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Mitt Romney The Weathervane: What Our Most Changeable Politician Can Tell Us About The Modern GOP

As Mitt Romney enters the Republican presidential race this week, there will be plenty of attention on his shifting political views. But Romney’s changing positions are not just the tragicomic tale of a man so desperate for the presidency he’ll say anything to get there: they’re also a valuable measure of what it takes to make it in the modern GOP.

Romney’s many breathtaking U-turns — on universal health care, on gay rights, on abortion rights — have been extensively documented and parsed, and have become a reliable punchline. The former governor’s willingness to adopt the position that he thinks will get him the most votes in whatever election he happens to be running in does speak to his own character. But Romney’s ease at shifting also makes him a perfect weathervane for measuring the audiences he is trying to appeal to. And the speed with which Romney has been spinning to the right is an alarming sign of the political winds within the Republican Party.

This weekend, Romney will be making an important appearance among a group that has historically mistrusted him: the Religious Right. Speaking at the annual conference of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Romney can be expected to once again disavow his previously convenient reasonable positions on abortion rights and gay equality. But he is also likely to go a step farther.

At a similar event in 2007, as he tried to shake off his image as a socially moderate Massachusetts Republican in preparation for his first presidential run, Romney spoke at the Values Voter Summit hosted by a coalition of right-wing social issues groups. In his speech, he rattled off Religious Right catchphrases, speaking of the United States’ “Judeo-Christian heritage,” the “breakdown of the family,” and making “out-of-wedlock birth out of fashion again” and passing an anti-gay marriage amendment to “protect marriage from liberal, unelected judges.” He promised a federal “marriage amendment,” funding for vouchers for religious schools and across-the-board anti-choice policies. By earlier that year, he had impressed Ann Coulter enough that she endorsed him in a speech made famous by her use of an anti-gay slur.

At last year’s Values Voter Summit, having done full penance to the Religious Right for his previous statements in favor of gay rights and choice, Romney focused his speech on right-wing economic policies, including an odd tribute comparing Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton to the Founding Fathers. But the company he kept revealed the friends he was hoping to make. The event was sponsored in part by the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, two groups who were soon to be named “hate groups” by the SPLC for their long histories of false anti-gay rhetoric. Romney’s fellow speakers included Religious Right stalwarts Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins, Planned Parenthood scam artist Lila Rose, and the AFA’s Bryan Fischer, who has gained infamy with his vicious rhetoric about gays and lesbians, Muslims, African Americans and progressives. I wrote a letter to Romney warning him about associating himself with Fischer — he didn’t respond.

The Religious Right leaders that Romney is eager to curry favor with aren’t just hostile to gays, Muslims and the social safety net — many have expressed concern or even outright hostility to Romney’s own Mormon faith. Fischer recently confronted Romney’s faith, declaring that there is “a direct contradiction between Mormon theology and the teaching of Jesus Christ.” A writer for a leading Religious Right publication declared, “If Mitt Romney believes what the Mormon Church teaches about the world and how it operates, then he is unfit to serve.” As Romney angles himself into an increasingly extreme GOP, he will have to make nice to those who insult not only his past politics but his core religious beliefs.

At the Faith and Freedom Conference this weekend, Romney will have a similar opportunity to reinforce his social conservative bona fides while tying in his newly adamant anti-gay and anti-choice positions with the Tea Party’s love of pro-corporate anti-tax talk. Ralph Reed, the resurgent mastermind behind the Christian Coalition, will perhaps be the perfect ally in his effort to paint himself as a true Tea Party candidate who wants small government for corporations and big government for individuals. Reed was, after all, partly responsible for bringing the passion of American evangelicals to the Republican anti-regulation agenda and schmoozes equally comfortably with Pat Robertson and Jack Abramoff. He is the perfect power-broker for an age when GOP politicians are supposed to oppose universal health care while supporting IRS involvement in abortions – the niche that Romney is trying to carefully fit himself into.

Romney will try to take advantage of the GOP base’s newfound love of tax breaks for the rich, while continuing to pretend that he never supported choice and gay rights and reasonable environmental and health policies. If he can get away with it, he’ll be the perfect candidate for today’s ultraconservative GOP. But either way, he’s bound to become a powerful symbol of just how far to the Right you have to go to make it in today’s Republican Party.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For The American Way: Posted June 3, 2011 in The Huffington Post.

