Mitt Romney could be an example of almost everything that is right about public service.
Mitt Romney reminds us again why he didn’t win the Presidency in 2012:
He wasn’t willing to get his Mitts dirty.
Romney—a man whose personality has been shaped invariably by ostensibly traditional values a lot more than Trump’s—has a difficult time envisioning solutions to political problems without applying seemingly metaphysical standards. Eventually, what happens is, policies that can be carried out effectively by those less than pure are either neglected or then left tho be carried out by those who are neither pure nor effective, if not outright malevolent.
In theory, one can parse/fisk a number of Romney’s complaints on policy grounds. Two key points should be sufficient. One, a President might not need to display “mutual respect” towards those who consider his assumption of the office to be illegitimate; Two, a President should not base his concept of American leadership on whether erstwhile European (and other) “allies” decide whether American will “do the right thing in world affairs”.
Yet Mitt—using his own admonition—ironically falls the most short when he declares “A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.”” Absolutely not. There are some things that are sacred. Investing political office—no matter how high—with a metaphysical sacred status far beyond Constitutional proscriptions is a prescription for short circuiting the effectiveness of what LBJ termed the already “awesome duties of this office”.
In the spirit of the author not following his own advice, and with the caveat that any analog between the sacred and secular is to be considered a loss one, there is a Midrashic exposition about the dedication of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness that on the day of the dedication, Bezalel, who had painstakingly constructed the Tabernacle, was aghast that all of sudden there were sacrificial meat and ash byproducts all over his heretofore pristine structure. Aaron and the Priests gently reminded him that is was the reason the Tabernacle was constructed. Invariably sacred work involved getting your hands dirty. Remove the metaphysicality and “dirty work” as a necessary condition is amplified exponentially—necessary, and certainly not sufficient.
There are those both left and right who would insist that compromising purities is always tantamount to using the ends to justify the means. As Yoram Hazony points out in his study of Esther, more often, the insistence upon purity is the enemy of the moral; the insistence on purity uses all ends to justify its own means, in that it justifies unwarranted inaction; and it commits a form of reverse cultural misappropriation, in that it invests secular endeavors with the level of sacred callings and then holds them to the same standard.
In the end, the insistence on purity—again using Mitt’s admonition—falls short twice over.