Election Day 2012 & America’s Rejection of Centrist Politicking

Twice the Republican Party has chosen a spineless moderate to spearhead its presidential campaign against Barack Obama; twice its candidate has lost. And have no doubt, if they do the same in 2016, they will lose again in 2016, and in every election hence. As goes the moral of the medieval fable “The Miller, the Boy, and the Donkey,”  “Try to please all, and you will please none.”

Though many centuries old, this principle is entirely correct in its assertion (probably assisting in its continuous transmission from one generation to the next). But as a result of misguided assumptions as to how one builds a public consensus, the Republican Party appears to have almost wholly forgotten this common childhood lesson, placing one “center-of-the-road” candidate after another on a pedestal as the supposed ideal “bipartisan” solution. Ayn Rand elaborates on this spirit of dogmatic compromise  further in her essay “The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion” within Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:

“Contrary to the fanatical belief of its advocates, compromise [on basic principles] does not satisfy, but dissatisfies everybody; it does not lead to general fulfillment, but to general frustration; those who try to be all things to all men, end up by not being anything to anyone.”

That is precisely what Mitt Romney was as a candidate: nothing. He stood for nothing. He represented nothing, not even the false labels the Left attempted to ascribe to him; he was not a “symbol of laissez-faire capitalism,” despite how fervently the Left sought to paint him as such. He was not the symbol of anything, nor could he be.

Would that it were that the Left had actually succeeded in convincing the public Romney truly stood for something! It would have provided voters something to rally behind, even if only the some translucent phantom of a legitimately principled candidate.

Unfortunately, through the Romney camp’s continual rejection of the labels and principles it ought to have been embracing anyway, he remained as he wished to be viewed: the great pragmatist, the man willing to compromise with anyone on any issue. As I explain in “Romney’s Handicap”:

“Why does this hurt Mitt Romney politically? Because he is left with no means of opposing President Obama except through attempting to argue that his brand of government regulation is somehow better than President Obama’s, but even this is an impossible feat. There are no standards which he can employ to explain why his policies are better, even if those standards are irrational.”

In refusing take a principled stand, by default, Mitt Romney granted President Obama the status of being the only candidate making principled arguments. No matter how shallow President Obama’s “principles” are, they were still more convincing to a majority of the American public. Why? Because Mitt Romney offered the public neither a logical standard by which he was to convince them, nor even anything of which they should be convinced.

In essence, the entire goal of the Romney campaign was to portray him as the least unattractive of the two candidates. They wanted the country to rally behind a non-entity. “Don’t worry yourselves with what he believes!” the Republican Party declared, “Just know that he isn’t Obama.”

For those capable of thinking in abstracts, this was reason enough to support him. They could do for Romney what he was unable to do himself: analyze the situation using their own principles and produce rational justifications for why an amorphous pragmatist is a better president than a purposeful nihilist. They were capable of realizing that, while a President Mitt Romney would grope his way towards increasing levels of statism in the United States, he would have granted the same individuals more time to discover an actual solution to America’s many problems before the collapse of the American economy and republican form of government.

Most, however, do not think in the abstract. They deal primarily in concretes – an unacceptably superficial level of philosophic thought in the highly abstract field of politics.

Even so, one should not take these individuals to be wholly uncritical, voting for whichever politician promises them the rosiest picture without any real justification. In actuality, they – like young children do – seek after the justifications they themselves cannot form. They look towards the politicians not only to offer sound policy positions, but additionally to explain why those policy positions are desirable in the first place. They desire a logical flow of ideas from premises to conclusion, giving them answers to the questions they are unable to formulate. Through the basic principles most of them possess (frequently referred to as “common sense”), the average voter is capable of judging for himself which candidate produces the most convincing argument for his policies, though largely only in relative rather than absolute terms. Considerably fewer are those (at least those who determine the outcome of elections) who dogmatically accept a poorer argument for a stronger, more principled one.

Hence Ayn Rand’s correct conclusion that “[w]hen opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.”*

But when Mitt Romney had no principles to offer, these voters were given nothing to judge. Though Obama’s nihilist principles will lead this nation to destruction, the voters were provided no real alternative narrative to the one President Obama dealt them – that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that man belongs to his fellows, and that his policies best reflected those principles, thus fulfilling a moral ideal. Without an adequate challenge to such assertions, voters chose Obama.

So clear was Romney’s lack of principles that the actual working title of “Romney’s Handicap,” written as early as four months before the election, was “Why Romney Will Lose the Election.” The title was changed on in hopes that, between July and Election Day, Romney could potentially display enough of a sense of principle to prevent the predictions within the essay from becoming true. Sadly, a principled Romney never emerged. In fact, as he exited the primary stage of the election and began his pursuit of winning the support of the nation as a whole, Romney became even less principled, failing to so much as even mention the Benghazi affair in the final debate on foreign policy.

The only particularly memorable moment in Romney’s highly uneventful campaign was in the first presidential debate (a success due in no small part to the president’s own passivity throughout). Though I did not personally invest my time in watching the debate, a quick scan of the highlights confirms my suspicions: an excessive focus concretes, and a severe lack of discussion on ideas. It did not matter how many times Romney rattled off numbers exemplifying the president’s dismal record; he never gave the public reason to believe he was a worthwhile alternative.

