Mitt Romney @ Microsoft

Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, spoke to members of the Microsoft PAC today on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA.

My overall impression is that Romney is one of those people who has been very successful in business and is now turning his skills and attention to politics.  He clearly understands the business world and the economy in general, and it’s on these topics that he sounds the most confident, and shows the most depth.  His transition from businessman to politician seems to have been successful in Massachusetts.

Mitt Romney at Microsoft
Photo:  Bryce Milton

I’m less certain whether he has the breadth or depth to do well in the Oval Office.

He came out in shirt sleeves and opened with a few self-deprecating anecdotes before launching into a half hour speech which included a brief PowerPoint presentation.  (I don’t know if he always uses PowerPoint or if he was just trying to curry favor with the locals.)

He speaks well, even sounds good; his voice has a nice commanding resonance. 

Here are some of the things I liked: 

  • Romney summarized his approach to problem solving, derived from his consulting experience: put together the right team, collect and analyze data (he called it "bathing in the data"), formulate a strategy and then measure execution against benchmarks.  Nothing earth shattering by any stretch, but it’s light years ahead of anything practiced by the current administration, especially the part about actually looking at data. 
  • Establishing health insurance for everyone in Massachusetts when he was governor was a tremendous accomplishment, and not one I’d expect from most Republicans.  I have no idea how the program is actually working, and no doubt there are flaws to be ironed out, but that doesn’t detract from the achievement. 
  • He’s a strong supporter of free trade and opening up markets for US goods and services.

And some things I disliked:

  • While Romney pointed out America’s $9-trillion national debt, he still wants to reduce taxes, specifically to eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for those earning less than $200K.  OK, I’d like my tax bill reduced as much as the next guy, but if there’s one thing worse than taxing me, it’s taxing my kids for stuff I should have paid for.  Government spending is dangerously out of control and I for one expect more from a candidate than the usual taxpayer-funded election year bribes.
  • He talked about meeting the challenge of a "global jihadist" movement, but showed no real depth in the crucial area of foreign policy.  He supports the surge in Iraq and stronger sanctions against Iran.  Nothing about the diplomatic efforts required in both situations, nothing about a broader Middle East strategy, nor about restoring America’s relations with most of the rest of the world, playing a constructive role in multilateral institutions, or demonstrating and not just talking about moral leadership.
  • Not a word about the environment as far as I can recall.  Although, to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, Romney supports investment in clean coal (among other alternatives), something I’ve always thought was an oxymoron. 
  • A throwaway line about immigration enforcement.  Arghhh!  When are these folks going to figure out that immigrants (full disclosure: I’m one of them) are valuable people, and that the US is increasingly competing with other countries to attract them? 

To be fair, no candidate can be expected to cover every issue in depth in half an hour.  Nonetheless, that is quite enough time to get a clear sense of their priorities and general political orientation. 

I’m unlikely to vote Republican this time around, highly unlikely in fact, and Romney, despite his strengths didn’t change my mind on that score.  Still he is a credible candidate for the GOP. 

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