Friday, November 4, 2011

Romney’s Empty Core

 The Obama reelection campaign, anticipating that Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee, is already trying out a master narrative: “Romney,” David Plouffe tells us, “has no core.” The interesting thing is that Plouffe's enunciating a rare proposition that rings true across the ideological divide. His words could just as easily have come from Rick Perry.

Most conservatives and liberals will disagree about the morality of abortion until their dying day. But they’re both put off by reports, like this one from yesterday’s Washington Post, about Romney’s all too convenient transformation from a champion of abortion rights when he was running for governor of Massachusetts to the born-again right-to-lifer he is today:

"Mitt Romney was firm and direct with the abortion rights advocates sitting in his office nine years ago, assuring the group that if elected Massachusetts governor, he would protect the state’s abortion laws.

"Then, as the meeting drew to a close, the businessman offered an intriguing suggestion — that he would rise to national prominence in the Republican Party as a victor in a liberal state and could use his influence to soften the GOP’s hard-line opposition to abortion."
You won’t get an argument from me if you say that Romney’s epiphany about the sanctity of life at exactly the moment he no longer needed the political advantages associated with being pro-choice in Massachusetts and sorely needed to establish his conservative rectitude with the Republican primary electorate is more than a little creepy. If you ask me, it has earned him the abiding distrust of mainstream conservatives and the disdain of lots of people who aren’t conservatives. But it’s a little puzzling why that's so.

Consider a relevant comparison. In the circles I frequent in liberal New York City, it’s now generally regarded as downright shameful to be against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. But no liberal I know really holds it against Obama all that much that, even at this late date, he still won’t come out and say that he’s for it. Although most of the liberals I know are mildly disappointed by the president’s reticence in this connection, it doesn't make them question the authenticity of his social liberalism or the righteousness of his character.  Liberals, it seems, are a pretty tolerant bunch when it comes to Democratic politicians playing to the socially conservative voters in the cheap seats. Moreover, as dim a view as they may take of Obama’s character on this and other grounds, I’ve never encountered a conservative who doubts the authenticity of his social liberalism despite his many equivocations about same-sex marriage. Does anybody, whether conservative or liberal, really doubt that, in his heart of hearts, Obama thinks it's a fine idea?

I don’t think the differences in the general perception of Romney's and Obama's ideological authenticity are a function of the quantity or the magnitude of their respective flip-flops. Yes, Romney has also changed his tune dramatically with respect to health care reform and climate change. Yet Obama too has crossed a lot of lines he once drew in the ideological sand (e.g., whether we’re really fighting a war on terror as opposed to undertaking a police action, whether a public option should be an integral part of health care reform, whether to extend the Bush tax cuts in the upper brackets).

So why are Romney’s flip-flops generally taken as a symptom of his “corelessness” but Obama’s aren't? You got me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You make an excellent point. I wholly agree -- either Obama has no core or they are both playing the same game. Perhaps it's just that liberals are two-faced about it and conservatives aren't.