Romney offers a lesson for HK politicians

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

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.