Too much about the Republican candidate for the presidency is far too mysterious.
When Mitt Romney was governor of liberal Massachusetts, he supported abortion, gun control, tackling climate change and a requirement that everyone should buy health insurance, backed up with generous subsidies for those who could not afford it. Now, as he prepares to fly to Tampa to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president on August 30th, he opposes all those things. A year ago he favored keeping income taxes at their current levels; now he wants to slash them for everybody, with the rate falling from 35 percent to 28 percent for the richest Americans.
All politicians flip-flop from time to time; but Mr. Romney could win an Olympic medal in it (see “Mitt Romney’s chances: The changing man”). And that is a pity, because this newspaper finds much to like in the history of this uncharismatic but dogged man, from his obvious business acumen to the way he worked across the political aisle as governor to get health reform passed and the state budget deficit down. We share many of his views about the excessive growth of regulation and of the state in general in America, and the effect that this has on investment, productivity and growth. After four years of soaring oratory and intermittent reforms, why not bring in a more businesslike figure who might start fixing the problems with America’s finances?
But competence is worthless without direction and, frankly, character. Would that Candidate Romney had indeed presented himself as a solid chief executive who got things done. Instead he has appeared as a fawning PR man, apparently willing to do or say just about anything to get elected. In some areas, notably social policy and foreign affairs, the result is that he is now committed to needlessly extreme or dangerous courses that he may not actually believe in but will find hard to drop; in others, especially to do with the economy, the lack of details means that some attractive-sounding headline policies prove meaningless (and possibly dangerous) on closer inspection. Behind all this sits the worrying idea of a man who does not really know his own mind. America won’t vote for that man; nor would this newspaper. The convention offers Mr. Romney his best chance to say what he really believes.
There are some areas where Mr. Romney has shuffled to the right unnecessarily. In America’s culture wars he has followed the Republican trend of adopting ever more socially conservative positions. He says he will appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court and back the existing federal Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA). This goes down well with southern evangelicals, less so with independent voters: witness the furor over one (rapidly disowned) Republican’s ludicrous remarks about abortion and “legitimate rape” (see “The Todd Akin affair: Grenades and stilettos”). But the powers of the federal government are limited in this area; DOMA has not stopped a few states introducing gay marriage and many more recognizing gay civil partnerships.
The damage done to a Romney presidency by his courting of the isolationist right in the primaries could prove more substantial. He has threatened to label China as a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency. Even if it is unclear what would follow from that, risking a trade war with one of America’s largest trading partners when the recovery is so sickly seems especially mindless. Some of his anti-immigration policies won’t help, either. And his attempts to lure American Jews with near-racist talk about Arabs and belligerence against Iran could ill serve the interests of his country (and, for that matter, Israel’s).
Once again, it may be argued that this will not matter: previous presidents pandered to interest groups and embraced realpolitik in office. Besides, this election will be fought on the economy. This is where Manager Romney should be at his strongest. But he has yet to convince; sometimes, again, being needlessly extremist, more often evasive and vague.
In theory, Mr. Romney has a detailed 59-point economic plan. In practice, it ignores virtually all the difficult or interesting questions (indeed, “The Romney Programme for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs” is like “Fifty Shades of Grey” without the sex). Mr. Romney began by saying that he wanted to bring down the deficit; now he stresses lower tax rates. Both are admirable aims, but they could well be contradictory: So which is his primary objective? His running-mate, Paul Ryan, thinks the Republicans can lower tax rates without losing tax revenues, by closing loopholes. Again, a simpler tax system is a good idea, but no politician has yet dared to tackle the main exemptions. Unless Mr. Romney specifies which boondoggles to axe, this looks meaningless and risky.
