Bill Clinton's arithmetic really endorses Mitt Romney

When Bill Clinton nominated President Obama at the Democratic National Convention last week, he emphasized cooperation and understanding arithmetic as essential to leadership. If you look at reality not rhetoric, you could say that Clinton was not so subtly endorsing Mitt Romney.

Lynne Sladky/AP
President Obama waves with former President Bill Clinton after Mr. Clinton's speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5. Op-ed contributor Rodney K. Smith writes it's not surprising 'that the most conservative members in his party have found it hard to warm up to Romney. They want a conservative version of Obama; it seems they crave an unyielding value-driven – not arithmetic-driven – conservative.'

In a characteristically animated address to his fellow Democrats at their recent convention in Charlotte, former President Clinton nominated President Obama. President Clinton, who helped create nearly 21 million jobs in eight years in office, like President Reagan, who helped create nearly 15 million jobs, understands the dynamic of job creation.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. Clinton emphasized two attributes of leadership that lead to job growth: cooperation and understanding arithmetic. If one looks at reality not rhetoric, and past performance not promises, one could say that Clinton was not so subtly endorsing Mitt Romney.

Clinton could have emphasized many leadership traits that favor Mr. Obama, such as Obama’s unwavering vision of a progressive future, which was central to most speeches given at the Democratic Convention. Instead, he chose to emphasize cooperation and the importance of arithmetic – or the command of data – in the decision-making process.

A brief examination of their respective records reveals that Mr. Romney’s performance regarding cooperation and his command of arithmetic is stronger than Obama’s. Let us begin with cooperation, or working across the aisle in a bi-partisan way.

Clinton emphasized Obama’s record in having named Republicans to his cabinet. Not surprisingly, Clinton did not emphasize Obama’s ability to work with the other party in Congress, because Obama has in fact been openly running against Congress, particularly the Republicans, and his predecessor in office.

Romney on the other hand learned to work with Democrats. Ann Romney captured this side of her husband’s character when she stated, “You may not agree with Mitt’s positions on issues or his politics. Massachusetts is only 13 percent Republican, so it’s not like that’s a shock. But let me say this...[n]o one will work harder.”

In his address to the Republican National Convention, Romney emphasized jobs. Working with a heavily Democratic legislature, Massachusetts went from 50th in job creation the year before Romney took office to 28th in his final year as governor. The Romney campaign acknowledges that this would not have been possible without working with Democrats in the legislature.

With time, Democrats, including the former Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Finneran came to respect Romney, even though they were often put off by his CEO style, which gets us to the second point – arithmetic.

Of course, Clinton used the theme of arithmetic in his speech to take issue with the Romney-Ryan plan to cut the debt, malign congressional Republicans, and praise Obama’s job creation. But some of Clinton’s arithmetic puts a dubious spin on the numbers themselves. And more generally speaking, Clinton’s focus on arithmetic as what matters in presidential leadership actually makes a case for Romney as president.

Obama tends to emphasize his personal values more than his command and use of data. Michelle Obama captured this aspect of her husband’s character in her address in Charlotte when, with sincere emotion, she praised his visionary style: “I’ve seen how the issues that come across [his] desk are always the hard ones – the problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer....And as president, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision...”

Romney, on the other hand, has more data-driven focus when it comes to getting the job done. He has spent a lifetime working to turn around businesses, the Olympics, and the economy of Massachusetts. He crunches figures – does arithmetic – to see what works and what does not. Clinton has declared Romney’s business performance to be “sterling.”

It is not surprising, therefore, that the most conservative members in his party have found it hard to warm up to Romney. They want a conservative version of Obama; it seems they crave an unyielding value-driven – not arithmetic-driven – conservative.

The American people will soon choose between two good men, each of whom is driven by a passion to serve the America he loves. One is a progressive visionary, who seeks counsel in his liberal values. The other is a conservative leaning, cooperating, figures-driven pragmatist, a turn-around specialist, who seeks counsel with others. It’s fair to say, that President Clinton actually endorsed the latter in his convention speech – Romney.

Rodney K. Smith is a distinguished professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif. He served as president of Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Va. from 2004-2011.

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