Posts Tagged ‘shape-shifter’
First, let us pass in review:
(1) As Romney-apologists tell the story, Romney wanted to run as a competent technocrat, an outsider with the business experience and native genius necessary to “fix Washington.” Only Romney could never stay on message. So what the campaign emitted was unintelligible noise.
- Luo: “Ever since Mr. Romney began his presidential bid, his campaign has oscillated between two distinct, some would say contradictory, themes—Mr. Romney as a conservative standard-bearer and him as a pragmatic problem-solving businessman”
- Bartlett: Romney miscalculated the primary field, hence his many flip-flops—OK., but what does this say about Romney’s character or competence?
In the opinion of observers Romney had tried early on to position himself as a social conservative, only this ridiculously revisionist line never withstood any encounter with the facts of Romney’s record. Romney responded by tacking ever further to the right.
(2) After Iowa returned its decision for Gov. Mike Huckabee, Romney suddenly transformed into the “change” candidate.
- Romney’s new theme of “change in Washington” developed by same super-genius advisors who delivered Romney’s Agony-in-Iowa US$10 million dollar rout
- Romney cross-dresses as Sen. Barack Obama in NH—Romney is a better Sen. Barack Obama than Barack Obama, Romney implies
- Martin and VandeHei: “[Romney] blame[s] reporters—not his advisers—for forcing him to focus intensely on his conservative views instead of the message of change”
(3) After New Hampshire returned its decision for Sen. John McCain, Romney transforms himself yet again. Romney abandons his social and economic conservative line altogether. Suddenly Romney wants to nationalize an ailing industry, only in the post-industrial, post-progressive era this assumes the form of a Washington-Detroit “partnership” combined with massive subsidies.
This is Romney himself from a Transcript of Romney’s Speech to the Detroit Economic Club
[...] “First of all, we have to be honest about the problems we have and tackle them head on. If I’m President of this country, I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I’m in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership. It will be a plan that works for Michigan and that works for the American taxpayer.
“And as part of this, we will directly address and rectify the enormous product cost and capital cost disadvantages that currently burden the domestic automakers. From legacy costs, to health care costs, to increased CAFE standard costs, to the cost of embedded taxes, Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer. The plan is going to have to include increases in funding for automotive related research as well as new tax benefits including making the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent.
“I am not open to a bail out, but I am open to a work out. Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner [...]
In an article titled Romney on the Ropes, Byron York of the National Review comments:
[...] [Romney's] plan is to make the United States government a virtual partner of Ford, GM, and Chrysler. “If I’m president of this country, I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I’m in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership,” Romney tells the Economic Club. “It will be a plan that works for Michigan and that works for the American taxpayer.”
The plan would involve easier-to-reach mileage standards, increased funding and extended tax breaks for research and development, worker health care reforms, and more. “Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer,” Romney says. “I am not open to a bail out, but I am open to a work out. Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner.”
Romney’s proposals might not be music to the ears of free-market conservatives who believe Detroit made its own problems and needs to fix itself. But it’s what a lot of people in Michigan want to hear [...]
Might not be music to our ears? Here be the problem, and it has little to do with Romney’s tone deafness: Not only does Romney’s plan to nationalize the US automobile industry reflect yet another complete ideological reversal for the hapless candidate—Not only is Romney’s proposal impracticable and nearly impossible on its face, just the worst possible public policy imaginable—Not only will Romney’s proposal issue into in a furious race to the bottom as Romney himself and the other candidates are forced to out-bid each other promising to bail-out, subsidize, or protect from competition other ailing industries and entire economic sectors—but Romney’s plan for MI is also based on a risibly inaccurate and historically flawed assessment of an already globalized and post-industrial US automobile “industry”. Micheline Maynard of NYT’s The Caucus outlines the case against Romney’s proposals in an article titled Romney Address a Car Industry That Has Changed:
[...] Mr. Romney’s speech to the Economic Club of Detroit on Monday seemed more rooted in a time when Detroit companies dominated the automotive scene, rather than now, when Toyota is No. 2 behind General Motors.