On the spending side, Mr. Romney is promising both to slim Leviathan and to boost defense spending dramatically. So what is he going to cut? How is he going to trim the huge earned benefits programs? Which bits of Mr. Ryan’s scheme does he agree with? It is a little odd that the number two has a plan and his boss doesn’t. And it is all very well promising to repeal Barack Obama’s health-care plan and the equally gargantuan Dodd-Frank act on financial regulation, but what exactly will Mr. Romney replace them with—unless, of course, he thinks Wall Street was well-regulated before Lehman went bust?
Playing dumb is not an option
Mr. Romney may calculate that it is best to keep quiet: The faltering economy will drive voters towards him. It is more likely, however, that his evasiveness will erode his main competitive advantage. A businessman without a credible plan to fix a problem stops being a credible businessman. So does a businessman who tells you one thing at breakfast and the opposite at supper. Indeed, all this underlines the main doubt: Nobody knows who this strange man really is. It is half a decade since he ran something. Why won’t he talk about his business career openly? Why has he been so reluctant to disclose his tax returns? How can a leader change tack so often? Where does he really want to take the world’s most powerful country?
It is not too late for Mr. Romney to show America’s voters that he is a man who can lead his party rather than be led by it. But he has a lot of questions to answer in Tampa.
By: The Economist, Business Insider Contributor, August 25, 2012
There was a time not long ago when Democrats feared the culture war. They’d try to make campaigns about things like economic fairness, and just when things seemed to be going their way, Republicans would jump out from behind a bush and shout “God! Guns! Gays!” Voters would scream in alarm and pull the lever for the GOP. But here we are today, with Republicans desperately trying to change the subject away from gay marriage and back to the economy. Whodathunkit?
Just a few days ago, most people thought it would be too risky for President Obama to come out and support marriage equality. But now not only has he come out in support, his campaign has released a web ad touting his support for it and slamming Romney for not supporting even civil unions. It uses George W. Bush (!) saying he supports civil unions, and hits Romney for supporting a constitutional amendment to forestall marriage equality. “President Obama is moving us forward,” the ad concludes. “Mitt Romney would take us back.” Meanwhile, Republican leaders are trying desperately to avoid talking about marriage.
But this story is not going to go away, at least not for the next few days. Because guess where Mitt Romney is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow: Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. It was scheduled some time ago, but in the midst of all this, when Romney keeps saying he wants to talk about the economy, he’s going down to Lynchburg to address an audience of evangelicals, where he’ll of course have to heap praise on Falwell, one of the most divisive culture-war figures this country has ever seen, and of course he’ll have to proclaim his support for “traditional” marriage, and of course he’ll have to talk about abortion, and of course he’ll come off sounding like someone who has to keep proving to the hard right that he’s “severely conservative,” in his own immortal words. And this all comes on the heels of the bullying story. It has been one tough week for the guy.
In honor of Mitt’s appearance at Liberty, I give you this: quite possibly the best hip-hop anthem about an evangelical university ever produced. Critics everywhere said, “Not nearly as awful as I expected!”
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 10, 2012
“How The GOP Got Catholicized”: The Alliance Of Ultra-Conservative Catholics And Tea Party Evangelicals
There was a time when the Republican Party was strictly for White Anglo Saxon Protestants. It was an alliance between Country Club Episcopalians and twice born followers of the Old Time Gospel, all firmly opposed to mass Catholic immigration from Europe. The nativism of the GOP drove Catholics into the welcoming arms of Al Smith, Jack Kennedy, Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Party.
But this year’s GOP front-runners are a Mormon and two Catholics — Rick Santorum (a cradle of Italian descent) and Newt Gingrich (a convert). Roughly one-quarter of Republican primary voters are Catholic. Notable Catholic GOP leaders include John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Christine O’Donnell, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Six out of nine justices of the Supreme Court are Catholics, and five of them are Republicans.
The GOP is undergoing a quiet process of Catholicization. It’s one of the reasons why this year’s race has focused so much on social issues — and sex.
