Outspending his main rival 5 to 1, Mitt Romney won a significant plurality in Tuesday’s Florida Primary and so regained momentum in the race for the Republican nomination. We are entering a lull in the campaign, with only a few states voting in February. The next big test is Super Tuesday on March 6th, by which time Romney hopes his vast stores of cash and our sense of his inevitability will bring him decisive victory.
Mostly, I am glad. Romney would make a better president than any of his rivals. Consider the bombastic Newt Gingrich (hated most by those who know him best, one of his Republican House colleagues said “If he is the smartest man in the room, leave the room”), the anti-gay rights Rick Santorum (google his name and the first thing you see is that his opponents have turned “Santorum” into a synonym for a frothy by-product of anal sex), and the libertarian Ron Paul (cuter than the others but actually even more loony). Unlike them, at least Romney’s presidency would not make us long for the days of the sagacious and wise rule of George W Bush.
Gingrich would send America to the Moon, and to war with Iran. Santorum would criminalize homosexuality and try to eliminate non-marital sex. Paul would shrink the government to Jeffersonian levels and so drive unemployment to over 20 per cent. Romney would protect the financial sector and bail out the banks. Oh, that is what Obama did.
Romney, remember, as Governor of Massachusetts created the insurance-based health reform that was the model for Obamacare that all the Republicans rail against. Although at the margins Obama and Romney are quite different, their reaction to the financial crisis would probably have been almost identical. Despite the rage on both left and right, and despite their own rhetoric, both likely candidates inhabit the “sensible” middle.
Plato feared democracy because it gave power to the mob. He needn’t have worried. In both Britain and the US, the wide differences between the two leading parties often are more symbolic than real. Most of David Cameron’s austerity policies were first proposed by Gordon Brown. On a practical, budgetary level, (and the budget, after all, is “the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies”) a Romney presidency probably wouldn’t differ all that much from an Obama presidency.
Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it means we have a technocratic government in which both parties strive to serve the interests of the nation. Maybe it means both parties know they have to woo the middle and so merge towards the centre. Or maybe, as a wise woman said, it means, “If voting could change anything, they would make it illegal.”