Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Romney Loves Give and Take"

In the News

The Man Who Wants To Fix Washington

By: Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standard


"Romney took from his Harvard years a way of thinking and making decisions that he has applied relentlessly through two decades as a business executive, three as CEO and savior of the 2002 Winter Olympics, four as governor of Massachusetts, and now for a year as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. If elected president, Romney intends to apply this approach in Washington." ...

"Romney is not primarily a politician. He's a successful corporate executive with a second career in politics – a second career similar to Ronald Reagan's. He still slips into business consultant lingo, talking (at least to me) about 'the breakthrough insight' and a person's 'skill set' and 'the selection, motivation, and guidance of people.'

"And because his résumé is heavy on business and relatively light on politics, the political community, the press, and presidential scholars are dubious of his qualifications for the presidency. Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution says his 'hunch' is that the business sector is 'a very bad place' for picking up what's required to be an effective president. "I'm not so sure.

Romney is extremely smart, confident as a decision maker, and adept at finding grounds for agreement. His idea of the perfect deal is not when one side wins but when 'you find a new alternative that everybody agrees is the right way to go. That doesn't always happen.' Not in Washington anyway – Romney understands this. 'Business and government are different,' he told me. "

Unlike everyone else running for president, though, Romney has a new method for solving problems and taking on difficult issues. Sure, it's a process that was developed outside of government, but Romney honed it in the cutthroat world of business consulting and corporate turnarounds, compared to which the fighting in Washington is tame.

Do Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or Fred Thompson or John McCain have anything better to offer? All they have are agendas. Romney has one of those, too." ...

"The Romney way is very simple. It consists of attacking a problem or considering an issue or policy through vigorous debate, with dissenting opinions encouraged and outside advice eagerly sought, and relying on as much hard data as possible.

At the end of the process, the leader makes a decision that may or may not coincide with the 'vision' or 'concept' or 'framework' - Romney's words - that initiated the discussion in the first place. "Here's how Romney describes the process:

"You diagnose the problem. You put the right team together to solve the problem. You listen to alternative viewpoints. You insist on gathering data before you make decisions and analyze the data looking for trends. The result of this process is, you hope, that you make better decisions. You typically also have processes in place to see if it's working or not working, and you make adjustments from time to time.

"That's it. Romney loves the give-and-take. 'I have to see conflict,' he says. 'The last thing you want is people coming in saying "We all agree. Here's the recommendation." I know I don't want to proceed on that basis.' As governor of Massachusetts, Romney balked at extending Boston's mass transit system until he'd heard the case against it. Once he had, he decided to approve the extension.

"Romney used this method of analysis and decision-making for six years with Bain Consulting in Boston, where his task was reviving failing companies. He used it again for 15 years when he headed Bain Capital, which specialized in investing in start-ups and late-stage turnarounds. Romney emphasized it while keeping the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah from collapsing and later in putting together a health insurance plan for Massachusetts that covered all the state's uninsured and got the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and Senator Ted Kennedy to sign on." ...

"One more thing. Romney believes getting the right people on your team is crucial. 'I like smart people,' he wrote in Turnaround, his chronicle of saving the Winter Olympics. 'Bill Bain, my old boss, used to joke that most things can be fixed, but smart – or dumb – is forever.' Romney has a knack for persuading smart people to leave lucrative jobs to work for him for less pay.

"Now, the overriding question about Romney is whether his approach would work in a Washington bitterly divided along partisan and ideological lines. Romney thinks so - no surprise there - and he cites as evidence his success in working with Democrats in Massachusetts. They were happy to share credit with the governor. The viciously partisan Democrats who control Congress wouldn't be so complaisant.

"But by treating every issue as a problem to be solved, I suspect Romney could make headway on domestic policy, even on divisive issues like Social Security, health care, and immigration." ...

"Besides rigorous analysis, he says he'd bring the 'can do' spirit of the business community to a Romney presidency. 'I have spent a lifetime getting things done,' he told a crowd in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, recently. 'In the private sector if all you do is talk, you get fired.' The implication, of course, is that all Washington does is talk." ...

"As a presidential candidate, Romney has sought to take the same position on foreign affairs he would if he were president. "Two examples. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran visited New York in September, Romney wanted to take a strong stand, but he found in discussion with advisers that his options were limited. Several advisers recommended he urge the State Department to deny Ahmadinejad a visa, but it emerged in the analysis-and-debate session that this would be illegal.

The president is required by law to allow foreign leaders to attend meetings at the United Nations in New York. Instead Romney publicly said that Ahmadinejad should be disinvited from addressing the U.N.'s general assembly and from appearing at Columbia University. And he should be indicted under the U.N.'s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide for advocating the destruction of Israel.

This, in effect, is Romney's presidential position. "The second example occurred on Romney's trip to Israel last January. He arranged to visit the fence along the West Bank and was surprised by the reluctance of Israeli military officers to defend the building of the barrier. Romney asked the number of terrorist attacks before and after the fence was erected. Romney, an aide says, is 'a before and after guy' in making judgments. When told attacks had dropped to zero, Romney said the Israelis shouldn't be apologetic about the fence. If the United States had faced the same terrorist threat, 'we'd have built it 10 feet higher and called it a wall.'"...

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