Whereas Romney never became any more than the man who argued (albeit correctly) that the president’s record is a failure, Obama cloaked himself in the quasi-moral rhetoric of being the crusader for women, minorities, and the poor. He did not have to address Romney’s concrete claims – he had the moral “high ground” by sole fact that Romney let him take it. By only saying that the president’s policies have not worked rather than going further and saying that they cannot work and are unjust regardless, Romney granted Obama an opportunity he could not have made for himself. All Obama had to do was plea for “more time” and lament the “mess he inherited” as the reason his policies have been ineffective, and the public would grant him the additional years he sought. After all, Obama’s policies are for the “common good.”

But that is enough on Romney’s candidacy. It is over for him, as it is for moderate Republicans in general. Now is the time for the Republican Party to reinvent itself and to make way for a new breed of Republican lawmakers.

The battle for capitalism is not primarily a battle of politics – it is a battle of ideas. This hyper-focus on political change rather than the cultural change which must accompany it (or more appropriately, precede it) is the root of much of the fatalistic nonsense by Republicans following the outcome of the election. And to be sure, the United States is in for a rough ride in the years ahead, even with a divided Congress; President Obama has already frequently demonstrated his contempt of that institution and his willingness to circumvent it. But even so, resignation to defeat is not the path ahead. To quote the Avengers film from this past summer, the attitude for the Republicans – and especially the advocates of capitalism – ought to be as follows: “Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.”

Capitalists cannot count on the Republicans to recognize their errors through experience. After a crushing defeat in 2008, and especially after the immense victories in Congress of 2010, one would think that the Republicans would have at least recognized the futility of “compromise candidates” and America’s thirst for leaders standing on principle, or even those who simply speak in principled terms. The election of Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate in Texas, especially after having defeated the state’s Rick Perry and establishment-backed lieutenant governor in the primary, is certainly a promising sign of a shift in that direction. At the same time, the party’s appeal to the same religion-saturated approach it employed under George W. Bush (and many others) in its selection of failed Senate candidate Todd Akin in Missouri is reason for doubt.

But again, political change should not be the primary focus. What the United States truly needs is a cultural change, and change is happening. Tea Partiers have vocally denounced Romney and his unprincipled stances as the proper reason that President Obama won reelection. Right-wing commentators are coming to realize the importance of ideas to political campaigns. Just examine the analysis of Romney’s presidential campaign by conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg in the National Review: “I think Romney strategist Stu Stevens’s contempt for ideas — never mind conservative ideas — was absurd. I think the failure of the Romney campaign to offer a compelling explanation of any kind (at least until the second debate) for how it wasn’t a third Bush term was fatal.” And maybe most exciting is Ayn Rand’s sudden explosion into the limelight of cultural discussion in the United States, so much so that it is obligatory for even the President of the United States to have a position on her and her philosophy.

Whether the analysis is positive or negative, the very fact that Ayn Rand is in the news so prevalently reflects a growing cultural interest in a rational philosophy and a trend away from the poisonous altruist doctrine which has plagued mankind for most of its history. Every pamphlet, article, essay, novel, movie, television series, news commentator, politician, professor, or even average citizen in an informal discussion with neighbors expressing capitalist ideals and its underpinning rational philosophy contributes to the expanding intellectual zeitgeist in favor of a new culture of reason. Attacks by the Left on the same are a further sign that it is a battle in which those on the side of reason are gaining ground; they can no longer be dismissed as irrelevant fanatics, as much as the Left would try to portray them that way. Moreover, such attacks are actually rather helpful – surely against their intention, by merely addressing the inroads being made by Ayn Rand’s ideas and capitalist principles, they spark public intrigue, investigation, and ever further discussion.

Capitalist ranks are growing. One cannot use Tuesday’s results as a measure to observe it, first and foremost because Romney is not a capitalist, and secondly because it is still very early for effective political change to take place. One must look beyond into what is occurring in the civil and intellectual spheres – what ideas are being discussed? What novels are being sold? Whose name is on the lips of political commentators everywhere? This is what should be striven for – its filtration into the minds of American voters and lawmakers will naturally follow.

America does not need Mitt Romney. As Yaron Brook summarized on his Facebook page following the election results:

“People don’t learn from experience. It’s not like 4 more horrible years will lead to some salvation. This fight is about ideas — it is about convincing people that we are right. We need fighters — thinkers, speakers, writers — willing to put themselves on the intellectual front line. We need supporters willing to get the ideas produced by these intellectuals into the hands (brains) of as many people as possible. We need producers willing to put their money to support their ideas.”

So do not get caught up in the actual results of the election. Certainly, examine them – learn from them – but do not be discouraged by them. Change is coming. The culture war is being waged across the United States, and it is a war the defenders of reason will not lose. Assuredly, so long as their ability to speak their minds freely remains – with or without government approval – they cannot.

*Rand, Ayn. “The Anatomy of Compromise.” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. 145.

For further analysis of the election results and its implication for the nation moving forward, see Slade Mendenhall’s piece “The Beginning Again: Obama’s Reelection and Where We Go From Here.”

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