The other day, I discussed Senator John McCain and why I respect him — and why I can’t vote for him. As the primary here in New Hampshire draws closer, I find myself thinking more and more about matters, and wondering just how my subconscious judges candidates. And one of them has bubbled to the forefront: a record of accomplishments.
Looking at the Republican side, two men stand out in that category: Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.
In 1987, Peter David wrote “Knight Life,” a fun little book about King Arthur coming back and running for mayor of New York City. One of the running gags was that Arthur Penn (as he was known) ran as an independent against the nigh-unbeatable Democratic incumbent; the Republican nominee was so unremarkable that no one could even remember his name. (As I recall, David named him after one of his comic-book-writing colleagues.) The notion of a Republican mayor of New York City was an absolute joke.
Until Rudy Giuliani came along. The guy had been a hell of a good prosecutor in the US attorney’s office, and then ran for mayor — and lost. Four years later, he came back and ran again, and shocked a hell of a lot of people by winning. And during his two terms, he did pretty much what he promised to do: he cleaned up New York City. Crime went down, the general quality of life improved, Times Square changed from a porno mecca to a family-friendly plaza (OK, I’m not entirely thrilled about THAT one, but he said he’d do it and he did), and in general he made the city a hell of a lot better than how he found it.
And that’s not even mentioning 9/11, which everyone else does anyway.
Mitt Romney came from business. He was a vice-president at Bain & Company, then left them to head up their spin-off, Bain Capital. While he ran it, it made stupendous profits — according to Wikipedia, its average annual rate of return was 113%. Then, when Bain & Company was on the verge of collapse, he was asked to return — and brought them back to prosperity.
Later, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were in serious trouble. The hosts used the “Mormon Old Boy Network” to get Romney to take it over, hoping to at least get through the games without losing their shirts. Romney flew in and started cracking the whip — and in the end, the games were very successful and the city ended up making a tidy profit. Romney turned a $379 million shortfall into a $100 million profit, and the games themselves are considered among the better Olympiads.
Then Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts. Yes, he did some things I think were pretty wretched (the state-mandated health insurance plan among them), but overall he did remarkably well considering that he never had anything close to a majority in either House of the Legislature — and in the second half of his term, had about 15% of each House. That he got elected in the first place, that the state didn’t go utterly bankrupt in that time, and that he could probably have been re-elected had he run again speaks volumes.
I have to give some credit to Fred Thompson, too. To be both a Republican and a successful Hollywood actor (albeit not a major star) is a rare thing indeed. The guy has had several very competitive, high-profile careers and done well in all of them — lawyer, Senator, and actor. I don’t know how well that would translate into presidential success, but we’ve done worse.
On the Democratic side, the front-runners just don’t have any real successes they can point to. Hillary Clinton spent eight years as First Lady to a president who seemed to forget that he was married, then shopped for an open Senate seat to bide her time until she could run for president. Prior to that, she was a lawyer in a politically-connected law firm while her husband was governor. I’ve tried to find any accomplishments of hers that are not tied — directly or indirectly — to Bill, and the only one that really comes to mind is her staff work on the Watergate impeachment committee.
Barack Obama, as I’ve said, comes across as an “empty suit.” A first-term Senator, he’d prior been a legislator in Illinois, with some rather awkward (but well-concealed) ties to some of the more corrupt figures there. So far, the most memorable statement of substance he’s made was when he first said that he was willing to invade Pakistan to hunt down terrorists (Pakistan being a nuclear power), then the very next day he vowed to never use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. This was the geopolitical equivalent of putting a giant “kick me” sign on the back of the nation — and the boots being invited are measured in megatons.
I don’t know who I’ll vote for in New Hampshire’s primary, and I probably won’t decide until just beforeprimary day. But one thing I’ll be looking for is some indicators that the candidates who may get my vote has proven that they can actually get stuff done.