Romney's new book gives him a head start
Given the Republican Party's tendency to pick "the next guy in line" as its presidential nominee, it's no accident that the front-runners for the 2012 nomination are familiar faces from 2008 -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Both have written best-selling books. Palin's, judging from reviews (I confess, I haven't read it), is part autobiography, mostly payback against 2008 GOP campaign aides who dissed her, and only partly about policy.
Palin has become the darling of tea party populists, and there's no question that she has raw platform talent. But she's done nothing to revise the impression of 70 percent of voters that she's not qualified to be president.
Romney, on the other hand, has written a book demonstrating that -- intellectually, anyway -- he is fully prepared to be president. "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness" is not merely a policy book, but also a strategy book for maintaining America's position as the leading world power.
It's also a political book, of course, that argues that President Barack Obama's policies would lead the nation in the opposite direction. I think Romney overdoes it, declaring that "never before in American history has its president gone before so many foreign audiences to apologize for so many American misdeeds, both real and imagined. ... There are anti-American fires burning all across the globe; President Obama's words are like kindling to them."
Romney gives no credence to the idea that Obama, in confessing past U.S. error, has rebuilt credibility -- squandered by his predecessor -- with foreign audiences and encouraged cooperation with U.S. policy.
He is convinced that Obama is a "declinist" whose aim is to have the United States abandon leadership and accept comfortable "partnership" with other nations.
That, Romney believes, would be a disaster because if the U.S. doesn't lead, those who supersede us -- especially China or Russia, but possibly extreme Islamists -- would be nowhere near as generous or respectful of human rights and the autonomy of weaker nations. Given the troubling fact that every superpower in history has eventually fallen back, "every political initiative, every new law or regulation should be evaluated in large measure by whether it makes us stronger or weaker.
"Our freedom, security and prosperity are at stake," he writes.
Romney's military policies are familiar enough for a Republican -- 4 percent of the gross domestic product on defense, not Obama's planned 3 percent; pro-missile defense; and support for expanding NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine. But he's also unusually respectful of "soft power" -- the use of diplomatic, cultural and economic leadership--to achieve results.
Romney is even more convincing in arguing that U.S. domestic policy, especially deficit-spending, is weakening the nation: "The debts and financial obligations we are on track to leave the next generation will be so huge that they will preclude our children from achieving the American dream."
To pay for entitlement programs, payroll taxes will rise from 15 percent of a worker's wages to 30 percent by 2050 and 44 percent later, meaning "only a very few of them could expect to earn enough to buy a home or build a business. In practical terms, America would cease to be a land of opportunity."
Many of Romney's fixes are familiar Republican stuff -- lower taxes, less spending and entitlement reform -- but he also supports paying teachers more, giving green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities, controlling greenhouse gases and means-testing Medicare.
And he defends his state's health care plan, which involves universal coverage, individual mandates, subsidies and insurance "exchanges" -- all elements of Obamacare. But Romney contends that the Massachusetts plan is as different from Obama's as a horse is from a donkey, because Obama imposes costlier mandates and price controls on insurance -- and has no bipartisan support.
In 2008, Romney lost his way as a candidate. Instead of campaigning as an expert in management and a moderate conservative, he was convinced by advisers that he had to pander to the anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, anti-gun-control, anti-gay-marriage right wing. When the financial crisis began to descend, he reasserted his expertise -- but too late.
Romney's book shows that he has thoughtfully considered the nation's problems and come up with overriding strategies -- plus 64 listed specific policies -- to ensure strength and prosperity.
Personally, I think he does not pay nearly enough attention to the fact that the incomes of average workers fall further behind the rich with each economic cycle and that college educations are moving out of reach.
On the other hand, he is not indulging populism but rather denouncing the tendency -- apparent in the tea party movement and on the left -- to take after bankers, CEOs and entrepreneurs.
For 2012, the GOP could break its pattern of picking the "next in line." I'd hope it would give a look to newcomers like Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
But if it sticks to form, the choice between the two frontrunners is pretty clear: One is serious and prepared to lead. The other is not.
Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.