Op/Ed

Editorial: Romney: America is in denial

ANGELO LYNN

The esteemed Atlantic Monthly ran a commentary by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, titled “America is in Denial.” Shortly after, The Washington Post editorial board penned an editorial in which it quotes Romney’s words liberally. In the commentary, Romney criticizes both political parties for failed leadership and a populace that would rather believe in their side’s “wishful thinking” and dismiss serious solutions. 

Romney’s argument is mostly spot on, but as the Republican Party’s most hopeful Senate leaders, who might be able to cast votes to right its party’s wayward turn — as Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, is doing in the House — Romney should practice what he’s preaching.

In his pitch encouraging Americans to come to their senses, Romney makes a strong case: 

“Even as we watch the reservoirs and lakes of the West go dry, we keep watering our lawns, soaking our golf courses, and growing water-thirsty crops.

“As inflation mounts and the national debt balloons, progressive politicians vote for ever more spending.

“As the ice caps melt and record temperatures make the evening news, we figure that buying a Prius and recycling the boxes from our daily Amazon deliveries will suffice.

“And when a renowned conservative former federal appellate judge testifies (at the Jan. 6 hearings) that we are already in a war for our democracy and that January 6, 2021, was a genuine constitutional crisis, MAGA loyalists snicker that he speaks slowly and celebrate that most people weren’t watching.

“What accounts for the blithe dismissal of potential cataclysmic threats? The left thinks the right is at fault for ignoring climate change and the attacks on our political system. The right thinks the left is the problem for ignoring illegal immigration and the national debt. But wishful thinking happens across the political spectrum. More and more, we are a nation in denial.”

What Romney doesn’t say is that the Republican Senate has thwarted Democrats’ efforts to move forward on several fronts, including climate change, more restrictive gun laws, water conservation efforts, protecting our democracy and strengthening voting rights, just to name a few. In most of those cases Sen. Romney cast a vote against those reasonable measures and in lock step with efforts that undermine the types of reforms and bipartisan compromise he is championing.

His vote alone wouldn’t tip the scales as long as the Republican Senate threatens filibuster and requires a 60-vote majority to pass any legislation, but his leadership could encourage more GOP moderates to step forward. 

Don’t get us wrong. We applaud that Romney has been among the few Republicans in the Senate to speak out for reason, to deny unfounded conspiracy theories and to plead for a modicum of sanity among his party, but his pleas fall far short of what they need to be.

In his commentary, he can’t even bring himself to criticize those Republicans who continue to spread the “Stop The Steal” lies. He only barely mentions Trump, and then avoids personal attack, while blaming President Biden for not yet reversing the harm Trump has caused, and calling Congress (of which he is a key leader) “particularly disappointing.” He wrote: “President Joe Biden is a genuinely good man, but he has yet been unable to break through our national malady of denial, deceit and distrust. A return to Donald Trump would feed the sickness, probably rendering it incurable. Congress is particularly disappointing: Our elected officials put a finger in the wind more frequently than they show backbone against it. Too often, Washington demonstrates the maxim that for evil to thrive only requires good men to do nothing.”

Romney (who is a good man) must be thinking of himself when making that remark.

What’s needed is for a handful of good Republicans in the Senate to stand up for the nation’s democracy, to fight for voting laws that expand participation, not deny voters that opportunity; to encourage state legislatures to adopt reasonable gun laws that keep high-powered, military-grade weapons out of the hands of people who will deliberately abuse that right; to not just stop profligate spending (even if it is to help the poor and middle-class) but also stop tax giveaways (the flip side of progressives wanting to spend money to help those in need are Republicans wanting to make the rich richer with tax cuts and corporate subsidies).

Romney warns Americans the nation faces a crucial reckoning that “will require us all to rise above ourselves — above our grievances and resentments — and grasp the mantel of leadership our country so badly needs.” We couldn’t agree more, but Mr. Romney is in a position of power and influence to create that cathartic moment he is calling for, and yet he chooses eloquent words in a national magazine rather than on the Senate floor on important votes.

Nor is the current strife all the GOP’s fault. The far left isn’t helping the Democratic Party with its relentless focus on the culture wars; nor can the party continually request government funding to insure every America lives a middle-class life in the midst of an inflationary cycle that threatens the economy. We need to move in a progressive direction — paid family leave, affordable day care, affordable health care that covers Americans from birth to death, secure jobs — but we’ll have to do it gradually and accept pauses during times of economic strife. Those are the core domestic policies Democrats should pursue, acknowledging that for a majority of Americans (including many minorities) the culture wars are of secondary concern.

We all hope, as Romney writes in his closing, “for a president who can rise about the din to unite us behind the truth.” But we also have to acknowledge that the misinformation spread by partisan right-wing media (Fox News commentators and others) and social media can prevent the truth from resonating as long as one political party continues to support what it knows are lies. When Republicans deliberately embrace lies over what they know is true, it breeds distrust and will undermine our democracy.

President Biden has tried to rise about the din of the lies and conspiracies Trump has so recklessly spread. The January 6 committee has tried to inform the nation in a very forthright and public way — with testimony from many Republican insiders who had first-hand access to proven facts. The truth is there for all to see. 

It’s the Republican leadership in the Senate, and in much of the House, that continues to spread lies about the election; continues to foster mistrust in our government and in our election system; continues to pursue voting and election measures to disenfranchise the majority; continues to harass migrant workers and restrict immigration even as the country is desperate for more workers.

If one is to read between the lines, Romney knows that. He could grasp the mantle of leadership by saying it more forcefully, and more plainly, so there is no doubt where the trouble lies, but he, like other Republicans, can’t yet bring himself to say it out loud.  

As cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Angelo Lynn

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