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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt Romney: A View from Massachusets

Now that Romney has withdrawn from the race I will post this as no newpaper will now be interested in taking it!

Mitt Romney is a man of great charm and style. Running for President, he is the only candidate, save Hillary Clinton, who actually looks presidential. But behind that style there is little substance, and what little there is shifting rapidly to accommodate the needs of his potential supporters and constituents. This lack of substance is a bit surprising given his background as an entrepreneur and turn-around artist.

In Romney’s case, he will value and support what the majority of his constituents supports. This has some advantages. If he were President, the Iraq war might now be winding down. But it has major disadvantages: you don’t know what you will get if you vote for him. He may agree with you (and the majority) on some issue today, but if the majority shifts its opinion and you don’t then Romney will shift too and leave you stranded with a President you thought you knew, but didn’t!

Let us look at his record. On taxes, his fellow Republicans disagree on whether he did or did not raise taxes. But on social issues there is no doubt: he flipped.

From childhood, Romney declared that he was pro-choice. In the 2002 election he boasted that he learned at his mother’s knee that women deserved control over their own bodies. He ran on a pro-choice platform that year and won election, in part, because of that position. In the past five years, Romney has, he claims, evolved rightward on a number of issues – I prefer to suggest that his thinking has been unintelligently redesigned. He now claims to be a pro-life candidate.

Along similar lines, he was brainwashed into vetoing the Massachusetts Emergency Contraception Bill of 2005. He was brainwashed into accepting bad science. The Emergency contraception pill does not cause an abortion. Like the uncontroversial IUD, the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the womb. It is a prevention of conception, not the abortion of a conceived fetus. He has been brainwashed into believing that the state has an interest in bringing to term any baby no matter how poor and unwelcoming the environment. If anything the state should be encouraging only the births of wanted children. He has been brainwashed into believing that it is merely an inconvenience for a woman to carry to term a child conceived through rape or incest.

He has also, despite earlier support, taken to claiming that he opposes stem cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos. He seems unaware that many more embryos are created during fertility treatment than are needed and that these embryos are routinely destroyed. A logical thinker would realize that the productive use of these embryos in research is more fruitful than flushing them down the drain. But such logic would conflict with the passions of his potential supporters, so may not be a fruitful strategy for getting elected.

Finally, in his election campaign for the senate in 1994 he out-Kennedy-ed Kennedy by claiming to support a stronger civil rights agenda for gay citizens of Massachusetts than the incumbent senator. This, of course, he has now disavowed with his opposition to gay marriage and even to Vermont-style civil unions. He bases his opposition on the rights of the child: every child deserves a father and a mother. Yet this right did not motivate him to increase family aid to the poor of Roxbury. On a personal note, the two ladies next door seem to be doing a fine job of raising their two adopted daughters.

He has also flipped on equally controversial topics that do not have religious undertones. Back in 2005 he went on record supporting the Kennedy/McCain compromise on immigration. Today he excoriates that approach. Despite employing a company that used illegal immigrants to do his yard work, he now is utterly opposed to the provisions in the compromise bill that would allow illegal immigrants to work their way toward legal residency and citizenship.

So on substance it is clear that Romney is a candidate in transition. The transitions he is experiencing are, he claims, the result of his increased insight and learning. Coincidentally, these shifts have occurred in the past four years. Coincidentally, the direction he is moving approaches the positions held by the radical right of the GOP; people whose support he needs in next spring’s primary.

Nevertheless, Romney has style and is a master at the photo-op. Unfortunately these photo-ops are all symbolic and have little of substance about them. The most appalling was his behavior after the collapse of part of the roof of the Big Dig tunnel. Romney presented himself as if he was an engineer with expert knowledge of the roof support and their problems. Fortunately this was a harmless act, but it detracted him from his major role – providing resources and support to the real engineers who had to work on the project. His endless inspections and commentaries were a distraction from the reality of the work that needed to be done. His feud with the Turnpike Authority chairman also consumed energies that would have been better focused on the problem not the person.

Then in July 2005 he rode the subway for one stop – just to show it was safe following the London terrorist attacks. Of course that ride, even if he had known the correct fare, would have done nothing to demonstrate that the subway is safe. What demonstrates its safety are the actions of thousands of commuters each day who ride the subway to work.

This symbolic silliness is of a piece with his actions as a candidate. Each week Mitt Romney worked for a day -- at least it was a day, not a five minute subway ride -- at a "regular "job. That "day at work program" by Mitt Romney (as a fisherman, as a burger flipper) provided for great photo opportunities, but it did not give time for the meaninglessness of much of that work to sink in: one is still in a learning mode. When I was a student, I only lasted a week on a donut assembly line: I could not get to sleep until I started up the line in my dreams. That is the reality of many assembly line jobs. The one day working at a menial job did not give Mitt Romney the insight into the reality of poor people's lives that he could have gained by reading Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich) or When Work Disappears (W. J. Wilson). As always for Mitt Romney, symbol trumps substance.

Two final flip-flops. Originally the Republican Standard bearer in the 2002 election was to have been Jane Swift. Romney promised he would not run against her in the primary, but when influential Republican power-brokers told Swift that she should withdraw for the good of the party, Romney had no qualms about taking up the candidacy and ultimately the governorship.

In 2006, Governor Romney and the leaders of the State Legislature, both Democrats, negotiated a deal for legislation proposing universal health care in Massachusetts. As soon as the bill passed both Houses, Governor Romney vetoed one provision that he objected to (the veto was over-ridden). This flip shows both his untrustworthiness and his love of symbolism! It does not bode well if he should be elected President.

Oh, and one more thing: the current president holds a Harvard MBA, so does Mitt Romney; that’s not a precedent we want to follow.

Although I am a Democrat, I do not understand how anyone, Republican or Democrat could trust Mitt Romney after the volte-faces of the past few years.

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