June 2, 2011
Today was marked by a curious convergence of local and national campaign politics. In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney formally announced he is running for president, eliciting a vast surge of yawns all across the Fruited Plain. He emphasized his knowledge of economic policy matters, declaring that the United States is in a deep crisis and that President Obama "has failed America." See the Washington Post. Well, that's certainly not news. Romney is trying to project a more friendly, casual image, but in straining to reach out to prospective voters, he runs the risk of being seen as less than authentic.
Romney's big Achilles Heel, obviously, is his record as governor of Massachusetts, signing the law that requires each resident to buy health insurance. Perhaps the passage of such a measure was inevitable in a liberal state such as Massachusetts, but how in the world could a person in his position take the lead the reversing Obamacare? Romney seems competent and sincere, but he has a tendency to shift his positions according to political expediency, making one wonder what he really stands for. It's a wonder that Romney thinks he has much of a chance of winning the Republican nomination.
Working in Romney's favor is the weakness of the Republican field. Donald Trump is a joke, and few of the serious candidates have much going for them. Last year, I was hopeful about Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty, but he is becoming another "me too" candidate who is too prone to pandering. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has very solid credentials as a government executive, but is a bit wobbly on some issues of concern to conservatives. I really like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but he is new to that office and needs more experience. On Facebook a few weeks ago, I expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican candidates, saying that Ron Paul (from Texas) was the only one who excites me at all. (I share his libertarian outlook for the most part, though I regard his foreign policy approach as too isolationistic.) As for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's "One Nation" bus tour and what it means for the 2012 presidential race, the less said the better.
Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Delegate Dickie Bell announced he is running for reelection in the Virginia House of Delegates. (He was first elected in 2009, replacing the then-incumbent delegate, Chris Saxman, who unexpectedly bowed out of the race in July 2009.) He made public appearances in Staunton and in Waynesboro, which is where I went to see him. Because of redistricting (see April 3), Bell now represents the city of Waynesboro as well as Staunton. (His newly revamped 20th District also includes parts of Nelson County, on the other side of the Blue Ridge!) Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling was there to endorse Delegate Bell and to praise his work with the Republicans in Richmond. Bell reminded everyone that he is not afraid to speak his mind, and occasionally disagrees with others in his party. It's too bad there's not more independent-minded leaders like that in Richmond. See his Web site at bellfordelegate.com.
Bell advocates merit-based pay for public school teachers, reasoning that effective educators should have nothing to fear from competition. True, but unlike the private sector, there is an inherent difficulty in measuring performance in the classroom. The last thing this country needs is more standardized tests. They create a big temptation for teachers to teach only what the tests cover, which severely undermines education.
Bell also said he won't shy away from social issues, which many economic conservatives (such as yours truly) regard as an emotional distraction from the more crucial matters. Interestingly, I recall Bill Bolling making a very similar statement when he was first running for lieutenant governor in 2005.