Peter Beinart: What Mitt Romney Should Say in Tampa Speech

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Here’s what Mitt Romney will almost certainly talk about in his acceptance speech this week in Tampa: his experience in business, his experience running the Olympics, the number of Americans out of work, Obamacare, his beautiful wife, his beautiful family, his faith in America, his faith in faith, the national debt.

Here are some of the things Romney likely won’t talk about, but should, because they’ll help define his presidency whether he likes it or not:

1 Climate change. Why he should talk about it: Because although it will be cool in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the summer of 2012 has been terrifyingly hot—so hot that America is suffering its worst drought in 50 years, sending food prices soaring. What Romney should say: “We Republicans have long warned that heavy-handed environmental regulation stifles economic growth. But it’s time to acknowledge that environmental disaster can wreak economic havoc too. Instead of denying that global warming is a problem, we should tell Americans why we’re the party best equipped to solve it.” Why he won’t say it: Because according to a fall 2011 National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, a majority of Republicans either don’t believe global warming is real, or aren’t sure. And according to a January 2012 Pew Research Center survey, global warming ranked 22nd on Americans’ list of priorities.

2 The lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq. Why he should talk about it: Because America is slowly, painfully emerging from two of the most disastrous wars in its history, and many of Romney’s foreign-policy advisers helped bring them about. What Romney should say: “As Republicans, we understand the necessity of military force. But as a party with a healthy skepticism of government competence, we should extend that skepticism to government’s competence to remake societies other than our own. And as Americans who jealously guard our nation’s independence, we should understand why people in other lands resent being occupied by soldiers who salute a foreign flag.” Why he won’t say it: Because to question the assumptions behind the Iraq and Afghan wars would put Romney in conflict with a Republican foreign-policy elite that has engaged in barely any serious introspection about the disasters of the Bush years. And members of that foreign-policy elite will likely be writing the foreign-policy sections of Romney’s speech.

3 Immigration. Why he should talk about it: Because the United States has created a vast, permanent underclass of people who cook our food, mow our lawns, build our houses, pick our crops, and care for our children, yet lack many of the rights that we consider fundamental. Their lack of legal protections makes them easy prey for all manner of exploiters and their inability to demand humane working conditions and a decent wage hurts America’s low-skilled legal workers. What Romney should say: “As Republicans, we often say that we oppose illegal immigration but support people coming to America legally. But in reality, the two are intertwined. Unless the United States starts legally admitting enough people across our southern border to do the jobs that native-born Americans won’t, our illegal immigration problem will never end.” Why he won’t say it: Because Romney is caught between a Hispanic population that wants him to acknowledge the humanity of illegal immigrants and a Republican right that consistently does the opposite. Thus, the safest route is to discuss the issue as little as possible.

4 China. Why he should talk about it: Because maintaining America’s presence in the Pacific, leveraging China’s power to address regional problems like North Korea and Iran, and preventing a new cold war will likely be Romney’s greatest foreign-policy challenges. What Romney should say: “Yes, China is repressive. Yes, it is becoming a global rival to the United States but it’s not the Soviet Union because our relationship is much less zero-sum. We should never let China push us around, but we should never forget that a rich, successful China is much better for the United States than a poor, dysfunctional one.” Why he won’t say it: Because there’s no obvious dig at President Obama, who is pursuing roughly the same China policy as Romney likely would.

Then again, Romney has an excuse for ignoring some of the most important issues that will face the president in 2013. In his acceptance speech, Barack Obama will probably ignore many of them too.