June 5, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Economy, Elections, GOP, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Mitt Romney, Politics, Public Opinion, Religion, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loose Lips: Romney Miscasts Economy In GOP Debut

In rhetorical excesses marking his entry in the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said the economy worsened under President Barack Obama, when it actually improved, and criticized the president for issuing apologies to the world that were never made.

A look at some of the statements by Romney on Thursday in announcing his bid for the Republican nomination and how they compare with the facts:

ROMNEY: “When he took office, the economy was in recession. He made it worse. And he made it last longer.”

THE FACTS: The gross domestic product, the prime measure of economic strength, shrank by a severe 6.8 percent annual rate before Obama became president. The declines eased after he took office and economic growth, however modest, resumed. The recession officially ended six months into his presidency. Unemployment, however, has worsened under Obama, going from 7.8 percent in January 2009 to 9.1 percent last month. It hit 10.1 percent in October 2009.

A case can be made for and against the idea that Obama’s policies made the economy worse than it needed to be and that the recession lasted longer than it might have under another president. Such arguments are at the core of political debate. But Obama did not, as Romney alleged, make the economy worse than it was when he took office.

ROMNEY: “A few months into office, he traveled around the globe to apologize for America.”

THE FACTS: Obama has not apologized for America. What he has done, in travels early in his presidency and since, is to make clear his belief that the U.S. is not beyond reproach. He has told foreigners that the U.S. at times acted “contrary to our traditions and ideals” in its treatment of terrorist suspects, that “America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy,” that the U.S. “certainly shares blame” for international economic turmoil and has sometimes shown arrogance toward allies. Obama, whose criticisms of America’s past were typically balanced by praise, was in most cases taking issue with policies or the record of the previous administration, not an unusual approach for a new president — or a presidential candidate. Romney’s actual point seems to be that Obama has been too critical of his country.

But there has been no formal — or informal — apology. No saying “sorry” on behalf of America.

ROMNEY: “Three years later, foreclosures are still at record levels. Three years later the prices of homes continue to fall.”

THE FACTS: Although foreclosures remain high, the number of U.S. homes that were repossessed by lenders fell in April, compared with March and a year ago, according to the foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc. Romney’s claim about home prices, though, is supported by the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city monthly index. It found home prices in big metro areas have sunk to their lowest since 2002. Since the bubble burst in 2006, prices have fallen more than they did during the Great Depression.

ROMNEY: “Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs and employers, he raises their taxes, piles on record-breaking mounds of regulation and bureaucracy and gives more power to union bosses.”

THE FACTS: Romney ignores ambitious tax-cutting pushed by Obama. The stimulus plan early in his presidency cut taxes broadly for the middle class and business. He more recently won a one-year tax cut for 2011 that reduced most workers’ Social Security payroll taxes by nearly a third. He also campaigned in support of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all except the wealthy, whose taxes he wanted to raise. In office, he accepted a deal from Republicans extending the tax cuts for all. As for tax increases, Obama won congressional approval to raise them on tobacco and tanning salons. The penalty for those who don’t buy health insurance, once coverage is mandatory, is a form of taxation. Several large tax increases in the health care law have not yet taken effect.

ROMNEY: “The expectation was that we’d have to raise taxes but I refused. I ordered a review of all state spending, made tough choices and balanced the budget without raising taxes.”

THE FACTS: Romney largely held the line on tax increases when he was Massachusetts governor but that’s only part of the revenue story. The state raised business taxes by $140 million in one year with measures branded “loophole closings,” the vast majority recommended by Romney. Moreover, the Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers raised hundreds of millions of dollars from higher fees and fines, taxation by another name. Romney himself proposed creating 33 new fees and increasing 57 others — enough to raise $59 million. Anti-tax groups were split on his performance. The Club for Growth called the fee increases and business taxes troubling. Citizens for Limited Taxation praised him for being steadfast in supporting an income tax rollback.

 

By: Calvin Woodward and Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press, Yahoo News, June 3, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Foreclosures, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Mitt Romney, Politics, President Obama, Regulations, Republicans, Tax Increases, Taxes, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Has 2012 Trouble: Attacking Medicare And Social Security Could Be Death Of Republicans’ 2012 Hopes

Recent weeks have finally defined the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The field has finally achieved a greater level of clarity as many candidates have opted out, running the absurd-to-formidable gamut from Donald Trump to Mitch Daniels. A smaller number have opted in, running the has-been to may-never-be gamut from Newt Gingrich to Tim Pawlenty, not to mention former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who officially entered the race yesterday.

