Saturday, February 02, 2008

Mit Romney: Social issues

I always start these posts with a bit of ambivalence. It's hard to start, knowing that you want to do a good and thorough job and knowing that it's going to have to take a bit of research and a bit of writing. Which takes a bit out of your evening. However, I yearn to know a bit more about this candidate before I make some sort of decision this coming May, and then this coming November.

Since the last weekend, it seems that Rudy Giuliani has vacated the race, leaving only Romney, McCain and a few other lingering afterthoughts. I'm sorry to all those who were seriously thinking about voting for Huckabee, Paul and the like. But they really never had much of a shot, Huckabee's Iowa victory aside, and voting for them always seemed to me to be a Kucinich type vote. I.E. you're doing it because you want to affect policy, not because you though your guy had a real shot.

Up until this point in my investigation of Mit Romney, I've looked a bit at his stances on foreign policy and economics. In this arena, he and McCain aren't really that far off. McCain has some disturbing idea about campaign finance, but otherwise is strong in other areas. He also is pretty strong against some of the more intense interrogation techniques that the Bush administration has been in favor of, but that's understandable considering his past, and he's otherwise tough against terror.
But these candidates start to find some separation here in the social arena. But this is about Romney. More on McCain later.

Romney has one document on his site regarding conservatives culture and values ideas. These of course include things like right to life (abortion issues), marriage issues, children's entertainment and exposure to drugs and violence (in TV or reality), and second amendment issues, which he stylizes as basic rights issues.
Funny how both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, can talk about how our rights and freedoms are being eroded, but talking about two totally different ways in which they want us to believe they're being eroded. Anyway...
This is a pretty general bunch of statements, and reading this page on his site, I just get that "he's delivering this to conservatives because he wants them to think he feels like them on these issues." But what's he really about here. He's been accused of treating these things much differently as the governor of Massachusettes, but the conundrum is this: does he really hold conservative values in the social arena and just lightened them up for his state, or does he hold fairly liberal values, which is how he became governor, and is molding them to conservatives to run for President?

Now I've said before that I feel like Presidents tend to hold themselves to what they say in campaign speeches more than how they've acted as officials in the past. So here's what Romney says:
  • He's against Roe v. Wade and would see it overturned, however defers the issue to the states (entirely?) while there is division of opinion in this country.
  • Supports a Federal Marriage Amendment to the constitution.
  • Advocates conservatives judges (says nothing about constructionists, just conservative. What does that mean?).
  • Proposes tougher laws and enforcement of child abuse, online porn and one-strike and your out for folks who prey on children through the internet (including lifetime tracking with GPS after they get out of jail).
  • Support volunteer efforts (specifically talks about supporting faith-based groups here).
The document then spends considerable time criticizing McCain-Feingold as an erosion of our first amendment rights, and then supports the second amendment without really saying anything else about it. He certainly hits all the hot buttons for conservatives. However, I don't see anything original here. No original thoughts or ideas. Why do I get the feeling this is just a placeholder in a platform of issues that appears just because people expect it to?

First of all, I'm not sure the "we're such a great nation because of our values" statement, coubled with naming those values as "life" and "marriage" is necessarily helpful. Those are part of our values, but the values this country has that propels us to super economic and cultural prominence in the world are so much more than that, and I think focusing on those like a laser is part of the problem.
Let me state first of all that I'm not saying that those things aren't important, and that the loss of those values will in fact take us down a dark path toward decline. But it's always been the social structures of our society that held those value in place. The values that created the most economically powerful and influential nation on earth are centered around the freedoms we have, and the protections that each and every citizen in this country enjoys. They come from some very smart guys who lived over 200 years ago, who decided that people would function better inside a framework of trust and autonomy, free from government intrusion.
And so when Republicans talk about social values, I get the same feeling sometimes that I get when Democrats talk about just about anything else. This is the government telling us what's right and wrong.

Two points there. Anyone who's spent any time at this blog knows that I have very complicated thoughts about abortion and marriage in a federal context. I understand the abortion crowd (apart from the deep seeded left) and here's something that might cause you to choke on your Thomas Kemper Orange Cream soda: I don't think Roe v. Wade needs to be overturned. At least at this moment I don't.
It's not because I'm pro-abortion. I firmly believe that life starts at the moment the cell formerly known as an egg becomes zygote. The DNA fundamentally becomes something the mother and father don't own any more. I've been willing to be pragmatic to the point that medical science has determined that infants in-utero feel pain, and generally start behaving human about halfway through the pregnancy, and so while there is a segment of society that feels that they need to have abortions for whatever reason and will fight to have that right, we can limit them to that point.
However, and this is key, I don't think that Roe means what 99% of the country thinks it means. The circumstances behind the decision were much more limited. At the time the entire argument AGAINST abortion was that medical practice was poor to the point that it was highly likely that performing an abortion would harm or kill the mother. By the time of Roe, medical science had improved to the point that most to almost all abortions could be performed safely (again, for the mother) and that argument no longer carried any weight.
But there was no discussion in the Supreme Justices arguments about the fetus and whether it had rights at all. That's the issue with what I see as a completely deluded debate. Roe can stand on it's own merits while coming to a conclusion that while there's no need to outlaw abortion in order to save the mother, the logic behind Roe, we need to come to a conclusion regarding the status of the baby growing inside. But until we put Roe aside and let it be, promising that it can stand without challenge, we'll never get the left dialogging.
OK. Rant over. Sorry, I just get peeved when I see this type of statement from a politician. It's not very well thought out and just panders to a conservative element in order to get elected.

This type of thinking permeates the rest of his points. Marriage Amendments and support for faith based groups will play well with social conservatives, but they never did well for Bush and could really nail his coffin in the general election. I could go on all day about how ill though out any idea along these lines is bound to be coming from a candidate for President, and creating amendments for social causes and funding religious groups is not really a conservative idea (in the classical sense of conservative).

Lastly, ripping on McCain for his landmark campaign finance bill is pretty disingenuous. Give McCain some credit for pushing something every citizen at the time thought would reform politics in this country, and got considerable resistance from career politicians. Heck, at the time I thought it was a good thing, and the real conservative in this Presidential race (alas, who is now gone) Thompson also voted for it before he realized what the true effect would be on politics.
True, McCain needs to be called to the carpet for not backing down and admitting that his great idea fell flat on his face, and ended up making our lives worse rather than better. But give the guy some credit.

The Washington Post took a look at some of what Romney was saying to try to get him away from any image he might have gained in Massachusettes as a liberal on the abortion issue. This is the thing that he gets a lot of criticism about, the possibility that he changed his stance because of where he was running.
Alas, it was too good to end there. The National Review article, by John J. Miller, also noted that Romneysaid during his gubernatorial campaign that he would "fully protect a woman's right to choose" abortion but now says his "political philosophy is pro-life." And it quoted Romney adviser Michael Murphy as saying: "He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly."
Now he's not as shifty as a Clinton, but you can't have it both ways.

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