For example, Mr. Romney vowed that if elected, “in my first 100 days, I will roll up my sleeves, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders to develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership.”
But America’s auto industry now is no longer exclusively American. It includes Toyota, Honda, Nissan, as well as the leaders of European and Asian automakers. All have built factories in the United States over the past 25 years, particularly in states across the South. Collectively, foreign companies held 48.9 percent of American sales last year, when Detroit’s market share slipped to 51.1 percent, its lowest ever.
Mr. Romney also referred to a series of areas where the industry ought to engage with Washington, ranging from its pension and health care expenses, known as legacy costs, to mileage standards, known as corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE.
“From legacy costs, to health care costs, to increased CAFE standards, to embedded taxes, Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer,” Mr. Romney said.
However, G.M., Ford Motor and Chrysler reached contracts with the United Automobile Workers union last fall that will shift their burden for retiree health care costs, the major portion of legacy costs, to an independent trust that will be administered by the U.A.W. Moreover, the companies and the union pledged to spend money creating a new think tank that will lobby for federal health care reform.
Speaking of fuel economy, Mr. Romey said, “Of course fleet mileage needs to rise, but discontinuous CAFE leaps, uncoordinated with the domestic manufacturers, and absent consideration of competitiveness, kills jobs and imperils an industry,”
Mr. Romney added: “Washington-dictated CAFE is not the right answer.”
But the auto companies just finished taking part in a spirited Congressional debate over CAFE during 2007. And while they fought increases in fuel economy standards early on, the automakers wound up supporting the new law that requires them to achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
Mr. Romney also had a vintage perspective on his father’s former company, American Motors.
“I used to ask my dad, ‘How in the world can you compete as head of America Motors when you’ve got such huge competitors, GM, Ford, Chrysler, the Big Three — how do you possibly think you can succeed?’” Mr. Romney said. “And he’d say in a way that I have not forgotten: ‘Mitt, there’s nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success. There’s nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success.’”
Yet it was A.M.C. that was vulnerable in its final years. It first turned to Renault of France for a rescue, selling a 46 percent stake to the French auto company in 1980, earning it the nickname, “Franco-American Motors.” In 1987, Chrysler purchased A.M.C. from Renault, and the company vanished from the automotive scene [...]
Back to Byron York:
[...] From the beginning of his campaign, Romney has argued that he is the only candidate who can unite the three main elements of the Republican party: economic conservatives, national-security conservatives, and social conservatives. But Romney is really mostly an economic conservative; his foreign-policy credentials aren’t much, and his social conservatism — highlighted by the famed flip-flop over abortion — has earned him as many critics as fans. That hurt him in Iowa and New Hampshire, but on the last day of the campaign in Michigan, it’s economy, economy, economy, and that is where Romney is strongest [...]
(1) Contra York, the National Review itself argues that Romney “is the only candidate who can unite the three main elements of the Republican party: economic conservatives, national-security conservatives, and social conservatives.” See:
- Shocker: “In this most fluid and unpredictable Republican field,” the super-geniuses at National Review endorse the most fluid and unpredictable Republican, Willard Milton Romney
- NRO organizes conference call to defend questionable decision to endorse Romney—eyeon08.com reports that they received not one supportive question, and no one spoke in favor of the endorsement
So here you have York, a writer for the National Review, arguing that Romney really isn’t a conservative at all—correction: York argues that Romney is really only an “economic conservative,” even though Romney’s policies, as York admits with his “music” comment, are anything but conservative. What does this say about the goof-balls at the National Review!?
(2) Romney’s proposal for the US automobile industry is not economic in content or in character—this is not an economic proposal.
It is a political proposal.
It assumes in advance that the performance or non-performance of a US industry is a political question. It assumes in advance the priority of political agency over private activity. And it arrives at the conclusion that the US taxpayer should subsidize the wrongheaded and shortsighted decisions of US automobile executives, and that Washington should supervise—as a partner—and assume the costs of, an entire economic sector.
