As I said last week, Mitt Romney has a problem. To repeat myself, “I am concerned Mitt Romney does not understand freedom in its fullest, most transcendent meaning.” I am concerned that Mitt views freedom transactionally, as mere opportunity – the right to hunt, gather and possess. Of course, opportunity is a big part of freedom, but it is not the only part or even the most important part.
Funny thing about our American priorities when tested: We fight and die for quality of life, not quantity of life. When I think of my father fighting at Iwo Jima he was not risking his life simply for the hope to open a business when he returned home. No, he risked all for his family, community, and way of life. He was not thinking about how much deli meat he could eventually sell. He imagined a good home in which he could raise a happy family, care for his aged parents and, one day, enjoy grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Quality of life is a transcendent prospect. Quantity of life is transactional and people with a transactional worldview believe quantity precedes quality. If you want a quality life, you transact, you work hard and make lots of money. A transcendent worldview is that and much more. A transcendent worldview is not only doing what is right but doing it the right way and for the right reasons. Mitt the man may believe this but I do not believe that Mitt the politician does. I think Mitt’s view of freedom is completely transactional. In other words, he would ask, who is to say what is the right way or the right reason, let alone what is even right? As long as the playing field is fair and level, Mitt is good.
Take free trade. Mitt knows that the free exchange of goods and services is a sign of prosperity. But does he know it is not its source? General prosperity comes from the free exchange of goods and services only when we see others as we see ourselves. Absent that virtue, trade may be open but your motivations are not. And, when we do not see others in the marketplace as we see ourselves, free markets, at home or abroad, inevitably lead to social decline – disorder, resentment and class divisions. Trump’s new tariffs are a perfect example of NOT seeing others as we see ourselves.
Simply favoring free trade does not mean Mitt sees others as he sees himself. Neither does his spirited defense of economic opportunity. Even the sincere desire for everyone to transact does not make Mitt’s politics transcendent. A policy of full access to streets paved with gold is not transcendent in and of itself. A curb on that gold street is still a curb for the Forgotten Man to sit in despair.
Perhaps I am alone in this uncomfortable opinion of Mitt – that his worldview and his politics are transactional. But I have this gut feeling that Mitt the politician, like Trump, believes we can transact our way to general prosperity for all. But a sea of transactions does not raise the tide for all. It just makes more ships, usually owned by people who transact the most.
So, I will end where I began – as a conservative, I am concerned Mitt Romney does not understand freedom in its fullest, most transcendent meaning and effect. In contrast, Ronald Reagan seemed to have a transcendent view of life. He did not worship free markets for the sake of free markets. He saw happy people, peaceful and prosperous, and adopted his views of free markets from that transcendent view of mankind. I just do not get the same feel from Mitt.
Perhaps other conservatives who have concerns with Mitt might say it differently but the conclusion is the same – Mitt just does not seem to see the big picture as it relates to everyone. Out on the street, he is a process guy surrounded by a grove of trees he cannot see beyond. If he could, Mitt would see that the end of government is human happiness and not simply the opportunity to achieve it. Yes, our Declaration of Independence states that Americans pursue happiness. But we pursue it to obtain it. And, if we are transcendent, like that founding document, we will help pursue happiness for all.
Giving Mitt the benefit of the doubt, I think he aspires for transcendence for himself personally. I just don’t think he really gets it as applied to everyone else. And that is the problem with Mitt Romney.