Michael Gerson

Other candidates have naturally carried more vivid ideological messages. In the end, the intra-Republican argument has come down to Ron Paul versus Rick Santorum -- both effective spokesmen for their views. Paul, by his own description, is preaching the pure "gospel of liberty." He carries the hopes of libertarians and those who seek a return to the federal government of an 18th-century agrarian republic. Santorum stands more in the empowerment tradition of Jack Kemp or George W. Bush. On the whole, he is reconciled to the goals of modern government -- encouraging equal opportunity and care for the elderly, sick and vulnerable -- but not to the bureaucratic methods of modern government. Santorum's lot would encourage the provision of services through credits, vouchers and defined contributions.

I come down on the empowerment side of this divide. But maybe, at this moment, the Republican Party doesn't need a clear decision on its identity (which might not be possible anyway). Romney has this advantage: In supporting him, no Republican is called upon to surrender his or her deepest ideological convictions. Romney is temperamentally conservative but not particularly ideological. He reserves his enthusiasm for quantitative analysis and organizational discipline. He seems to view the cultural and philosophic debates that drive others as distractions from the real task of governing -- making systems work.

His competitors have attempted to portray Romney's ideological inconsistency over time as a character failure. It hasn't worked, mainly because Romney is a man of exemplary character -- deeply loyal to his faith, his family and his country. But he clearly places political ideology in a different category of fidelity. Like Dwight Eisenhower, Romney is a man of vague ideology and deep values. In political matters, he is empirical and pragmatic. He studies problems, assesses risks, calculates likely outcomes. Those expecting Romney to be a philosophic leader will be disappointed. He is a management consultant, and a good one.

Has the moment of the management consultant arrived in American politics? In our desperate drought of public competence, Romney has a strong case to make.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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