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My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 3:12am

Romney offers a lesson for HK politicians

The US presidential race is insipid. Sadly, there appears to be no hope of a good old-fashioned sex scandal, not with a goody two-shoes Mormon and a squeaky-clean incumbent competing for office. Pundits are actually arguing over policies and crunching numbers on deficit reduction plans. But this is democracy in action and we in Hong Kong better take note, lest we have to practise it ourselves one day.

The leaked video clip in which Mitt Romney denounced 47 per cent of Americans as freeloaders will do for shock value. It's never good for a candidate to dismiss almost half his country's population. But there seems to be something else he is running against, a fundamental American value called individualism - always be who you are, never pretend to be someone you are not. It's part of what makes America so different from the more collectivist Asian cultures. But to pander to the hard-right fringe, Romney is running as someone he is not, and everyone knows it.

So perhaps it's bad karma that Romney's campaign minders picked Clint Eastwood to introduce their boss at the Republican convention. From playing lone gunslingers and Dirty Harry to becoming one of the world's great film directors, you can't get anyone more individualistic than Clint: be yourself and let the world be damned. But the octogenarian actor ended up arguing - to his hosts' embarrassment - with an empty chair.

The real Romney is more attractive and smarter than the one shown in the infamous video clip. As governor of Massachusetts, he eliminated a US$1.5 billion deficit while introducing America's first near-universal healthcare service, one from which Obama borrowed for his own healthcare plan. But now, he denounces "Obamacare" and by extension, his own legacy.

As head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics organising committee, he turned the corrupt and bankrupt games into a success. This Romney would appeal to the broader US electorate and foreigners, but would never get past the lunatic Tea Party crowd within the Republican Party.

There is a lesson for politicians: never pretend to be someone you are not, even if it gives you a shot to be president.


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Many Americans still subscribe to the frontier pioneer myth that they are rugged individualists when the reality is that most are not and never will be. The myth had led to what most non American people in the world regard as wholly confused and irrational interpretations of personal freedom, such as the right not to wear seat belts, the right to bear arms, the right not to have an all inclusive health care system. To many US citizens those espousing any social element in governance are "communist" or "socialist" - words which many Americans regard as synonymous and few understand. Because of this ideological confusion and a failure to recognise what really matters ('the business of America is business'), US political contests often distil down to nebulous, generalised statements of so-called principle, while failing to address the real problems facing a great nation rapidly heading into economic decline.
The irony is that most Americans are honest, hard working, friendly, tolerant and well meaning. They have to beware of allowing corrupt special interests as in the Bush era re-entering the corridors of power under the wing of another Republican President. This is what Mr Romney has to reassure the voting public about. Mr Obama, a basically decent man, has to find a formula to inspire confidence that he can lead America out of the economic wilderness.
As usual, Mr. Lo writes elogently, and as usual swaying left and right, at times with opinionated naivety. U.S. presidential race has turned into a hardball slugfest with the two candidates saying things to please certain segment of the to-be voters, promising certain things which often are quickly forgotten. Romney continues to shoot off his mouth attacking his opponent for the sake of attacking. No one knows what may be his true intent which if carried out will be outright dangerous; especially with respect to foreign policy and potential confrontation with China. Obama may be ineffective, bounded up by many political constraints, but at the least he is more rational and therefore less "dangerous". One thing is clear though: Romney and the GOP (from Nixon on to the two Bushes) is for the rich: if you don't make it, it is too bad. The Democrats - Obama included - had taken on a "socialist" bend with the government playing a bigger role in the daily life of the average citizen. Thus, the :makers" versus the "Takers". It is more like Romney has been learning from our Long Hair:)
Mr. Obama is the quintessential example of a politician who supports collectivism rather than individualism. In his mind, the government will provide all, if citizens are willing to allow themselves to become dependent on the government. Whether that is the actual attitude of 47% of Americans, I am not sure anyone can really validate such a number either way--but given Mr. Obama's actions, his own attitude seems quite clear. The US cannot sustain his approach in the long term.
Mr. Romney isn't battling individualism. In order to be someone he is not, he would have to first figure who he actually is. His identity is defined by politics. He would do or say anything to get elected, and Mr. Obama is no different. After all, Mr. Obama promised to end two wars in his 2008 campaign--wars initiated by presidential action, and therefore within the power of the president himself to end--and he has failed to make good even on that promise. Mr. Romney is really battling his own stupidity and callousness, as these two flaws have led him to squander any advantage he might have had over Mr. Obama.
The axiom many Americans live by when it comes to political elections is "choose the lesser of two evils." Unfortunately, come November, we will have to make that choice once again.


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