Commentary

After 2008’s Hope And Change, It’s Sober And Sane for 2012

Mitt Romney’s relentless rise continues as an InsiderAdvantage poll released Sunday has him 11 points ahead of his nearest rival in South Carolina.

The former Massachusetts governor looks likely to seal the deal in Saturday’s primary — dashing Tea Party hopes for a nominee who’s sincerely committed to smaller government.

Get ready for a “passionless presidential race,” Robert Reich warned recently on salon.com. Liberals will support President Obama “without enthusiasm,” conservatives will pull the lever for Romney only grudgingly, leaving the country “with two presidential candidates who don’t inspire — at the very time in American history when Americans crave inspiration.”

I don’t usually look to Bill Clinton’s former labor secretary when I need cheering up. But this time, he’s done the trick.

It’s dangerous when people get too inspired by presidential candidates. ”

A “passionless presidential race”? Good! It’s dangerous when people get too inspired by presidential candidates. We’re picking a constitutional officer here, not anointing a prophet.

Last time around, recall, we had a little too much enthusiasm. A May 2008 piece in the New York Times captured the unseemly atmosphere of teenybopper infatuation that prevailed at Obama campaign rallies:

“You see and hear things on rope lines,” the Times reported, “get a whiff of things, too. (‘I got to smell him, and it was awesome,’ raved Kate Homrich, caught between Mr. Obama and a woman trying to hug him in Grand Rapids.)”

The Times correspondent quoted one Bonnie Owens, “who got her fingers pinched by Mr. Obama after a rally in Louisville”: “Best experience of my life.”

It seems that Owens hasn’t had much of a life. But why pick on her? A herd of supposedly independent journalists got just as giddy in the hope-and-change-saturated days of Obama’s ascendancy.

It would be nice if Romney tried to present a sober contrast to Obama’s vision of the president as national redeemer. Unfortunately, Romney also speaks of the presidency in messianic terms.

In his New Hampshire victory speech, he proclaimed, “Our campaign is about more than replacing a president; it is about saving the soul of America.”

Unlike Obama, Romney hasn’t found time to write two autobiographies, but his campaign-trail book, “No Apology,” has two subtitles: “The Case for American Greatness” and “Believe in America.”

You have to wonder, though, how much does Romney believe in America and its unapologetic greatness if he thinks we’re fragile enough to have our very soul destroyed when a liberal president implements a national version of Romney’s own Massachusetts health care plan?

Try as he might, though, Romney won’t be able to replicate the adulation that surrounded Obama’s 2008 campaign. No one, I’d wager, has ever swooned from a Romney hand-pinch or waxed rhapsodic over his smell (a mix of Scotchgard and Purell, if I had to guess).

The man is so plain-vanilla and transparently insincere that it would be almost impossible to build a cult of personality around him. And that’s a good thing. When Americans get swept up in the romance of Camelot, we usually wake up lighter in the wallet and hate ourselves in the morning.

Romney’s private-sector career, as a Harvard Business School version of the Bobs from “Office Space,” isn’t the stuff on which legends are built, but the experience may come in handy. Right about now, we could use a guy who likes firing people who don’t provide promised services (like federal workers).

We don’t need an “inspirational” president in order to start dealing with our looming fiscal catastrophe which is largely a result of promises made by inspirational presidents past. The crisis we face should be inspiration enough.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power.