Friday, January 22, 2010

Understanding Romney: One size does not fit all

by Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 1/22/10

As the Wall Street Journal points out in an opinion this morning, this is not only a good day for Scott Brown, the new senator from Massachusetts, but for Mitt Romney as well. Glenn Beck doesn’t trust Brown he says. But with Brown toting friends like William Weld, John McCain and Romney around on his bus, it might not be such a good day for Glenn Beck.

The WSJ’s Kim Strassel pointed out that Romney’s closest aides flooded to Mr. Brown, bringing with them the savvy of his national operation.

“From a perch atop his Free and Strong America PAC, Mr. Romney has been raising money, nurturing his team, keeping himself in the national spotlight. With the Massachusetts Senate race, he sensed an unexpected opportunity to step to the front of the GOP presidential ranks,” she writes.

I doubt that the tea party’s tent will fold with the election of Brown, but something else has happened: The river that runs between traditional Republicans and insurgent conservative populists now has a bridge in Scott Brown. In fact, it has another bridge in Virginia with the new governor, Bob McDonnell, who will give the Republicans’ response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech next month. The insurgents have built a new base for organization and now with the election of Brown and McDonnell, it is being absorbed into the mainstream.

But when the very first thinking about regional identity started to surface here in New England as a militant defense against federal overreach, Romney was the governor of Massachusetts and he was already incorporating the same elements of thinking, not as revolutionary polemic, but as practical and effective management strategies here in Massachusetts.

Thus the phrase, “One size does not fit all,” which he began to use as governor, used throughout his Presidential campaign and used again this last week in a Fox Business interview. It is his theme song. Texas governor Rick Perry now uses the phrase as well and so does Sarah Palin.

Republican pundits report that Romney’s stock has been down because of RomneyCare, the health care program that Romney instituted in Massachusetts. Some of the features suggest ObamaCare, and as large numbers oppose ObamaCare’s vast federal spending, the thinking goes, they would therefore oppose RomneyCare. But that misses the point.

“The bill that was being pushed in Washington was not good for Massachusetts,” Brown said after his election. “It may have been good for other states but we already had everything and a lot of what was being proposed.”

That is just the point in Romney’s thinking about healthcare: What is good for one state is not necessarily good for others. Romney is in fact in the avant garde with this thinking, which has become the base camp of the states sovereignty movement.

Romney was unique in the history of Massachusetts governors in that he came to us from the west. He had personal experience in the western states, in Michigan and in Massachusetts, where he went to college.

My observation here when he was governor was that he had that rare quality which Zen Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.” He does not rebel from new ideas and new people but incorporates aspects of new thinking in his own ideas to make a better fit. And he is aware that the country has changed since 1776 when the west was forest and later when it was frontier, and even the 1930s when the vast majority of Americans worked in one of two places, the floor of the factory or the field.

One size fits all federalism might have been the perfect system then. But today for a country as full and rich and varied and alive this, the old system is a disaster. Romney was the first to catch on.