To Be Blunt About It

Almost there – one more presidential debate to go, and the next morning it will be two weeks until the election, with the World Series and Halloween in there somewhere, and probably a few other things no one could have ever predicted, perhaps a stock market crash or the Pope coming out of the closet, along with what everyone knows will happen – the stores filling up with Christmas displays. Maybe this is all normal, and it’s certainly normal for regional newspapers to do what they do at this point in the political process, publish their official endorsement of one candidate or the other. The New York Observer, run by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has officially endorsed Mitt Romney – as one would expect. So did the Orlando Sentinel – that’s where Disney World is. The Tampa Bay Times has now endorsed Obama – that’s the solidly Democratic city where the Republicans held their convention this year, oddly enough. The Denver Post also endorsed Obama – the largest newspaper in a state Romney would dearly love to carry this time, and maybe could, but now probably won’t. It’s not that these endorsements mean a whole lot, but they could swing a few votes one way or the other and this race is tight everywhere.

If, then, you assume editorial endorsements can matter, the most interesting endorsement comes from the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board endorsing Barack Obama. This is odd because Mitt Romney really is a favorite son out there, which they acknowledge:

Nowhere has Mitt Romney’s pursuit of the presidency been more warmly welcomed or closely followed than here in Utah. The Republican nominee’s political and religious pedigrees, his adeptly bipartisan governorship of a Democratic state, and his head for business and the bottom line all inspire admiration and hope in our largely Mormon, Republican, business-friendly state.

But it was Romney’s singular role in rescuing Utah’s organization of the 2002 Olympics from a cesspool of scandal, and his oversight of the most successful Winter Games on record, that make him the Beehive State’s favorite adopted son. After all, Romney managed to save the state from ignominy, turning the extravaganza into a showcase for the matchless landscapes, volunteerism and efficiency that told the world what is best and most beautiful about Utah and its people.

Perhaps Romney’s staff was going to rush in and show him that, but what followed was devastating:

In short, this is the Mitt Romney we knew, or thought we knew, as one of us.

Sadly, it is not the only Romney, as his campaign for the White House has made abundantly clear, first in his servile courtship of the tea party in order to win the nomination, and now as the party’s shape-shifting nominee. From his embrace of the party’s radical right wing, to subsequent portrayals of himself as a moderate champion of the middle class, Romney has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: “Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?”

The evidence suggests no clear answer, or at least one that would survive Romney’s next speech or sound bite. Politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience. Romney, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words they would trade their votes to hear.

Utah is full of Mormons, and Mitt Romney is as thoroughly Mormon as a Mormon can be, and he is a wonderful businessman too, and he saved the state, but there are just too many Mitts, and no real one as far as anyone can tell. That just won’t do.

That must have been a kick in the teeth, but also see The Onion Endorses John Edwards for President – one can take all this far too seriously. On the other hand, the nagging sense that there are too many Mitts to keep straight is something Obama can exploit. If even the devout folks in the shadow of the Mormon Tabernacle, at the foot of the wondrous Winter Olympics Mountains, sense something is wrong here, there probably is something wrong here. And the Atlantic’s Molly Ball reports Obama has found his latest campaign strategy in this:

Mitt Romney’s attempt to tack to the middle came so late in the presidential campaign that it caught President Obama somewhat off-guard. It’s something most candidates do as soon as they’re through their party’s primary, but Romney didn’t make much effort to strike a more moderate tone until presidential debates began this month. Suddenly, he was vowing not to cut rich people’s taxes, embracing his work on health-care reform, and saying he’d expand rather than scale back Pell Grants for higher education.

She has a video clip of Obama deciding how to deal with this. Romney doesn’t get to pull off an election-eve makeover. Obama says Romney seems to be suffering from “Romnesia” of all things, and Ball’s transcript of Obama’s Friday remarks shows that Obama is now taking this out for a spin:

He’s forgetting what his own positions are, and he’s betting that you will too. I mean he’s changing up so much – backtracking and sidestepping – we’ve got to name this condition that he’s going through. I think it’s called “Romnesia.” That’s what it’s called. I think that’s what he’s going through.

Now, I’m not a medical doctor but I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you because I want to make sure nobody else catches it.

If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you’d sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work – you might have Romnesia.

If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let your employer deny you contraceptive care – you might have a case of Romnesia.

If you say you’ll protect a woman’s right to choose, but you stand up at a primary debate and said that you’d be “delighted” to sign a law outlawing that right to choose in all cases – man, you’ve definitely got Romnesia.

Now, this extends to other issues. If you say earlier in the year I’m going to give a tax cut to the top one percent and then in a debate you say, I don’t know anything about giving tax cuts to rich folks – you need to get a thermometer, take your temperature, because you’ve probably got Romnesia.

If you say that you’re a champion of the coal industry when while you were governor you stood in front of a coal plant and said, this plant will kill you – that’s some Romnesia.

