Friday, December 9, 2011

Measuring Mitt Part II

Mitt Romney with some of the family,
from Parade Magazine article, here
Back on June 13th I covered a quote from Mitt Romney that Rush Limbaugh dredged up yesterday, claiming it was disqualifying. It’s about climate change. Rush quoted a paragraph in which Romney acknowledges that many experts believe the climate is warming, and that human actions may contribute; Romney acknowledges this—and Rush ends the quote. But it was only an introduction to Romney’s policy statement. He talked about the economy being a priority. He’s against cap and trade schemes. And while he likes alternative renewable energies, the immediate need is to drill for oil and natural gas here in the US, as the only way to alleviate our dependence on foreign oil. His actions as governor of Massachusetts verified that his beliefs are much closer to Sarah Palin’s than Al Gore’s. But you wouldn’t know that if all you heard was the clip Rush aired—and which was the total provided in most news at the time.

When you hear Romney in full, it turns out he’s really a conservative, pro-Constitution, pro-free-enterprise American. So why do we so seldom hear him in full?
I think there’s a style issue—not good or bad; it just is. Romney acknowledges the opposition; he expresses what they believe, to let all parties know he’s listening to them, that he has fully examined the information, and that he does not dismiss their viewpoint out of hand. Then he goes on to express his policy position, based on the priorities he believes are best for all. So, on a number of issues, when he is doing the preface, the “I see your point of view and understand your concerns” part, he gets quoted by media and other opposition looking for sound bites that work toward their goals, rather than the ones that best express his actual positions.

It might be that I am being too generous, that what he is doing is playing to all sides. But I don’t think so. If you do believe that, try suspending your belief on some of the so-called flip-flops to separate preface from policy statement.
The most cited actual policy change is on abortion, so let’s take that one. Mitt has always said that his personal position is pro-life; it would be best if there never had to be any abortion. But you’ve probably seen quotes of him back when he was running against Ted Kennedy in 1994, or for Massachusetts governor in 2002, saying things that sound pleasing to a “pro-choice” (anti-life) crowd. I am not in favor of saying whatever you have to say, whether you mean it or not. But the circumstances of these quotes were in response to direct questioning about how he would govern in a state with an 85% Democrat congress. Everyone knew he was conservative; they don’t vote for conservatives there—that was a given. But they were in dire need of someone with Mitt’s business skills to bring the state out of a spiral toward bankruptcy. And he knew he could serve the state well. So he was assuring them that his goals as governor were mainly limited to economic issues; he was not planning to conduct a crusade against abortion, which was settled in the law for the time being. What he promised them was that he would not take action as governor to further limit abortions—actions he couldn’t have accomplished with the congress in that state anyway.
Let’s put this in the form of preface and policy, with me paraphrasing for him (so quotes aren’t his actual words; they’re my suppositions of what he meant): “I understand that, as a state of mostly Democrats, you have a belief at odds with my own concerning abortion. But I also understand the law stands, and changing it in this state is neither within my ability nor is it my purpose in running for office. I believe I can serve this state well economically. In order to have that opportunity, I promise not to try to further limit abortion while I am in office.” His policy, then, isn’t purposely to protect abortion; it is to avoid acting at variance with the overwhelming majority of the state on that issue, despite his personal beliefs.
What did he actually do in office? A law came before him intended to make it even easier to get an abortion in the state. He looked at this; it put him in the position of not just leaving the laws as it stood, but in bringing about more abortions than would have happened without the change. That meant he himself would be responsible for abortions happening. He vetoed the bill.
In reality he has a perfect pro-life record. Facing this dilemma did in fact lead to a change in his policy. While he kept his promise to the state, he came to realize that coming out against abortion, and pressing for legislation, either state by state or nationally (including overturning Roe v. Wade), would be necessary to keep legislation such as he faced in Massachusetts from causing more damage.
Is that a flip-flop? I don’t think so. It is technically a subtle change in policy—in the right direction.
Back in the 90s Romney used the phrase that he believed abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” We all know, because of Bill Clinton, that the phrase is code for “abortion on demand.” But that doesn’t mean it always meant that. The timing of Romney’s saying it was when it still likely meant only when the mother’s life (and usually then also the baby’s life) was at risk, or in cases of rape and incest—which means that the mother never made the choice to act in a way that could bring about pregnancy; her body was used against her will. We can argue the validity of that point of view another day, but I believe the only GOP candidate who doesn’t hold this view is Cain, who believes there should be no exceptions at all for any abortion. Romney’s, not Cain’s, is the typical conservative viewpoint.
Romney has consistently held that view, then, for a couple of decades or longer. The only change was whether, as an elected official, he could promise not to deal with the issue. He found that even in Massachusetts he had to face it, and at every level he has been unfailingly pro-life.
This is the one issue conservatives think they know for certain against Romney. But they’re wrong. So maybe there are more of those things, as Reagan says, “It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” My goal is not to be an apologist [i.e., one who argues in defense of something or someone, not to be confused with making excuses for]for Romney; my goal is to find out what’s true, about him and the other candidates. To that end, measuring Romney will probably take at least another post or two.
I still believe most of our candidates agree on most conservative issues. And we’re fortunate that all of them understand that they can only appeal to voters by expressing conservative ideas. So our efforts are to identify the best one for our country—all of whom would be better than their eventual opponent.

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