GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns recently in New Hampshire.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns recently in New Hampshire.
Friday, October 26, 2012

The October surprise this campaign is a slam-bang set of four debates held over a 20-day period, counting Biden vs. Ryan and wrapping up Monday night. The six hours of political communication highlight the highest of stakes — an election about the future of a nation and the well-being of millions of viewer voters and others.

With the exception of a lightly touched, generic “role of government” topic in the first debate, we have seen virtually no discussion of the presidency itself.  During our careers in government, politics, and business, dating to the early ‘50s and early ‘70s, respectively, we have met many presidents and closely observed all of them.  We are reminded of a long-running TV ad from that era that proclaimed, “You expect more from Standard…and you get it.”

Iowans and Americans expect more from their president, and deserve it.  What do we expect?

We expect presidents to work on big issues, to cite President Kennedy, “…not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”  It was disappointing that President Obama did not advance recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles Commission he himself created two years ago.  The fiscal cliff is now 10 weeks away and counting.  

The next president needs the leadership focus and tenacity to grab ahold and not let go of big issues.  He should leverage the convening role of a president or governor — the unique ability to bring together people from both branches, both parties, and from outside government, to work on policy, stay on task, and drive decisions, with compromise if not consensus.

We expect respect for the Constitutional role of states in our democracy.  States are not merely odd shapes with various colors on a map.  States have different histories, cultures, traditions, economies, politics, and, yes, values.  Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon are different communities; so are Des Moines, Iowa and Des Moines, Washington.  That variety is a huge strength of America. And so are the certain fundamental rights and obligations that apply to all citizens.

Proper presidential focus on truly strategic issues such as national security and the national debt means 50 state “laboratories of democracy” can better handle other matters. McDonald’s changes its menu in some markets; ESPN offers various football coverage by region.  Washington, D.C. can flex, too.  

A new president and Congress can honor the founders and the states, by surrendering some decision-making power back to them and communicating with them more often.

The presidency is a crushing job. Regardless of party, we expect a president to recruit the very best people who will place our country’s interests first.  We were reassured when newly elected Barack Obama retained Secretary of Defense Bob Gates from the Bush Cabinet.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iowa’s Tom Vilsack at USDA have served well.  Others around the incumbent, especially Cook County, Illinois political handlers in the West Wing have not helped the president’s better instincts, to put it charitably.  

A hallmark theme of the Ray administration in Iowa, drilled into department heads and governor’s staff alike, was to ‘“listen to all of the arguments, get the governing decisions right, and politics will take care of itself...” Listening first, then talking, and governing over politics — sound advice then and refreshingly good now.

Our final expectation is responsibility. Iowa’s school children learn the six pillars of Character Counts, one of which is “responsibility.”  We expect our president to teach and exude responsibility at all times, good times and bad.  

President Obama eloquently discussed personal responsibility and civility following the tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in early 2011, remarks that now seem a long time ago. Today, we hear too much bully at the Biden bully pulpit and a lot of blame from the presidential podium.  We have gone backwards from Harry Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here” to a habit of “The Blaming Starts Here.”

We can do better.

Most people chosen to lead inherently recognize that blaming others doesn’t cut it anymore.  It would have been easy for new leaders of America’s auto companies and financial institutions to harangue about the messes they inherited, but they refrained from so doing.  Instead, they led.

Leaders in the private sector deal with the situation at hand, focus on the core issues, convene people and delegate at the same time.  This is true day in and day out for coaches and leaders throughout our society. When blaming is subtracted, leaders grow in esteem, they do better, and their teams do better.

With respect for others’ views, we believe America will do better during these very challenging times with a new president.  We know Govenor. Mitt Romney.  We know him to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, respectful, sensitive, modest, purposeful, ethical, and fair, among many noteworthy traits. We believe in Mitt Romney.

Governor Romney’s approach to executive leadership in his state with a super- majority Democratic legislature informs us about how he would lead the United States.  As President-elect, he would ask the best qualified women and men — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans — to honor his request to serve our country. In turn, he will respond to state and local government leaders ready, willing, and able to work on problems closer to home.  

A President Romney will understand “we the people” need to meet the moment and face the consequences of long deferred decisions that must be made soon, by design, or will be made soon, by default.

 As a leader, Mitt Romney will reach across party lines to accomplish a greater good — a stronger economy and a stronger America in a turbulent world.  Iowans and Americans should expect more from our president and, with Mitt Romney, we will get it.

(Robert Ray was Iowa’s first five-term Governor from 1969-1983. David Oman served as Chief of Staff for Gov. Ray and Gov. Terry Branstad.  He is a Des Moines businessman and Co-Chair of Gov. Mitt Romney’s Iowa campaign.)