All of that’s cute. And it’s also true. And the wrap-up is even cuter:

I think you’re beginning to be able to identify these symptoms. And if you come down with a case of Romnesia, and you can’t seem to remember the policies that are still on your website, or the promises you’ve made over the six years you’ve been running for president, here’s the good news: Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions.

We can fix you up. We’ve got a cure. We can make you well. This is a curable disease.

Maybe that’s too cute but this is no time to be subtle, and Reuters reports the quick reaction to this:

Romney responded at an oceanfront rally with a crowd of about 8,500 people in Daytona Beach, Florida, saying: “They’ve been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games.”

“Just watch it, the Obama campaign has become the incredible shrinking campaign. This is a big country with big opportunities and great challenges, and they keep on talking about smaller and smaller things,” Romney added, saying Obama has “no agenda for a second term.”

Yeah, and Romney has many agendas for his term or terms in office – choose one, and if you then decide you don’t like that one choose another, or ask for a custom agenda just for you. Romney aims to please. Some people don’t like pickles on their Whopper. As they say at Burger King, have it your way.

Maybe that’s too harsh. Maybe Obama and the good folks in Salt Lake City are being unfair. There is the possibility that Romney is merely changing the tone of his remarks and not changing his actual positions at all. In the primaries he told his rabid base that he was “severely conservative” – and now he says he’s a reasonable and sensible and consensus-building kind of guy. So what? That’s descriptive of his mindset, his attitude or mood at the moment. That has nothing to do with his positions, which he claims have never really changed. It’s all in how you talk about them. He hasn’t shifted positions, he’s just talking slower and lower and softly. What’s the matter with that?

The answer is obvious. Most of his positions are severely conservative, and presenting them once again in new words doesn’t quite work, as softer words soften the hard positions and actually change them. Romeo tells Juliette, or the other way around, that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but the inverse is also true. When something stinks to high heaven, no matter what you call it, it still stinks – and if you’re talking about something that doesn’t really stink, well, you’re talking about something else entirely.

Brian Beutler offers an example:

In an exchange with President Obama during the second presidential debate at New York’s Hofstra University, Mitt Romney attempted to obscure his opposition to Obama’s mandate requiring employer sponsored insurance to cover contraception.

“In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured,” Obama said. “Governor Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.”

Given a chance to respond, Romney said, “I’d just note that I don’t believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And – and the – and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.”

That’s odd. Romney said, explicitly, that he certainly doesn’t believe that employers should tell someone whether they can have contraceptive care or not. But after some waffling early this year he decided that he enthusiastically supported the Blunt Amendment – the Republican measure designed to roll back the Obama administration’s requirement that employer health plans cover birth control. That would have permitted all employers – they didn’t have to be Catholic or anything at all – to deny coverage of birth control or any other healthcare services they decided were morally objectionable. If they held that laughter was the best medicine they could decide their version of federally supported healthcare plan only covered visits to the Laugh Factory and DVDs of America’s Funniest Home Videos. It was a matter of religious freedom – the boss’s religious freedom. At the time Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said this – “Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in healthcare for religious institutions and people of faith.” The Blunt Bill didn’t specify which faith. Faith in anything would do – unicorns perhaps.

That was back in February with Talking Points Memo adding this:

Backing the Blunt bill is an important move for Romney as he’ll likely have to defend his position if he wins the Republican nomination. Romney has strongly criticized President Obama’s requirement that employers who provide health insurance cover birth control, and has stuck closely with the Republican Party line on this issue like many others.

The issue is an awkward one because, as Democrats have pointed out, as governor of Massachusetts Romney embraced a similar mandate in his health care plan that’s arguably even less lenient on religious employers than the Obama rule.

The amendment isn’t expected to pass the Senate or President Obama’s veto pen. And Democrats are determined to paint it as an effort to restrict access to contraception for women.

The Democrats won on that one. The Blunt thing went nowhere, and Talking Points Memo noted that Romney’s position on the Blunt amendment could come back to haunt him.

It just did, as Beutler explains:

It is true Romney has never claimed bureaucrats or employers should be able to prohibit contraception. And he’s never taken the position that women shouldn’t have access to contraceptives.

But Romney inverted the issue. Obama criticized Romney not for opposing access to contraception but for opposing a requirement that insurance covers contraceptives – a requirement he signed into law and that influential religious groups, religiously-affiliated employers, and Republicans strongly opposed.

Maybe that’s too fine a point, but Romney did enthusiastically support legislation that would give all employers the legal right to tell their employees they could not have contraceptive care unless they paid the full cost of it themselves, no matter what the stupid federal law said – and maybe he still does support it. Your religious freedom doesn’t matter but your boss’s does. How do you make that sound nice?

There’s more of course. In one of those seemingly endless primary debates earlier this year, Anderson Cooper asked an interesting question submitted by a person on YouTube:

If hypothetically Roe versus Wade was overturned, and the Congress passed a federal ban on all abortion, and it came to your desk, would you sign it? Yes or no?

