This week the New Yorker runs a profile of Mitt Romney by Nicholas Lemann. It's behind a paywall for now but here's an extract quoted by Politico:
Romney’s voice lacks resonance and range. … [E]ven in brief appearances, he tends to offer up three- and five-point policy plans that bore the audience. He talks to voters businessman to businessman, on the assumption that everybody either runs a business or wants to start one. Romney believes that if you drop the name of someone who has built a very successful company—Sam Walton, of Wal-Mart, or Ray Kroc, of McDonald’s—it will have the same effect as mentioning a sports hero. And Romney’s political references (the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, the organized-labor cause known as ‘card check,’ Obama’s failure to negotiate new free-trade agreements) don’t register much with the people who turn up at rallies. He sounds like someone speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon in the nineteen-fifties.
This description, with its pinpointing of Romney's inability to connect with audiences at a cultural or emotional level, rings true, and I was reminded of it when reading the latest David Brooks column, another of his elegant laments for the decline of the broad-church Republican Party he joined.
Brooks describes how the party used to represent a fusion of anti-government free marketeers and more traditional, socially conscious conservatives, but is now dominated by one faction alone:
Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.
It’s not so much that today’s Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don’t even know it exists...The results have been unfortunate. Since they no longer speak in the language of social order, Republicans have very little to offer the less educated half of this country. Republicans have very little to say to Hispanic voters, who often come from cultures that place high value on communal solidarity.
Republicans repeat formulas — government support equals dependency — that make sense according to free-market ideology, but oversimplify the real world. Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms. No wonder Romney has trouble relating.
Brooks is very good at compression; at expressing complex philosophies simply and economically. This is a pretty good primer on the beliefs of Burkean conservatives:
They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage...This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent...This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it’s generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously.
In the Brooks vision of the ideal Republican Party, these kinder, gentler conservatives are allied to free-market firebrands, thus embodying the lovely aphorism of the child psychologist John Bowlby (which I hadn't heard before): "life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base".
Brooks doesn't mention him, but there is only one senior figure in today's GOP who stands for this rounded conservative philosophy. His name is Bush.