BY MARC VELASQUEZ
St. Martins Press, 2010
[Reviewer’s note: As with my previous review of a political book, I want to be honest. I am not blind to the fact that my opinions of this book are skewed by my political beliefs.]
I wanted to like this book.
No Apology is Mitt Romney’s attempt to express who he is politically, and he makes that intention clear in the second paragraph of his introduction. Of his three political campaigns he writes:
each time, when the campaign was over, I felt that I hadn’t done an adequate job communicating all that I had intended to say…. This book gives me a chance to say more than I did during my campaign.
And the truth is, I believe him. It’s impossible to deny this guy’s qualifications. In 1994, he came points away from stealing a MA Senate seat from Ted Kennedy. As the CEO for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, he inherited a financially and politically disastrous situation and turned it into a success. And he more or less did the same as Governor of Massachusetts, turning Jane Swift’s mess into a successful, one-term tenure. Had he not decided to forgo a second term in order to make a serious run at the ’08 presidency, he’d probably still be governor. Politically, he had something special. He was Scott Brown back when Scott Brown was just some dude in the state chambers who once dangled balls for a Cosmo spread.
But that Mitt Romney isn’t the one who showed up to the ’08 primary. Instead, he came across as stiff GOP avatar who couldn’t distinguish himself from a pack of surefire also rans.
So I was rooting for No Apology, rooting for the likable and charismatic Mitt to resurrect himself. Instead, I got the ’08 stiff.
No Apology is not really a memoir. It’s not a personal account of running for office. It’s not very personal in any way. It is a Manifesto, and I’m sure the well-educated Romney would have labeled it as such if that word was not so closely linked to the word “communist.” It’s about as exciting as chewing on a dry rag, and you probably already know everything this book says. Its table of contents reads as a list of current hot-button political topics. Each chapter reads as you would expect it—the same stale GOP rhetoric with a few personal memories in between. And honestly, even the memories are stock and stale.
It’s clear that Romney wrote his book while making several assumptions about its readership. If you’re reading, he assumes that you are on his side. He assumes that you are anti-bailout, and anti-health-care, and pro-current-military-engagement, and anti-bowing-to-other-world-leaders. He assumes that you are unhappy with the current administration and Congress, that you see their policies as threatening to American Life, and even more threatening to American Sovereignty. He assumes that you see America getting weaker, and that you won’t stand for it.
Like Romney, I believe that a strong America is essential to world stability. But I think we have different opinions of what it means for America to be strong. It would be possible to provide counterpoints for each Romney chapter, but doing so just mimics the political ping-pong happening daily on Capitol hill, and that’s not necessary in a book review. But it is nice to highlight how one’s political differences might affect one’s enjoyment of the book.
Take, for instance, Romney’s view of diplomacy. Both Romney and I see diplomacy as an essential component to American strength and security. However, that is about the only thing our viewpoints on diplomacy have in common. Romney refers to diplomacy as “soft power,” and sees it as an offshoot of military strength. He writes:
It is, of course, hard power—military might—that concentrates the minds of our adversaries. Nations with substantial hard power are generally the most able to influence the actions of others.
While I’m sure some diplomatic negotiations need an iron fist to force them through, I don’t think that is good approach to all diplomatic relations. Think about it: the class bully used hard power to negotiate your lunch money from you. And you hated that time the teacher assigned the two of you to work together on a science project because you ended up doing most of the work. You spent all of your elementary years building up resentment towards that lardass, so much resentment that it delights you that he now smokes crack and lives under an overpass (or is that just me?).
I also don’t think a hard-power-guided diplomacy is what George Washington had in mind when he created the Departments of State and War (now Defense). In fact, as a baby nation with tiny military juevos, we used diplomacy to keep us out of war. It saddens me that our defense budget since 2000 drove us from surplus into deficit and yet every employee of the State Department can fit on one aircraft carrier.
The book’s most interesting chapter, and the chapter that will undoubtedly be most scrutinized during Romney’s next run at the White House, is the chapter on health care. It is essentially a political tap dance—Romney pointing out the differences between the Commonwealth Care for which he is responsible, and the health bill that passed this past winter. The differences aren’t as apparent as Romney pretends, and if anti-health-care sentiment carries all the way to the next presidential primaries, Romney’s opponents are going to use Mitt Care to run him into the ground. Romney needs to start practicing a refrain, one he more or less already employs a few time in the health care chapter: “It should be up to the states…” The health care chapter is also the most personal chapter; it’s interesting to read how Mitt’s health care plan came to fruition. I wish the rest of the book followed the same mold.
But I’m not trying to say that he doesn’t have some valid arguments. He’s probably right about some things. This book shows that Romney not only knows what he believes, he also knows why he holds those beliefs. I respect that most about No Apology. I may not agree with Mitt’s viewpoints on many things, but at least I know he’s willing to participate in the conversation, which is not true for many politicians in the “party of no.” In that way, this book is hopeful, because political conversation forged the constitution and passed amendments, created laws and strengthened democracy. So thank you, Mitt, for being proof that some in your party remember how to be part of the conversation.
Ultimately, I think the success of this book will be determined by another Romney assumption: the assumption that, in two years, the Obama administration will be viewed as an absolute failure. If that comes true—if financial regulation and the jobs bill don’t pass, and if Wall Street tanks again, and if swine flu kills a few thousand, and the BP spill ruins the Gulf Coast and all of the Caribbean nations, if Venezuela invades Colombia, and Russia invades the Czech Republic, if Iran goes nuclear and sells the technology to Al-Qaeda—and Obama’s approval rating dips below 25%, No Apology could be the cornerstone for a successful 2012 run. If all that happens, Romney won’t even need to regain his political star; the stiff will be enough.
Similar books: Going Rogue: An American Life, by Sarah Palin