In a Freakonomics podcast from November 2010, Steven Levitt, along with other highly respected economists, asserted that the U.S. president has no control over the economy. The president exercises limited control over social issues — he can’t technically propose laws, and he can’t even vote on them. The U.S. Constitution was written to keep the executive branch from being too powerful. This, in combination with the checks and balances system, was intended to prevent tyranny. By extension, it gives the president very little control, which is a problem that’s amplified by a divided Congress.
According to an article from USA Today, this term’s Congress has been the least productive since 1947. They’ve passed only 61 laws, whereas every Congress before — with the exception of Congress in 1995 — has passed at least 125 laws. In the face of this much opposition, there’s little the president can do.
Based on this evidence, the most important role for the president is to be the face of the country or of an issue. When the president makes a statement, it’s immediately deemed the most important statement made about the issue in question. When President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden came out (pun intended) in favor of gay marriage, it was seen as a huge victory for marriage equality, even though Obama cannot and has not proposed legislation supporting gay rights. In other words, when the White House really gets behind an issue, it immediately gets pushed to the top of the public’s to-do list.
The president’s role is one of marketing and negotiating. Both skills require the ability to speak eloquently and diplomatically on sensitive issues. When the president says something, how he says it carries significant weight. The president must think before he speaks and represent the country well when he does, which simply isn’t the case with Mitt Romney in light of numerous media gaffes.
This was underscored most recently with his now-infamous quote, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims … And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.” And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In this speech, Romney alienated hard working Americans in the lower-middle class while trying to appeal to his peers in the whitest, richest sector of society. How this statement is viewed by other countries and organizations would be more important if Romney were president. With Romney as the face of our nation, this statement could be taken to mean that America as a whole only cares about the opinions of the super-rich.
In London, Romney asserted that with the 2012 Olympics, “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting.” He accused London of being unequipped to host the games a day before they were to start. Britain is one of the U.S.’s biggest allies and it’s tactless of Romney to have angered its capital’s residents in the public forum. The would-be president has to be more cognizant of the force his words carry.
Romney also has had issues with jumping the gun. He tends to speak publicly on issues before he’s aware of all the facts. After the attacks on U.S. ambassadors in Libya, Romney made a statement before President Obama had announced the deaths. He criticized the Obama administration for “stand[ing] by a statement sympathizing with those who breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions” and equated the move with “an apology for America’s values.” This was a matter of national security in which only those close to the administration knew all the facts. It’s irresponsible to make such a statement without knowing all the details. Romney has a rash, reactive personality and responds too quickly, without thought. The Libya attacks are an example of the highly sensitive issues he’ll be dealing with on a daily basis if he’s elected president. As President Obama said, “Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that.”
I’m not saying everything Romney says is stupid, nor am I saying a Democrat has never said something stupid. After all, it was Joe Biden who once said, “‘Jobs is a three-letter word.” Obama explained that as small-town Americans “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” But these examples are fewer and farther between — Obama’s statement comes from last election. It also has less global impact. Mitt Romney has been in the public eye less than a year and has already said things that are both offensive and incorrect, or phrased in the most terrible way possible.
Romney is a smart, extremely successful man with degrees from Harvard University, but this doesn’t mean he’s able to express himself eloquently. He’s rash with his words and thus makes speeches filled with falsehoods, insults and tactlessness.
The president is the face of our country. That’s his or her most powerful role. It took Mitt Romney one trip to get the entire nation of Britain to dislike him, and he didn’t start a war — he simply opened his mouth. At this point in American history we can’t make enemies of any nation militarily, economically or socially. We need countries to work with us to get through though these hard economic times. The president needs to be able to inspire not only their own people, but also the citizens and leaders of other countries. The president’s constitutional power is limited. The way he can get things done is by convincing others through words and influence. Regardless of his platform, Mitt Romney’s continual media gaffes prove he can’t be that type of president.
Jesse Klein is an Assistant Editorial Page Editor.