GRAVER: Great man or good man?

Gravely Mistaken

“He’s not inspiring.”

This is the conventional wisdom surrounding Gov. Mitt Romney. Even after last Wednesday, this remains, by wide regard, Romney’s fatal flaw. He will never give that great, transformative speech. He will never be that generational candidate. Despite all efforts, he will just be Mitt — and that will be far from enough.

This is a reasonable intuition. In our first real presidential election — as we were either actual voters or at least of the age to reasonably think about these issues — we witnessed the immense power of inspiration. Moreover, it is at the heart of the American character — as a nation founded on an idea — to place the quality of hope as an integral facet of our national identity.

However, while necessarily bound by our optimistic spirit, we often overlook the types of inspiration that exist within the political realm.

When we treat inspiration solely as the product of oratory, we run the risk of overlooking the intimate qualities that America sometimes needs from a leader. Last Wednesday, Romney exemplified this — he was, without any glitz and glamour, presidential.

Many have attributed Romney’s success to that of a snake oil salesman, peddling an ultimately fictitious product to an unsuspecting audience. However, this is too shallow and too convenient a narrative. These debates, in actuality, are not really hinged on policy disputes. For whatever merit, they are exercises in disposition, where two candidates seek to gain the trust and hope of the American people.

Governor Romney decisively defeated President Obama — not through lofty lines, zingers and grand promises — but through a calculated, calm competency. His greatest victory was in demonstrating that a stark contrast exists between the two regarding what the character of a president must be the next four years.

Romney was strong, skillful and moderate — more in temperament than anything else. He pivoted towards inspiration in the conventional sense, appearing as someone who would not merely gather the aspirations of a nation on a stage, but be able to prompt action and commitment once actually taking on the unglamorous act of governing. He did not appear as a partisan; he was a man willing to lead, absent any cult of personality.

This is the sort of guidance America — both as a matter of morale and policy — desperately needs and the sort Obama does not appear to provide.

To most observers, the president was not inspiring in any sense of the word last week. He was dull, distant, largely unclear and seemingly much less prepared than his opponent. But this, in all honesty, is largely irrelevant.

Obama has branded himself, quite successfully and permanently, as a very special type of inspirational candidate. In 2008 he became a persona over a person, rising to a higher plane as the personification of something larger than ourselves. He was not merely met with admiration, but also reverence.

This worked in 2008. However, one’s inspirational capacity cannot be continually treated as a political panacea. One cannot remain motivational over meritorious once becoming the incumbent. Obama is still offering the nation a figure larger than life, but the American people don’t seem to be taking to it.

With the image of Obama already established and Romney finally having made his true introduction last week, Mitt set the foundation for a crucial contrast.

Romney broke from the president in that he demonstrated that a great president must not always be a great man. Instead, in the right times, he should strive to be a good man — grounded, humble, thoughtful.

Granted, Romney is incapable of carrying any mantle of idealism, which will forever cap his oratorical ability. But, Mitt just isn’t an idealist. He is a manager, aware of his own limitations, yet confident in his ability to effectively lead, delegate and compromise. He introduced to the race a simpler, yet immensely powerful version of inspiration.

Mitt Romney will never be Pericles. He is not a great man. But, on Wednesday, he made the case that this may make him an exceptional President.

Harry Graver is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at harry.graver@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    “When we treat inspiration solely as the product of oratory”

    “Product”.

    The language of Mercantilia pervades even the arts?

    Rhetoric is an art. One is to be “moved” by rhetoric. Inspiration is one type of movement. It is not a “product”.

    Does Mr. Graver thinks students are “products” of Yale? Were they made by hand or assembly-line ?

    • River_Tam

      Plays are ‘produced’ too, you know.

  • Gauss

    To Mr. Graver: I would rather elect a candidate unprepared for debate than one unprepared for office. That is all.

    • River_Tam

      When Obama ran for the Democratic nomination, his supporters held up his two years as Senator as proof of his qualifications for the nomination.

      When Obama got the nomination, his supporters held up his bruising campaign with Hillary as proof of his qualifications for the Presidency.

      Now, when Obama has a term in office, his supporters hold up his incumbency as proof of his qualifications for the Presidency.

  • silliwin01

    I don’t have the pedigree of political experience conferred to someone in the YPU, but it seems to me that you have surpassed what can be reasonably inferred from a single ninety minute debate.

    • yayasisterhood

      Nah, he didn’t.

  • btcl

    Beautiful column.

  • bobloblaw

    “Last Wednesday, Romney exemplified this — he was, without any glitz and glamour, presidential.”

    If by presidential, you mean a complete liar. Romney did nothing in the last debate but demonstrate that he would lie through his teeth about his policies and actual facts in order to “win” a debate.

    I don’t particularly care about inspirational speakers; however, when a man running for president presents untruths to the American public in order to sway their views, he is not only uninspiring but untrustworthy. And if I can’t trust you in a *debate*, I’m not going to trust you in office.

    • tpsurvey

      And can you explain to us how truthful is this current president and administration for lying to our nation after being attacked on 9/11 and telling us it was a film that was released more then 2 months earlier on youtube as the reason for this? 4 Americans killed and he runs off to a fund raiser in Las Vegas while he send his pit bulls Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice to tell this nation that the film caused this to only provoke 25 other muslim nations to start protesting the U.S.
      This President has been lying since day 1 and has had millions of people in his “hope and change”trance.If you think what he has done over the last 3.5 years is great then wait till graduate college and look for a job in the real world as most Americans know it today.

  • The Anti-Yale

    People elect liars with nice hair, square jaws, and big, white teeth. Haven’t you noticed?

    The last bald president was Eisenhower and he had just saved Western Civilization, so it didn’t much matter about the hair. But boy, did he have TEETH. Even more than Obama !

    The better your hair, the more qualified you are. It’s an axiom of Mercantilia. Shopping for Ken and Barby as apprenticeship for electoral citizenship.

    Open your eyes.

    Get with the program .

    • croncor

      Eisenhower was an unqualified commander who did a bumbling job, and he’d just finished mismanaging Columbia University when he was elected.

      We ask too much of our leaders. I think it’s because of pride. But really, why would people like us deserve someone great?

  • jorge_julio

    graver needs to stop using so many dashes

  • The Anti-Yale

    Croncor:

    Do you drive a car?

    There would be no interstate highways without Eisenhower, and therefore not much food, not much tourism, not much work more than a few miles form home.

    Read the new book, “Ike’s Bluff” if you think he was bumbling.

    In fact, much of his incoherent sentence structure was contrived to confuse the press.

    Eisenhower did something else. He never criticized others by name.

    It was called being a gentleman.

    It was also, shrewd politics.

    Leave it to a General not to burn bridges. Especially a Normandy General.

    Think again before you put Ike down.