Would Mitt Romney’s Competence Really Fix Washington?

It's a lack of courage, not competence, that's behind the government's ideological gridlock.

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The Washington Post's Michael Gerson offers measured praise to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign and its all-but-inevitable march to the 2012 presidential nomination.

Gerson concludes this way:

Like Dwight Eisenhower, Romney is a man of vague ideology and deep values. In political matters, he is empirical and pragmatic. He studies problems, assesses risks, calculates likely outcomes. Those expecting Romney to be a philosophic leader will be disappointed. He is a management consultant, and a good one.

Has the moment of the management consultant arrived in American politics? In our desperate drought of public competence, Romney has a strong case to make.

I'm not sure how Romney Competence is supposed to work in practice.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

For starters, the basic instinct of conservative economic policy is that government should stay out of the way and let the Bain Capitals of the world work their creative-destructive magic. It seems to me you don't need to have run Bain Capital in order to, as president, stay out of its way.

Maybe that's too snarky.

Okay, then. Let's agree that it's not former Gov. Romney's specific expertise as a business consultant that's needed in Washington. What we need in a president, more generally, is someone with deeply-rooted experience as a manager or executive.

[ Read the U.S. News debate: Will Mitt Romney Be the GOP Presidential Nominee?]

Fine.

If we're talking about the day-to-day demands of running the government—a big, formidable, complex job—I agree.

But let's picture President Romney, with his deep management experience, his love of data, his (as Gerson puts it) belief that the "real task of governing" is "making systems work." Let's picture management-systems-loving President Romney negotiating with Congress. I want to know how, exactly, does Romney Competence deal with a "system" that's riven by ideology? How does he make that one "work"?

When it comes to budgeting and fiscal reform, there's no lack of number-crunches and data-lovers in Washington.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit]

Occasionally, some of them even formulate actual proposals for lawmakers' consideration.

Why, the current president of the United States established a commission to come up with a plan to achieve long-term fiscal sustainability!

What came of it?

Nothing.

Was it a lack of competence that explains why President Obama let the Bowles-Simpson plan twist in the wind? And why the debt-ceiling and "supercommittee" negotiations tanked so ignominiously?

When Tea Partyers refuse any increases in government revenue—even if they're generated via code simplification rather than individual rate hikes, and even when they're accompanied by entitlement reform—are they incompetent?

Is it so-called competence that divides Republican Sen. Tom Coburn from Americans for Tax Reform activist Grover Norquist?

[ Read the U.S. News debate: Is a Flat Tax a Good Idea?]

Or is it something else? (Hint: it begins with an "i" and ends with a "y".)

I genuinely want to know what difference it would make to have Mitt Romney, rather than one of his rivals, in the room with Coburn and Norquist.

Is it competence that's urgently needed—or courage?

Which occasions the question I've been asking all along: When has Mitt Romney ever displayed political courage?