Is Mitt Romney’s Lack of Authenticity an Asset?

Is it too much to ask for a candidate to favor the right policies, not just fake it?


New York Times columnist David Brooks, in a bloggy conversation with colleague Gail Collins, makes this case for former Gov. Mitt Romney:

Let me put it this way: Would you rather have someone who authentically agrees with Michele Bachmann or someone who is just faking it? It seems to me that from your point of view you should be praying for inauthenticity. The more, the better.

This is simply too cute. In fact, it's wrongheadedness on stilts.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.]

Granted, Brooks is arguing from the vantage point of someone who's trying to allay the fears of a concerned liberal. Essentially, says Brooks, Romney is just pretending to be a crazy. Once he's in office, he'll behave like a grownup.

But let's dispense with the authenticity/fakery dichotomy. Is it too much to ask for a candidate to authentically favor the right policies?

This is the problem with Romney and his unknowable philosophical core: How can you tell the real from the unreal? Historical analogues don't carry me very far here. George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole looked transparently ridiculous wearing supply-sider/culture warrior garb. They were prudential centrists through and through.

Amid today's crisis, things seem more scrambled.

Does Mitt Romney truly believe that tax cuts are self-financing?

Does Mitt Romney truly believe that inflation is a serious threat right now?

Does Mitt Romney truly believe that a Balanced Budget Amendment is a good idea?

Does Mitt Romney truly want to eliminate capital gains taxes on those earning more than $200,000 a year—or does he think, as his economic plan indicates, that capping the tax break there will do the trick?

Does Mitt Romney believe that government stimulus can boost aggregate demand, or not?

Does Mitt Romney truly believe that building a 2,600-mile fence across the Mexican border will materially affect the lives of native-born Americans?

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

I can answer none of these things with any certainty.

The Wall Street Journal strains to hear a dog whistle, but comes up empty:

The biggest rap on Mr. Romney as a potential president is that it's hard to discern any core beliefs beyond faith in his own managerial expertise. For all its good points, yesterday's policy potpourri won't change that perception.

If Brooks has the inside scoop on the real Mitt Romney, I'd love to hear it.