WASHINGTON -- One sobering question about the Republican convention on the beautiful beaches of Florida haunts me even as, at this writing, the festivities are either beginning in Tampa or flying with windy Isaac out into the roiled waters of the Gulf.
Why do both Republicans and media journalists of all stripes constantly define presidential candidate Mitt Romney as being "out of touch with," "on a different plane than" and "alien to the fundamental ideas of" the Republican Party? What exactly do they want Romney to do, speak as excitedly as Bill Clinton or espouse the radical positions of his vice presidential candidate?
In answer to no public demand whatsoever, I will offer up a long-kept secret: I find myself liking precisely those qualities of Mitt Romney's that everyone else sighs about with deep despair. I like the fact that he is a gentleman. I like the way he treats his beautiful wife and children. I like the fact that he doesn't speak like Fidel Castro. I like that, much as Father Bush did when he was president, Romney treats everyone with courtesy and keeps some personal things, well, personal.
I even rather like the fact that Romney is dissembling a bit, that he doesn't flaunt his successful Massachusetts health plan, if only because it would wipe out his candidacy in a minute. I admire the fact that he has done substantial work for his church, helping members with everything from marital to financial problems. Why, I even like the fact that he is a Mormon, without going into all the angels by name, because the Mormons today seem much like the mainline Protestants of yesterday whose moral basis gave us rather a wonderful country. (Think Romney milkshakes, rather than martinis!)
Here lies the problem with an America laden with debt and deficits, many of whose people are infected with a need for a charismatic leader with none of the characteristics of Mitt Romney, and whose "elite" classes in finance, education and politics identify with the same classes overseas while ignoring their needy fellow Americans.
The problem we face is profoundly moral, and it is growing by the day. Think of the early Protestants, even including the "robber barons" -- Andrew Carnegie funded thousands of public libraries, Teddy Roosevelt championed national parks, Woodrow Wilson dreamed of a League of Nations. In contrast today, the newspapers are full of scandals, usually in the woefully unregulated Wall Street financial pages. Equally, when America went into two hypothetical and disastrous wars in the early 2000s, few Americans even registered a meek protest.
It is this country, lacking in moral integrity in too many places, that Mitt Romney, a man of unquestionable moral integrity, may be called upon to lead, while at least half the Republican Party continues to moan about how he doesn't excite them or send them into shrieking hysterics like Justin Bieber, or promise the moon to people who don't even realize we just went to Mars.
As to those who apparently want a Castro or a Peron or a Huey Long -- someone "charismatic," to correctly use that often incorrectly used word -- these are the most dangerous leaders in the world, and the leaders most beloved by the ignorant.
Without saying whom I will or won't vote for, I think it's curious that a country adrift in a vulgarized culture is about to choose as one of its presidential candidates a man of consummate personal and professional integrity and public morality. Perhaps there is some hope yet!
As to the constant refrain that Romney has "flip-flopped" (oh, that some of the bad guys would flip-flop!), columnist Edward Luce of the Financial Times, one of our least flippy-floppy papers, put it well this week: "Like any aspiring president, Mr. Romney has had to pander to people with whom he might normally disagree. ... Doing the right thing is no defense. Mr. Romney has been forced to abandon commonsense positions to get the nomination. These include fiscal pragmatism, ... a practical approach to illegal immigration, moderation on issues such as abortion, and acceptance that global warming is partly manmade. ... In each case, it was probably necessary to win the prize."
So, won't it be interesting to see which of the many-Mitts Romney will settle on, should he win the prize.
A supplemental thought is due here. President Barack Obama is also a man of integrity. He has the same Harvard background as Mitt, but it's hard to compare Obama's rich but here-and-there upbringing with Romney's Mormon inculcation. Still, it will do us good to compare these two men, their splendid examples as Americans and their ability to either run or run down this nation.