Republican outreach to Catholics began in the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon tried to entice blue-collar “white ethnics” to the GOP by taking a tough stand on abortion. Nixon told members of his staff he was tempted to convert to Catholicism himself, but was worried it would be seen as cheap politics: “They would say there goes Tricky Dick Nixon trying to win the Catholic vote. …“
Nixon genuinely admired the Catholic intellectual tradition and its ability to provide reasonable arguments to defend conservative values at a time when they were undergoing widespread reappraisal. That certainly made the Church an invaluable partner during the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s.
When the Moral Majority was established in 1979 to oppose things like abortion and homosexual rights, its evangelical founders did their best to include Catholics. Despite the organization’s reputation for being the political voice box of televangelists and peddlers of the apocalypse, by the mid ’80s it drew a third of its funding from Catholic donors. Leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson consciously used the Moral Majority (and, later, the Christian Coalition) as an exercise in ecumenical coalition building.
Falwell and Robertson were fans of Pope John Paul II and his resilient anti-communism. But they also recognized, like Nixon, that the Catholic Church had a vast intellectual heritage that could be drawn upon when fighting the liberals. For example, when debating abortion, evangelicals had hitherto tended to rely on Scripture to make their case. Catholics, on the other hand, had been integrating the concept of “human rights” into their theology since the 1890s.
Under Catholic influence, the pro-life movement evolved from a zealous, theology-heavy rationale to one more couched in the language of human dignity and personhood.
By 2000, Catholic social teaching was a core component of the Republican Party’s “compassionate conservatism” agenda. Karl Rove targeted religious Catholics on behalf of George W. Bush, while the president made a big play of his social traditionalism. In the 2004 election, Bush beat John Kerry among Catholics, despite the fact that Kerry described himself as a faithful Catholic who never went anywhere without his rosary beads.
Crucially, Bush’s victory among Catholics was made possible by his margin of support among those who attend Mass regularly. Catholics who said they rarely went to church plumped for Kerry. The election heralded a new split within the politics of the communion, between religious and ethnic Catholics. Indeed, it could be argued that just as Republican Protestants have become a little more Catholic in their outlook, so conservative Catholics have become a little more Protestant in theirs.
Take Rick Santorum. Santorum is part of the John Paul II generation of Catholics who reject most of the liberalism that swept the church in the 1960s. He is a member of a suburban church in Great Falls, Virginia, that (unusually, nowadays) offers a Latin Mass each Sunday with a Georgian chant sung by a professional choir.
The church has a “garden for the unborn” and has boasted as worshipers the director of the FBI, the head of the National Rifle Association and Justice Antonin Scalia. Santorum is also an outspoken admirer of Saint Josemaria Escriva, the founder of the conservative lay organization Opus Dei. Opus Dei encourages among its members a work ethic and an effort to “live like a saint” that is strikingly similar to the values and mores of New England’s Puritan settlers.
Santorum’s political theology has thus moved him so sharply to the right that it’s sometimes difficult to culturally identify him as a Catholic. In a March 18 survey, less than half of GOP Catholics actually knew the candidate was himself a Catholic. That might be one of the reasons why Santorum consistently loses to Romney among Catholics in primaries, even during his landmark victories in the Deep South. In contrast, he does very well among evangelicals.
We might speculate that what is emerging is an alliance between ultra-conservative Catholics and tea party evangelicals. Its politics might be antediluvian, but it’s an ecumenical breakthrough and a cultural revolution at the grass-roots level.
The coalition’s mix of Catholic moral teaching and evangelical fervor has oriented the 2012 GOP race toward fierce social conservatism. During the debate over Obama’s contraception mandate, it was the Catholic conservative leadership who provided the moral objection, but the evangelicals who produced most of the popular opposition to it. And it is evangelical support that has elevated Santorum to his current status in the race. With its ability to shift the agenda and win primaries, the emerging Catholic/evangelical political theology is the most striking conservative innovation of this turbulent campaign season.
By: Timothy Stanley, The Daily Telegraph, Special to CNN, CNN Election Center, March 23, 2012