Iowa City Press-Citizen

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Our View: Romney best choice for nation's chief executive

When choosing whom to endorse for president, we’re interested in one thing this year: Finding the person best able to help the nation fix the economy.

We’re not looking for ideological purity.

We’re not looking for someone we agree with 100 percent of the time.

We’re simply interested in finding the person who has the best understanding of the issues, who has the best ideas on how to move the nation forward and, most importantly, who has the leadership skills necessary to work with the Congress and the American people to ensure that many of those ideas become reality.

After considering all the Republican candidates vying for the opportunity to take on President Obama in November, we think Mitt Romney is the candidate best suited to address the gridlock of dysfunction that has infected our federal system for the past generation.

We did not endorse Romney for the caucuses four years ago, but we recognized his leadership potential. We were impressed with how, as the CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, he helped turn around some troubled-, scandal-filled preparations and make the 2002 Winter Olympics into a success.

And we thought highly of his achievements as governor:

His willingness to address a $1 billion-plus budget shortfall through a variety of spending cuts, increased fees and the closing of tax loopholes.

As well as his signing the 2006 legislation that expanded health insurance access to include nearly all Massachusetts residents — an achievement that now, because of the legislation’s similarity to the federal reform package denounced as “Obamacare,” unfortunately is proving to be an caucus-time albatross around Romney’s neck.

We now commend Romney for being able to focus so intently on the job at hand: to outline a national vision that can appeal to Republican primary/caucus voters as well as to independents and dissatisfied Democrats in the general election. While so many other Republican candidates have been burned by the limelight that comes with temporary frontrunner status, Romney has remained disciplined and largely above the fray. And while other candidates lob rhetorical bombs about the dangers of Washington and the horrors of Democratic public policy, Romney follows his criticism with thoughtful, well-considered, well-vetted solutions.

We even commend Romney for being willing to change his mind. Although he often gets tagged with the term “flip-flopper,” Romney has been very open about his evolution from moderate Republican to solid conservative. He has explained how some of his positions have changed over the years — including why, after campaigning for governor with a promise neither to restrict nor to promote access to abortion, he decided to veto legislation that would have legalized the morning-after pill. But he also has been equally open about how some of his carefully-worded, nuanced positions have not changed over time.

We, of course, disagree with Romney on many points. Although he says that he supports full civil rights for gay and lesbian citizens, he also says he believes marriage is only between one man and one woman. We — along with the U.S. Supreme Court — think the right to marry is a right protected under the U.S. Constitution, and we — along with the Iowa Supreme Court — think that right should extend to gay and lesbian citizens.

And Romney, along with all the other candidates in the Aug. 11 debate, did raise his hand when asked whether he, as president, would walk away from a hypothetical deal in which the Democrats offered 10:1 spending cuts for tax increases. (If any progress is going to be made on deficit spending, it will require a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.)

Luckily, Romney’s comprehensive economic plan is much more realistic than that hand-raising would suggest. And what continues to make Romney such an attractive candidate right now is that, while in office, he was able to work across the aisle with a Democratic Legislature and was able to govern pragmatically and effectively.

Indeed, in contrast to the current and former lawmakers running against him, Romney seems the person most likely to build bridges and to find solutions — rather than trying to ramrod through his own agenda and sulking when he doesn’t get his way. And he seems the most likely to negotiate solutions rather than perpetuate a partisan playground war.

When comparing Romney to the other top-tier candidates, it arguably could be said that Newt Gingrich is the more professorially intelligent and articulate. And we certainly agree with the former Speaker of the House’s attempts to raise the bar on political debates to include substantial discussions of breakthrough technologies that could drastically change the way we think about health care and energy. (Indeed, if we were endorsing based solely on which candidate would ensure the most engaging, informative and entertaining debates with Obama, we’d choose Gingrich hands down.)

But the phrase “lack of discipline” keeps coming up in regard to Gingrich. And more importantly, that phrase keeps coming up from people who have worked most closely with him over the years. So for all his big ideas and rhetorical bluster, Gingrich comes across as far too mercurial to be trusted as the nation’s chief executive.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul — often called the “godfather” of the Tea Party movement — has been especially successful this caucus cycle in his attempts to tap into the libertarian streak of Iowa’s conservatives and independents. And his populist message of local control resonates loudly with voters from both the right and the left who think the government delves too much into how they live their lives.

But we can’t back Paul’s assertion that the U.S. government somehow would be safer by closing its military bases around the world. Nor do we think the answer to the nation’s economic woes is to take a wrecking ball to Washington and to have the U.S. government remove itself completely from all environmental, agricultural, educational, energy and infrastructure issues.

As Romney writes in the introduction to his book, “No Apology: Believe in America”: “Freedom does not require the complete absence of government — government plays a critical role in protecting our lives and liberties from those who would endeavor to take them from us. But freedom does demand restraint in government’s intrusion into our life, freedom and livelihood.”

Romney, of all the Republican candidates, is in the best position to work with Congress and the nation to define realistically what those restraints should be. And we think he would offer a smart, substantial alternative to the Obama campaign in the fall.

Copyright © 2011 Iowa City Press-Citizen, all rights reserved.  Reprinted by permission (Jeff Charis-Carlson, Dec. 30, 2011 email).

NOTES: A Gannett paper.  Opinion page editor Jeff Charis-Carlson provided the following observations in a Jan. 26, 2012 email:

>> Who is on the ed. board?

The Press-Citizen Editorial Board includes Jeff Charis-Carlson, opinion page editor; Gabe Aguirre, general manager; Emily Nelson, senior editor; Patrick Riepe, online editor; and community members Shams Ghoneim and Amy Sundermann.

>> do you do endorsements by consensus or...?

The "Our View" staff editorial printed everyday represents the "consensus" of the Editorial Board. Romney was not the "first" choice of every member of the board, but the editorial reflected a consensus opinion of his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.

>> Which candidates did you invite to meet with the ed. board and who did meet with you (and on what date if that is readily available)?

The following Republican presidential candidates met representatives from the Editorial Board: Fred Karger, Gary Johnson, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. We also extended invitations for in-person interviews with Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. (For those candidates, we made use of the video of their interviews with the Des Moines Register Editorial Board.)

>> Timing of the endorsement?

Because we were not able to get in all the candidates, we held our endorsement until what we felt was the last moment -- the Wednesday before the Tuesday caucus -- in order to give our readers the opportunity to send in letters directly responding to our endorsement.

>> How did this cycle differ from the last cycle, or any other observations?

Both in 2007/8 and 2011/12 it provided difficult to get candidates to agree to come in for an Editorial Board interview. During the last caucus cycle, I spent a lot of time calling in favors to bring in at least one of the top-tier candidates in. We found that once one agreed to come, the others soon followed. But until that one agreed, there were a lot of excuses and unreturned email. Eventually, we had all the Democratic candidates come in and a smattering of Republicans.

Because Johnson County, Iowa -- home of the University of Iowa -- is known as a Democratic stronghold, it's been especially difficult to get Republican candidates to make time for us. Yet -- contrary to nearly everyone's experience -- we actually had a better response from the Republican president candidates than in the past.