A former Minnesota governor, Pawlenty officially joined the wannabe ranks last week with a speech aimed at defining himself as a fearless teller of hard truths (previously he had perhaps best been known for lacking any definition at all). This is smart on several levels. He quickly moved to fill the void left by Daniels, the governor of Indiana, whom many in the party had yearned for as a tough-minded fiscal hawk. And in part it is a strong bid for the mantel of not-Romney, the alternative to the former Massachusetts governor and current GOP front-runner. Romney is a laughably transparent flip-flopper, so Pawlenty’s new truth-teller frame could make him an ideal foil.

Politicians love to position themselves as tellers of hard truths, brave enough to boldly level with the voters. And the current tempestuous political climate, with its roiling discontent with politics as usual, especially lends itself to such a pose. Pawlenty is merely the latest candidate to seize this meme.

But his candidacy runs squarely afoul of Robert’s 13th rule of politics: People like the idea of hard truths and hard-truth tellers much more than they like the reality of them. You can ask straight shooters like Walter Mondale (“Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”), Paul “I’m not Santa Claus” Tsongas, and John “Straight Talk” McCain. Winning the presidency requires an aspirational element at odds with the doom-and-gloom that comes with those self-consciously trying to speak hard truths.

So kudos to Pawlenty for standing up to big ethanol in little Iowa. But while some may take off their hats to him for traveling to Florida in order to call for overhauls (read: cuts) of Social Security and Medicare, it might be merely to scratch one’s head. As Hot Air blogger Allahpundit quipped after Pawlenty’s Florida performance, “Alternate headline: ‘Pawlenty now unelectable in not one but two early primary states.’ ”

Maybe this is actually deep strategy. Many conservatives and Tea Partyers in particular seem intent these days on—as Ronald Reagan used to complain of some of his more gung-ho supporters—going “off the cliff with all flags flying.” Perhaps this is a clever way for Pawlenty to appeal to that “I’d rather lose being right” instinct.

An additional problem for would-be hard-truth tellers is that in the telling, these so-called truths often become vehicles for an even harder ideology. The attempt to conflate serious problems with ideologically inflexible and partisan solutions can create political tensions and open deadly political rifts. See the political abyss House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has marched his colleagues into over his plan to repeal and replace Medicare.

With the future insolubility of Medicare as a starting point, Ryan and the GOP have embarked on an emphatically ideological course. They hailed themselves as seriously facing a tough issue, and they spin the plan as an attempt to save the program, but all it would save would be the name “Medicare.” A guarantee of healthcare would be replaced with a voucher of diminishing value. If it fails to cover seniors’ costs . . . tough luck. The view was perhaps best summed up by Georgia GOP Rep. Rob Woodall, who chastised a constituent at a town hall meeting last month when she asked how, after Ryan’s reforms eliminated the guarantee of Medicare, she could expect to get medical coverage since she worked for a company that doesn’t offer it in their retirement package. “Hear yourself, ma’am,” he said. “You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, ‘When do I decide I’m going to take care of me?’ ”

Woodall, like many conservatives, fails to grasp why programs like Medicare were created. They were a response to a market failure—specifically an inability of senior citizens to get or pay for healthcare. But in Woodall’s world there are apparently no market failures; if seniors can’t get healthcare it’s because they simply won’t take responsibility for themselves. Of course in 1964, 44 percent of senior citizens had no health coverage, and the cost of medical bills had driven more than one third of them below the poverty line. If only they had had the moral fiber to take care of themselves!

Safe in a heavily conservative district, Woodall can spout such nonsense. But roughly 60 House Republicans represent districts Barack Obama won in 2008 and virtually all voted for the Ryancare overhaul. In this case, the gap between hard truths and hard ideology may be big enough to swallow a House majority.

Just ask the pollsters employed by the House GOP, who warned that the bill was a ticking time bomb, Politico reported last week. Or ask Jane Corwin, that bomb’s first casualty. She is the Republican who lost May’s special election in a GOP-leaning New York district in which the Ryan plan was the defining issue. Or ask Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Scott Brown, four of the five Senate Republicans who fled the plan last week (the fifth, Rand Paul, opposed it as not being conservative enough).

Or ask Gingrich, the former House speaker who drew party-wide opprobrium when he dismissed the Ryan plan as being so much “right-wing social engineering.” Pity poor Newt: He was just trying to tell a hard truth.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Consumers, Elections, GOP, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Seniors, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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