Under the Supreme Court’s Miranda decision, the police are required to inform an arrested suspect that he or she can consult with an attorney before and during interrogation and that the suspect need not answer questions.
This rule raised a hypothetical: If the late Marcel Marceau, the world’s best-known mime, had been stopped for speeding, would the arresting officer have had to tell him, “You have the right to remain silent”?
There is no Miranda rule in American presidential politics, where we voters expect, even demand, that presidential candidates tell us about themselves — who they are, what makes them tick and what makes them both like us and yet different from us.
Please know that if you might someday want to run for the White House and are inhibited by either an acute sense of privacy or terminal humility from answering such questions, your political rivals will — unflatteringly — fill in all the blank spots for you.
Think about it: What did we know about Republican candidate Ronald Reagan long before he was elected in 1980? That he had been a radio sports announcer in Des Moines who went to Hollywood, where in Knute Rockne, All American he played George Gipp, the dying Notre Dame star halfback (earning himself a lifelong nickname), became president of the screen actors union, left the Democratic Party after four times voting for FDR and won two terms as Republican governor of California, then the world’s sixth-largest economy. We knew that the Gipper, who had an easy sense of humor, if elected would be the country’s first divorced president.
George H.W. Bush? Born into a wealthy New England family with a commitment to public service. His father was a Republican senator from Connecticut. On the day in 1942 when he graduated from prestigious Andover, where he was captain of the baseball team, Bush celebrated his 18th birthday and enlisted in the Navy. In less than a year, as that service’s youngest pilot, he would be flying torpedo bombers and be shot down by Japanese guns. He married at 21, moved to Texas, founded an oil company, lost two U.S. Senate races and got elected to the House of Representatives, where he voted for the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
What do we know about Mitt Romney? Not that much. His dad, a committed Mormon, was the successful president of American Motors before winning three terms as the civil rights-championing Republican governor of Michigan. We know that Romney went to a select private boys’ school, served a 30-month Mormon mission in France, graduated from Brigham Young University, married Ann, his high-school sweetheart, and earned degrees from Harvard Law and Harvard Business School.
We know that he founded Bain Capital, became a multimillioniaire, successfully headed the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, won one term as governor of Massachusetts and has been running for president since at least 2005.
But Romney must have an outsized zone of privacy. As a Republican who served successfully as governor in one of America’s bluest states, he would have been, on paper, a formidable general election nominee. But he spent the last two presidential campaigns running to the right of John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, while wooing the most conservative of GOP primary voters, especially on the issue of immigration. Romney is not comfortable speaking publicly about his religion or how his faith informs his politics.
The Obama campaign has spent time and money defining Romney’s private equity career as regularly putting profits before people and private international paydays ahead of American domestic prosperity. From Romney, there have been no public sightings of humor, candor or empathy. The Romney campaign insists that there will be time to introduce the Real Mitt to American voters at the Tampa, Fla., convention.
But the longer he remains silent about who he is and what his personal hopes and, yes, doubts might be, Romney all but guarantees that essentially hostile brushes will paint his public portrait.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.