney lacks. No matter how hard Romney tries, he will not be the mythical uniter that America elected in 2008. He is a technocrat who aims to solve problems, not hold your hand. He might be compassionate in his private life, but it is unclear as to whether or not that compassion extends to his policy stances. So, to answer the original question, can Republicans be altruistic and nice? Privately, yes, but politically, altruism doesn’t quite fit into the current platform. Ultimately, that’s why I think Obama will win. No one wants a president who can’t “feel their pain”.
"Bob McDonnell RNC Speech." Politico.com. Politico LLC, 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/80379.html>.
Condon, Stephanie. "Priorities USA Action Ad Revives Bain Attack." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57487824-503544/priorities-usa-action-ad-revives-bain-attack/>.
"DNC 2012: Bill Clinton’s Speech at the Democratic National Convention (Full Transcript)." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 06 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/dnc-2012-bill-clintons-speech-at-the-democratic-national-convention-excerpt/2012/09/05/f208865e-f7a4-11e1-8253-3f495ae70650_story.html>.
"Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video." Mother Jones. Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/full-transcript-mitt-romney-secret-video>.
Hanft, Adam. "Bain Brain: How Managing Like a CEO Has Led Romney Astray." The Atlantic Monthly. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/bain-brain-how-managing-like-a-ceo-has-led-romney-astray/262878/>.
"Mitt Romney RNC Speech." POLITICO. Politico LLC, 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/80504.html>.
Rovner, Julie. "Pro-Obama Steelworker Ad Draws Republican Ire." NPR. NPR, 09 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.npr.org/2012/08/09/158520737/obama-campaign-draws-ire-over-steelworker-ad>.
Screenshot from Obama YouTube Channel. N.d. Photograph. Ironic Surrealism. 8 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://ironicsurrealism.com/files/2012/08/joe-soptic-barackobama-dot-com-on-youtube-may-14-2012.jpg>.
"Viral Internet Story Says Mitt Romney Helped Locate Missing Teen Daughter of Bain Capital Partner." PolitiFact. Tampa Bay Times, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jan/30/chain-email/viral-internet-story-says-mitt-romney-helped-locat/>.