Does Romney understand the idea of America?

Craig Shirley President, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs
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It seems apparent to some that America is headed for a new dark age, with the destruction of American Exceptionalism thanks to our young and manifestly ignorant president, the decline of America’s public schools thanks to corrupt and self-centered teachers’ unions, and the dumbing-down of our culture thanks to radical secularists and their rejection of the spiritually and intellectually self-reliant individual.

Being dependent on government or making people dependent on government doesn’t require much brainpower. Individuality and independence require the ability to reason. As Russell Kirk once said, “From the time I began to reason, I have always been a conservative.”

Fifty years ago, a young and intellectual president told us to look up and see a New Frontier. He followed an old and intellectual president who thought deeply enough about things to warn Americans about illicit and “unwarranted” concentrations of power. Indeed, the American Century — as Henry Luce dubbed it — was mostly dominated by men who dreamed of things and said, “Why not?” That America appears to be going to the dumb and the dogs.

If you want to elect someone who will lead America down that road, some of the GOP insiders and establishmentarians have the candidate for you: Mitt Romney.

It seems only natural that the GOP would consider nominating its own celebrity candidate a la Kim Kardashian (in fact, Romney looks like Kim Kardashian’s father). Everyone points out that Romney is nice-looking and was born rich, as if those are qualifications for president.

On Tuesday, Romney gave a speech — using a teleprompter, of course — in which he used the phrases “invisible boot of government” and “opportunity society” without ever crediting Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, or Newt Gingrich, who originated them. It’s not likely Romney wrote the speech, much less has ever read Friedman.

Yet, he’s taken Reagan’s name for his bus. Too bad Romney hasn’t taken back his disavowals of Reagan. When it was politically expedient, he bashed Reagan in an infamous debate with Ted Kennedy. Under pressure from the liberal Kennedy, the liberal Romney nervously ran from the Gipper, saying he’d never been a Reaganite and was an independent “during that time.” Now that it’s politically convenient for Romney to embrace Reagan, he is.

A conservative of convenience, a summer conservative, is not a true conservative.

Romney’s campaign has been a Hollywood flack’s dream. A fan can even win a dream lunch date with Mitt via his website, as if Romney were a heartthrob on the cover of Tiger Beat for the Middle Aged. His campaign features his family, his eating habits, his jogging. In short, Romney’s campaign features everything except original ideas.

Recently, I was struck by how proud Romney was of his anti-intellectualism and his anti-American Exceptionalism when he repeatedly mocked the notions of colonizing the moon or going to the stars.

As a boy, I grew up dreaming about these sorts of things. I was not alone. We once had presidents who articulated this dream and all of us saw space and the moon as not only an extension of the Cold War — and thus a very real battleground — but also an uplifting extension of Manifest Destiny, something that made one raise his eyes, get misty, and think about the spiritual nature of free people rather than just our acquisitive nature.

Once upon a time, the Republican Party nominated a man who did think about these things, who wrestled with the mighty ideas of who belonged at the center of the universe, man or God. He merged the philosophies of two of his favorite thinkers, Thomas Paine and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and spoke of “man with God,” believing that if man was at the center of the universe, then it must be as God’s creation, that God wanted man there and, moreover, God was there with man. This was a man who said his massive tax cuts were really about “reordering man’s relationship to the state.”

This was a man who dreamed of a better and freer world, just as the Founding Fathers did. After all, Reagan did introduce the idea of a Strategic Defense Initiative, but Mitt Romney probably would have mocked it, just as he mocked the Gipper in those days. Americans have too often had to put up with their own Mitt Romneys of the world, those who destroy rather than create.

Romney is very much a product of the same self-centered superficial culture as Barack Obama and Kim Kardashian. Are they students of the world, of history, of philosophy or faith? The evidence is thin, to say the least. As I’ve said before, Obama is America’s first Facebook president. He’s only knowledgeable in the study of himself; he wrote two autobiographies before age 47.

The White House is occupied by an insecure man of privilege who doesn’t understand the greatness of our country and is lost in power. We can’t risk sending another one there, lest we lose forever the idea of America.

Craig Shirley is a Reagan and Gingrich biographer, a New York Times bestselling author, a First Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, and the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs.