My view: Mitt Romney's greatest challenge

By Arthur I. Cyr

Scripps Howard News Service

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The term "capitalism with a human face" has been commonly used for more than a decade and a half, inspired in part by a book of that title by Samuel Brittan, influential journalist of the London Financial Times.

Capitalism, Brittan wrote, must marry compassion and care for those in need with the efficiencies of competition to succeed over the long term. His book appeared in 1995, in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher's lengthy, tough-minded tenure as Britain's prime minister.

The point is important for Republican Mitt Romney. Despite twin victories in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Romney remains plagued by an image of corporate elitism. Republican rivals now allege ruthless job cutting by Bain Capital, the highly successful investment firm Romney led before entering politics.

Romney at times reinforces the stereotype of privileged elitism and insensitivity. Romney must counterattack in order to go the distance, not only during the primaries but also in a general election campaign against President Obama. Fortunately for moneyed Mitt, he need look no further than Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan delivered a major address on international relations at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Republican contender John Connally had just dropped out, after spending many millions of dollars but securing a grand total of only one delegate.

Connally, however, was supported by an extraordinary array of corporate executives. After this Pied Piper of the pinstriped suit set dropped out, council staff members made a major effort to organize a reception to bring Reagan together with business people.

The Reagan campaign turned the idea down flat. A small informal lunch with Reagan just before the Chicago speech provided an opportunity to ask him about that corporate reception idea. The candidate revealed he, not his staff, had vetoed the request.

With clarity and patience, Reagan explained if you want to be president, you have to persuade working people, who are the vast majority of the electorate, that you understand their lives and their problems. This is particularly important for a Republican, he added, because many regard that party as favoring the rich.

If, like Connally, you gravitate to corporate boardrooms, country clubs and private jets, Reagan observed, you are bound to lose. Reagan's extraordinary electoral success was in part a reflection of attracting enormous support from working people who had previously generally voted for Democrats.

Romney should read the book by Brittan of Britain, while working harder to emulate Reagan.

Arthur I. Cyr is a Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College.

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