10/14/2011 10:36 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2011

GOP Debaters: Too Simple? Too Bad!

MR. CAIN: My question is to Governor Romney. Can you name all 59 points in your 160-page plan? And does it satisfy that criteria of being simple, transparent, efficient, fair and neutral? (Laughter, applause.)

MR. ROMNEY: (Laughs.) Herman, I -- I've had the experience in my life of taking -- taking on some tough problems. And -- and I must admit that -- that simple answers are -- are always very helpful, but oftentimes inadequate.

Let's hear it for complexity! And a tip of the hat, please, to Mr. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

If his White House dream eventually falls short, if he stays stuck in the polls at 23 percent for time and all eternity, let him know he's still done the rest of us a great service.

He's taken a stand against simple. Or, more precisely, against simpleminded.

In normal times, coming out against simpleminded would barely be worth noticing. In these times, and in certain circles, it falls just short of heresy.

So thank you, Mitt. Thank you from the bottom of our brains.

Granted, it's not entirely surprising that a man who's been on so many sides of so many issues sees a certain value in nuance. Prefers answers that preserve his... flexibility.

(Did he like the Wall Street bailout? Nosiree! Is he comfortable with the idea of rescuing individual firms? No way! Were there all sorts of problems in implementing the bailout? You betcha! Was he in favor of the bailout at the time it was proposed? Sorta kinda.)

That kind of flexibility.

Some of it is the natural caution of the frontrunner -- which Mitt Romney certainly is, despite the monthly GOP bottle-rockets soaring skyward and then fizzling back to earth. And some of it is the strategic positioning that comes with recognizing that winning the Republican nomination is only half the battle; anything you say now can be used against you in the general election. The last thing you want to do is paint yourself into some ideological corner.

But some of it may actually be something like wisdom:

It's not simple, this governing stuff. Or this economics stuff or this foreign-policy stuff or this social-policy stuff or most of the other stuff either. If it were all that simple, don't you think somebody would have stumbled across the answers long before Herman Cain or Rick Santorum arrived on the scene?

It wasn't that long ago that Republicans considered the phrase "one size fits all" to be an insult. But listen to the GOP contenders during these past few debates, and "one size fits all" is suddenly the height of fashion.

Shut down the Federal Reserve!


Turn out the lights on the EPA!


Get rid of Obamacare!


Get rid of Obama's regulations!

9-9 --

Really? Just get rid of Obama's regulations?

You listen to these folks carrying on, and it's easy to conclude that some of them truly believe there is absolutely no regulation -- not a single one, in any field -- that the current administration has proposed, or has implemented, that's worth a nickel.

What would be a stretch, on the other hand, is to conclude that many of these folks have actually given the subject, let alone the solution, more than a moment's thought.

It's enough that the regulations came from the Obama administration. If they came from the Obama administration, then they're simply meddlesome/useless/dangerous by definition.

Emphasis on the "Simply."

So let's give Mitt Romney some credit. He's not entirely immune from the temptation, but against all the odds and all the pressures, he's still on speaking terms with the reality-based community. With the complexity-based community.

These days, you take your good news wherever you find it.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at