When I told my wife Lisa that I was writing a column supporting Mitt Romney for president, her reaction was both impressive and revealing:
“Why don’t you write about the infield fly rule?”
It is impressive that anyone actually understands the infield fly rule, one of those arcane mysteries of life in baseball that became the subject of a riot in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 6-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves Friday in the first ever Wild Card One versus Wild Card Two playoff game. It is also true that my normal bailiwick is sports.
The revealing part is that she would suggest the infield fly rule as column fodder, a clear signal that support of Republican nominee Romney over President Obama is not something she looks forward to seeing in print and could well create a War of the Tates. We have already agreed to no longer discuss politics.
This is not a frivolous decision, nor is it an easy one. I grew up on the Upper West Side of New York, arguably the country’s nexus of liberalogy, where it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least as a child to discover that my parents, along with all the other attendees in some garret reminiscent of the French Resistance, had thrown eggs at Abbie Hoffman at a political get-together because he wasn’t liberal enough.
Voting for a president is based on a combination of factual and emotional perception. The tipping point was last week’s debate in Denver. Romney finally did what he should have done all along instead of his balky cha cha with the old white men of the conservative Republican wing: he acted as the moderate he is, for the first time running as himself, not against himself, embracing his record as governor of Massachusetts.
I have never seen a performance worse than Obama’s, distracted, his head dipped into the podium as if avoiding the smell of something rotten, acting above the very idea that a debate does provide a pivotal referendum on his first term as it has for all incumbent presidents, whipsawed by the legion of usual advisers telling him to play defense when his own intuition should have told him that he needed to go on the offensive as Romney slapped him around.
But there was more than the entitlement of entitlement. He struck me as burnt out, tired of selling his message although he has always been terrible at selling his message when it veers from idealism into the practical.
By instinct I still cling to my Democrat roots. But I admit that as I get older, on the cusp of 58, I am moving more to the center or even tweaking right, or at least not tied to any ideology. Those making more than $250,000 should pay more taxes, and that does include me. But I also am tired of Obama’s constant demonization, of those he spits out as “millionaires and billionaires,” as pariahs. Romney’s comments at a fundraiser were stupid, but 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income taxes. Yes, a majority are poor and seniors. But millions do not pay such taxes with incomes of more than $50,000, and whether it’s as little as $10, every American should contribute both as a patriotic obligation and skin in the game. This is our country, not our country club.
Lisa considers me a traitor to the very essence of America, providing a helping hand to those in genuine need. There is a part of me that feels like a traitor myself, having seen firsthand on a sustained basis the cesspool of crime and crack and teenage prostitution and sinking-house dilapidation in which 25 percent of my hometown, the city of Philadelphia, lives, in poverty. Of all the hopes I have for Romney, this is the most tenuous. But take a walk in neighboring Camden, said by some to be the poorest and most dangerous city in America, and ask yourself how urban policy has even been a part of the president’s agenda.
The tipping point toward a candidate is perhaps the greatest act of individuality in our unique democracy, although in this day and age of unprecedented political divide, telling somebody who you are voting for has no upside: There is no respect for your right as a citizen, but outright hatred from those who do not agree with you. I fear that I will lose friends, some of whom I hold inside my heart. Of course, I will also lose friends I really don’t like anyway.
In my other life, as the afternoon talk show host for CBS WPHT-AM in Philadelphia, I have studied the issues assiduously, or as assiduously as I can given their complexities. I know that both candidates, while agreeing on health-care reform, have radically different ideas. I know that when Romney says people with preexisting conditions will be reinsured, he leaves out the gigantic footnote that first they had to have coverage through their jobs. But I also question the ability of Obamacare to control costs, given the administrative nightmare that exists when government is involved. One of the Obamacare methods of cutting those costs, the computerization of hospital records, has resulted in massive fraud by cheating doctors.
At the debate, Romney did not simply act like he wanted to be president. He wants to be president. He showed vigor, and enthusiasm, and excitement, a man who wants to lead. It may all be ephemeral, because most of politics is ephemeral, a cynical means to the end of getting elected. But he also revealed compassion that, during the entirety of this absurdly long march, had never been in evidence before. He recognized the needs of the poor. He recognized the need for regulation.
His tax plan was admittedly mystery meat. But the tag he has lied is unfair. To the contrary, he has recognized that his original proposal is more screwed up than the infield fly rule, not to mention mathematically impossible. So he is modifying it, coming up with a possible alternative in recent weeks that deductions should be capped at $17,000. Even the liberal party boys, like The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, reluctantly admitted in the typical liberal style that it might have merit one of these millennia. I think Romney realizes that lowering the rate to 20 percent will not fly if he is to lower the deficit and make the plan work. And he is hardly the only candidate to assert something during a campaign that will change once in his office. As I recall, Obama vowed to cut the deficit in half.
Democratic supporters offered the usual antidotes to Obama’s debate performance: he was tired from running the country, the mile-high air got to him (which is why Al Gore is better off with the midlife crisis of a beard). But I don’t see Obama spending much time running the country, unless you count his recent appearance on The View, where he was far more animated and charming than during the debate.
He has said nary a word about the debacle in Benghazi in Libya where ambassador Chris Stevens was killed amidst all sort of questions over adequate security. While getting a tongue bath from Whoopi, he rejected meeting with Middle East leaders during the UN General Assembly, so essential in dealing with a region where personal relationships make a profound difference. As Syria burns more fiercely than ever, now enveloping Turkey with its own use of military force, he purposely stays as far away from it as he can, presumably until after the election if at all.
Our engagement in politics is admittedly pathetic, one of the unforgivable shames of our society. But in the debate, more than 70 million were watching. It was a time for Obama to shine, not to mail in the same message, smooth and eloquent as always, but no longer connecting with an electorate that has been there done that (even the liberals will admit it behind the locked door of the bathroom after searching for bugs). I am not sure Obama really wants to be president in any practical way. He hates the rolling up of sleeves and schmoozing that is politics. I respect his principles, the way he does not veer from them, but politics is not principle whether we like it or not. It is friendliness and compromise.
I believe that Romney’s move to the center is not yet another flip-flop sleight of hand, perhaps naively. I believe he will send to the political Guantanamo those dirty old white men of the party ready to bomb Iran (speaking of wars, are we out of Afghanistan yet, despite our so-called allies killing our soldiers? See Obama policy).
Four years ago, all Obama had to do was speak and everyone swooned. That was four years ago. It is now four years later. He is no longer the chosen one. He is just too cool for school in a country desperate for the infectiousness of rejuvenation.
Romney has it.
Our president no longer does.