So why should Romney’s proposal not apply also to e.g. US agriculture, or the technology sector? This is the logical contradiction of Romney’s proposal: it admits of no conceptual limit or limit in principle. It is not enough to argue that the automotive industry is the “canary in the coal mine” for the US economy and therefore deserves special attention—every sector of the economy, it can be argued, is vitally important—that’s part of what it means to be an economy—every sector is interrelated, interdependent.
The empirical contradiction of Romney’s plan is this: it cannot be done. History has already returned its verdict on heavy industry as an economic driver. The cash value of manufactured goods has declined for the past 25 years. Industrial capacity is more generally distributed in the world. Information processing technology and technique drives up productivity so more can be made with less labor, and this drives down prices—etc., etc.—no longer can heavy industry be the material basis of the US middle class. It is simply impossible at this historical stage.
Romney’s plan is not merely government activism, it is government atavism. It is an attempt to reverse history.
Our conclusion: Romney is not a conservative. Not in any sense of the term. Also: Romney has successfully bought a primary contest by issuing a check he cannot possibly cash.
Michigan belongs to Romney now. He can have it.
P.S. Credit goes to eyeon08.com for the Byron York article.
… “voters also want leaders, people who announce their commitment to clear, principled positions and stick to them, even if it means having to try dragging the voters away from their current views,” argues Dan McLaughlin in an RS RedState post titled The Trouble With Mitt Romney (Part 3 of 5)
As I have written previously, in a representative democracy, it’s not necessarily fatal to hire leaders who echo what we want them to say, rather than what they’d do if they had their druthers. Many of our individual druthers, after all, aren’t so well thought-out. But what matters more than anything is not a politician’s fealty to his own internal principles but his ability to publicly take a principled position and stick to it. What we look for in leaders, especially presidents, is that ability: the willingness to say, “here I stand,” let the voters judge the merits of that stand, and keep faith with your promises, even when the going gets rough.
This is doubly important in the presidency, because of the president’s unique role in foreign policy – courage and constancy are vital virtues, even when that sometimes means not giving us what we want. Many voters in 2004 were closer in their own hearts to Kerry’s studied ambivalence about Iraq than to Bush’s stubborn commitment, but they respected Bush’s leadership, and rewarded him with another term to carry on the job.
Put simply: flip-flops buy votes, but do so at an escalating cost to a politician’s credibility. First, they erode a candidate’s reputation as a leader; then, in time, they come to cast doubt even on the candidate’s announced positions, creating fear that he will hold them only until a better offer comes along. Voters may not mind if you sold somebody else out to get their vote, but they will not vote for you if they expect you to sell them out as soon as he comes under fire. Which brings us to the four ways in which Romney’s flip-flops have extracted a particularly high cost to his credibility, which can’t be readily recovered in time for the 2008 election … etc.
“I received a message this week from a conservative who has been following the Republican presidential race closely,” writes Dan Balz for Wapo’s The Trail in a post titled Romney Must Prove He’s the Genuine Article.
He offered a telling observation, which in paraphrase went as follows: the more he sees of Mitt Romney, the less he likes him.
Funny. We feel the same way.
I was particularly struck by that comment in part because of something Romney’s politically savvy media adviser, Alex Castellanos, said to me several months ago, the essence of which was: when you putt Mitt Romney on television, good things happen.
Both may be right in their observations — the first is obviously a statement of personal taste and not reflective of the population at large, while the second may be grounded in evidence that the former Massachusetts governor is able to change attitudes with a barrage of television ads. But it’s also possible that my correspondent may be on to something, in which case Romney could have a problem on his hands …
… since Labor Day, [Romney's] debate performances have been uneven — neither dominating nor disastrous. Rather than standing out from the crowd, he has been just one of many voices on a crowded stage. In none of the past three debates has he been judged as well as he was when he was making his debut as a national candidate.
