It’s not 1939. But the clouds are darkening and storms are gathering. Americans sense the dangers we face. So in the foreign policy debate Monday night, and for the rest of the campaign, Mitt Romney’s task is not merely to speak for the Republican party, or for conservative opponents of Barack Obama. Nor is his task merely to speak to undecided suburban women. Mitt Romney’s task is to rise above partisanship and gamesmanship, above debating points and electoral calculations. Mitt Romney’s task is to speak for America.
What does this mean? It means speaking in a bipartisan way. It means appealing to the broad American tradition of international leadership, and to the actions of Harry Truman as well as those of Ronald Reagan. It means citing Joe Lieberman as well as John McCain, and the Washington Post editorial page as well as The Weekly Standard. It means praising our soldiers and our Marines, our diplomats and our intelligence professionals. It means finding something to praise in the actions of President Obama (perhaps his authorization of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden) and someone to praise among Obama’s appointees—perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her tireless travels on behalf of the nation and for stepping forward to take responsibility for the tragic failure to provide security in Benghazi.
Speaking for America also means speaking in a forward-looking way. There’s no need for Mitt Romney to fly-speck Barack Obama’s foreign policy record. Voters are aware of the deficiencies of Obama’s foreign policy—and in any case, Obama is not going to win the presidency on the strength of his foreign policy. So Romney doesn’t have to mount a detailed critique of various Obama foreign policies. He has to stipulate that all is not turning out as Obama claimed it would, that all is not well in the state of the world—and, then, even more important, he has to demonstrate that he, Romney, can be trusted to steer the American ship of state in a sounder direction and with a steadier hand. This will require setting forth the core principles he will follow—principles of American strength and leadership, of standing by our allies and of standing up to enemies—and then explaining how, in general terms, he will execute a foreign policy based on these principles.
Speaking for America also means speaking presidentially. It means speaking less as a challenger to, or as a critic and prosecutor of, the current president, and more as the next president. It means moving from being the leader of a party to the next leader of the nation. Romney should appear, by the end of the presidential debate Monday night and by the end of the campaign two weeks later, to be more presidential than the incumbent.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment