Paul Greenberg

Mitt Romney proposes cutting the super-sized federal budget by $500 billion. Among the expenses he'd eliminate: subsidies for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood and those for Amtrak, which ought to be able to support itself if it's such a needed service. Ditto, much of the federal funding for NPR. Its specialty is nice, respectable liberal platitudes masquerading as news. It's a kind of MSNBC for the commuter class, only MSNBC isn't funded by the American taxpayer. It has that much decency. Why propagandize Americans with our own tax money? Mitt Romney's answer: We shouldn't.

Mr. Romney, former governor and CEO in the private sector, too, would also let the states administer their own Medicaid programs in hopes of reducing its cost to the taxpayers, which grows ruinous. At this rate, there may not be a special interest he hasn't offended in this campaign. It's refreshing.

His businesslike approach to even highly politicized issues bears a welcome resemblance to the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, whose work is still being ignored by both the administration and the congressional super-committee that's supposed to come up with some real savings instead of the usual political palaver.

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Not that Mr. Romney can't pander to the angriest of his party on occasion. He's come out against treating the children of illegal aliens the same as the native-born when it comes to college scholarships. Even if they were brought to this country at a young age through no choice of their own, raised as Americans, and got the same schooling as their peers.

Why punish these kids (and the rest of us) by denying them an education on equal terms? The only reason I can think of is pure meanness. There's always a lot of that going around whenever a new wave of immigration hits these shores, whether Germans in Ben Franklin's day or Mexicans in ours.

Ranting and raving about a problem is so much easier than fixing it -- in this case by overhauling the immigration system in general. For example, by opening a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrant workers now in this country. To qualify, illegals could be required to meet certain standards, like a minimal proficiency in the English language and paying a fine for having entered the country illegally. Which would be fair enough. But why fix the problem when we can just go on fighting it, especially in election years?

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Talking sense to the American people was always a risky venture for any presidential candidate. In uncertain times like these, the voters may demand red meat from their politicians, and grow bored with vegetables, no matter how nutritious. They'll say it's spinach and to hell with it.

Mr. Romney wouldn't be the first politician to make his compromises with popular passions; even the best have been known to do it. Abe Lincoln, for example, took care not to publicly offend the Know-Nothings of his day, at least for a politically crucial time, even though in private he despised their bigoted politics.

But when Mitt Romney tackles a subject he knows something about through experience -- like either business or government -- he makes sense. But that could be his big problem as a candidate in these overheated times. Republican voters in the primaries may reject him as unspeakably sensible.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.