There is a point beyond which being polished looks merely slick, where preparation begins to sound canned and corny. Romney has had moments recently that seem to have crossed that invisible line.
Here’s just one. Last weekend, he spoke at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters summit. This was an audience of religious and social conservatives — many of whom may be hesitant to support Romney because he is a Mormon. One can argue whether anyone’s religion should be in any way disqualifying in a presidential campaign, but the Romney team knows this is an issue of some concern.
Rather than addressing the issue directly, Romney tried to use humor. “I imagine that one or two of you have heard I’m a Mormon,” he said. “I understand that some people think they couldn’t support someone of my faith. But I think that’s just because they’ve listened to Harry Reid.”
He was referring to the Senate Democratic leader, of course, who also is a Mormon. And while he drew some laughs from the audience, it was an inelegant attempt to raise and then dodge an issue that continues to dog his presidential aspirations.
That may be a small issue. What should concern the Romney team more is that, after millions of dollars of television and months and months of campaigning, the candidate has not been able to shake off the flip-flop label. It remains a staple of coverage of his campaign — unfairly according to his advisers — as well as part of the standard attack line now coming from his opponents.
Romney freely admits he has changed some of his views, particularly those on abortion. Many politicians have done the same. Still, there are doubts about his core convictions that his rivals are poised to exploit heading into Iowa and New Hampshire early next year.
In part Romney’s challenge is to articulate a bigger message than sweeps some of these issues to the side. He has had many messages throughout the year — competence, freshness, conservatism, a three-legged stool. Lately, because of the jumbled nature of the Republican race, he has been focused on persuading Republicans he is the true conservative.
But it is difficult to sum up exactly what his candidacy is based upon and exactly who he is. That’s not the case for Giuliani … etc., etc.
The emphases are ours, all ours.
A consensus is emerging, dear readers: no one knows who Romney really is. Here is but a small sample of the emerging WHO ON EARTH IS ROMNEY, AND WHY DOES THIS SHAPE-SHIFTING NON-ENTITY WANT TO BE OUR PRESIDENT literature:
- Boyd on Romney: “I have no idea how we are supposed to figure out what [Romney truly believes] based on the available information about [Romney]”—how Romney’s ideological cross-dressing, and his flat refusal to address it, baffles voters and analysts alike
- Liza: Romney is a passionate advocate of each new stance he takes
- Ruffini: “Romney has done to himself what the Bush campaign did to John Kerry”
Of course, we’ve been harping on this string for months, because it’s a question we’ve been asking for months. Hence the name of our web log: Who is Willard Milton Romney?—are we any closer to an answer? Well, sadly, no.
We can hardly wait for Ms. Ann Marie Curling to rebut Balz the way she did Ruffini!—see:
“Despite spending gobs of money, despite eclipsing Fred Thompson in the invisible primary, [Romney] still can’t quite connect with conservatives,” writes Patrick Ruffini in a post titled Where’s Romney’s Bio.
Yes, he barely won the FRC straw poll, but only after he and the other
ballot stuffingstrawpoll-centric campaigns figured out they could phone it in for the in-person contest and focus exclusively on running up the score in the online vote. Filter out the online votes, and you have a pretty organic (and one sided) protest vote for Mike Huckabee.
Romney’s speeches are built on the assumption that he can out-conservative Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee by out-talking them. His words are a litany of conservative talking points.
Earlier this year, when his conservative credentials were genuinely in question, the issues-talk might have helped. But now his problem has morphed into something far worse: an authenticity problem centered around flip-flopping. And arguably, each time he opens his mouth and spouts platitudes, he only makes it worse.
Romney has done to himself what the Bush campaign did to John Kerry. The Bush team made it so that every time Kerry opened his mouth, he hurt himself, thanks to the perception that he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. Kerry couldn’t help himself by saying the right things because nobody believed what he was saying.
