Mitt Romney has made campaign promises and he has released policy proposals but what his campaign is still missing is an actual theme; a big picture idea that can help to define the rhetoric and the aesthetics of the campaign.
Fred Bauer puts forward "Restoration and Renewal" as one possible formulation:
The New Frontier. Morning in America. Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. Compassionate Conservatism. Hope and Change. Wrapping themselves in such slogans, men have won the White House in the past. Some on the right have criticized the Romney campaign for lacking a unifying banner of principle, but it seems to me that the campaign has a potential organizing theme: restoration and renewal.
Restoration speaks to the fact that, for many if not most Americans, the United States is not an essentially sick and depraved country, in need of radical transformation by the wonder-working One. Restoration celebrates the idea that the founding principles of this nation -- as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other documents -- are still valid and worthy. Restoration, however, does not mean simply a reactionary turning back the clock to 1900 or 1800; such a leap cannot be accomplished, nor, in many respects, should it be. Just as we can subject the present to moral critique, so too can we criticize aspects of the past. Though there are many wrongs in American history (such as slavery, brutal bigotry, cruel economic exploitation, etc.), there are also a number of shining rights. We should build where possible on the successes of the past. In the act of renewal, we can strive for the best of American ideals and principles. This kind of renewal would demand an honest accounting of present circumstances and a willingness to try for something better.
A theme of restoration and renewal would acknowledge the unease of many Americans with the current trajectory of the United States over the past decade, where setback has all too often replaced victory, and where losses have often outpaced gains. In a little over ten months, the worst terrorist attack in US history followed a ferociously contested presidential election. Foreign affairs have remained in various states of turmoil since then. A sluggish economy fueled by debt and the leveraging of debt led to an economic near-collapse. Disappointment has replaced aspiration for many Americans. A process of civil renewal would be the regaining of this traditional aspiration. The trope of restoration speaks particularly to conservatism, as it asserts the importance of tradition and the past while also critiquing some of the limitations of the present. Renewal would not be a radical change of our social essence but an assertion of what is best in it.
Messaging is no substitute for policy ideas and a platform, but it can help Romney define his own campaign and not have it be defined for him by others.