“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.