Mitt Romney said he’d be delighted to sign that, and of course the Obama campaign is using that in a new ad – Romney wants to end all abortions, no matter what’s at stake – and over at Time’s Swampland, Michael Scherer thinks that’s just a cheap shot:

Here is the transcript, from a Republican debate on Nov. 28, 2007:

Romney: Let me say it. I’d be delighted to sign that bill. But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today. Where America is, is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in the country, terrific.

Romney conditions his support for this hypothetical bill on an America that does not exist, or one in which there is “such a consensus in this country that we said, we don’t want to have abortion in this country at all, period.” He also says clearly, “that’s not where we are.” In other words, he does not say that he would push against popular opinion to support such a bill. He is also silent on whether his ban would include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Obama supporters say he doesn’t need to be explicit about exceptions, since the question is about “all abortions.” But the history of abortion debates within the Republican Party suggests otherwise.

Now it’s Kevin Drum’s turn to say that’s too fine a point:

I don’t really see Scherer’s point here. It’s true that Romney thinks (accurately) that no flat ban on abortion is likely to cross the president’s desk in the near future. So in the sense of trying to figure out what will actually happen over the next four or eight years, it’s probably true that a President Romney wouldn’t have a chance to sign a flat ban on abortion.

But that’s only half of what any election is about. The other half is about what a prospective candidate wants to do. I don’t think the United States will ever return to the gold standard, for example, but the fact that Ron Paul supports it tells me that he’s a crank. That’s reason enough not to vote for him.

This is the same sort of thing:

Even if Romney never has the opportunity to sign a nationwide ban on abortion, he’s obviously saying that he’d like to if he ever got the chance. What’s more, Romney probably would get a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade by appointing a Sam Alito clone to the Supreme Court, and he knows very well that this would result in plenty of states flatly banning abortion. This tells me he’s an abortion extremist, and it tells me a lot about who he is. It’s fair game.

And like the folks in Salt Lake City, Drum also sees too many Mitts here:

As for whether Romney, in his heart of hearts, wants to ban all abortions nationwide, or would reject a bill unless it made exceptions for rape and incest, who knows? Romney is obviously willing to fudge the question depending on what audience he’s talking to, and it’s hardly dirty pool for the Obama campaign to take advantage of that. The ambiguity in the Obama ad is a direct result of the ambiguity in Romney’s position.

Romney just can’t be blunt – it’s bad politics. Of course being vague may be even worse politics, and Ed Kilgore would go even further than Kevin Drum:

Aside from Romney’s comment on a hypothetical flat federal abortion ban, which would be obviously unconstitutional until such time as a President Romney stacked the Supreme Court to reverse Roe, he promised in his “My Pro-Life Pledge” ukase published by National Review in the early stages of the nomination fight to “advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.” That would be a federal version of the state legislation being promoted around the country testing the very margins of Roe by banning abortions before an arbitrary point at which a very small minority of scientists and a very large majority of anti-choicers claim a fetus can feel pain.

So looking at the big picture, Mitt Romney’s promised to do everything within his power to restrict abortion rights under Roe, and then everything within his power to get it reversed, all within a “pro-life” position that sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t include exceptions for the incredibly tiny percentage of pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, or direct threats to the life of the woman involved. And this has been his basic position since 2007…

Kilgore also adds this:

It should also be recalled that Mitt has identified himself unambiguously with the argument of conservative religious figures that the HHS contraception coverage mandate is objectionable because it includes “abortifacients” – reflecting the belief of anti-choice ultras that Plan B, IUDs, and even standard contraceptive pills actually kill human beings.

This does not add up to a “moderate” position on abortion, however Team Mitt tries to bob and weave and play the victim.

Kilgore puts it this way:

Mitt Romney’s ever-slippery position on abortion policy, one of the enduringly shameful features of his entire public career, is at the center of an argument that the mean old Obama campaign and the mean old Democrats are lying about Mitt’s positions and denying him his proper mantle of moderate conservatism.

That argument, that the mean old Obama campaign and the mean old Democrats are lying about Mitt’s positions and denying him his proper mantle of moderate conservatism, maddens Andrew Sullivan:

The cynicism of the GOP can sometimes make you laugh or cry. In 2009, a newly elected president was eager to reach out to Republicans, a Democrat who adopted tax cuts as a third of the stimulus, incorporated Republican ideas on the individual mandate and healthcare exchanges, increased domestic oil and gas production, decimated al Qaeda and killed bin Laden etc… He got zero House votes for a desperately needed stimulus in his first month as president. And yet that GOP now blames Obama for being obstructionist and portrays Romney as the great healer…

The cynicism turns my stomach. And what turns it even more is that it might just possibly work.

But it’s not working in Salt Lake City or Tampa or Denver. That’s something. No one can be what they never were, to be blunt about it.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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