Romney’s situation is further complicated by the fact that issues are actually friendly terrain for Rudy Giuliani. Huh? That’s right — because people assume Rudy’s positions are liberal, when he talks conservative, that’s reassuring. When Romney talks issues, people assume he’s pandering.
Rudy has an issues problem, one that he’s trying to make go away by talking issues. Romney’s problem is not an issues problem. The flip-flopping charge is a character problem, not an issues problem. So what Romney really must do is shore up perceptions of his character.
Romney should resign himself to the fact that he won’t be able to out-conservative Thompson or Huckabee on issues … etc., etc.
The emphases are ours.
Sage advice based on sound analysis. Will Romney take it? Or is he, as Geraghty puts it, “hell-bent on proving he’s a social conservative despite a less-than-ideal record.”
Hey, Romney. Here’s thought. Fire your entire communications staff and all your consultants—immediately. Then start all over again. Only this time try to organize a campaign based on themes you actually believe in. What a concept!
MITT ROMNEY’S CHEST IS NOT TRANSPARENT, argues Sam Boyd on The American Prospect’s TAPPED.
At the end of an otherwise compelling analysis of last night’s Republican presidential debate on TNR’s new campaign blog, Noam Scheiber has this to say about Mitt Romney:
There are obvious tactical reasons for Romney to run as a conservative. But sometimes you can’t help wishing he’d run more authentically — as the moderate technocrat he is at heart.
The context is a discussion of McCain, Romney, Thompson and Giuliani’s attempts to deal with their embarrassingly non-crazy policy histories. But why should we assume that Romney’s moderate record is in any way more representative of his true beliefs (if he has any) than his current support for Conservative orthodoxy? Maybe he saw his middle of the road policies in Massachusetts as the best he could do in a deeply liberal state. Primarily, this points to opportunism, but, if we actually believe, as Scheiber does, that there is in fact some moral belief about the true best government deep in Romney’s heart, I have no idea how we are supposed to figure out what that is based on the available information about him … etc., etc.
The emphasis is ours.
Boyd articulates our own concerns. Our position as it has evolved on this blog is consonant with Scheiber’s: we tend to believe that Romney is a center-left technocrat attempting to position himself as some species of conservative. We base this less on Romney’s history of governing from the center-left and more on Romney’s so-called conservative positions, positions that are strangely naive, caricatured, or unreconstructed, the sorts of positions you would expect someone who is not a conservative to assume that a conservative would accept. Here are but a few of the examples that we have chronicled here:
- Romney: “I like the idea of linking the level of support that we’re able to provide to young people going to college to the contributions they’re going to make to our society”
- the reviews are in: Romney’s “grandstanding” about Ahmadinejad ineffective, counterproductive
- Romney dangerously confused on issues of deterrence and defense
But Boyd is right. We enjoy no privileged access to the dark heart and troubled soul of Willard Milton Romney. So we are forced to concede that “we have no idea how we are supposed to figure out what [Romney's true beliefs are] based on the available information about him.”
For us this is in itself is a sufficient argument against a Romney presidency.
Even so, Romney still wants to insist that he is a “consistent conservative.”
“… The Romney campaign has tried in various ways to combat the flip-flopping charge,” writes John Dickerson in a Slate article titled Romney’s Achilles’ Heel; Can Mitt convince voters he believes anything?
First, Romney has embraced his largest reversal and admitted that he has changed his view on abortion. Better to claim a conversion than look shifty. To court the key GOP voting bloc of social conservatives, Romney has offered his 38-year marriage and vast family as proof that he not only supports family values but lives them. He speaks out against pornography and lectures Republicans on maintaining standards. He denounced his former supporter Sen. Larry Craig. He seems to be hoping that if he plays the role of the most conservative, people won’t question his qualifications for it.
Calculating vacillators are not usually associated with fortitude, so Romney has also made the word strength his running mate. It’s in all his slogans—”Strategy for a Stronger America” and “True Strength for America’s Future.” His ads go completely overboard on the word. Romney’s successful business career and storied turnaround of the Olympics are also deployed as proof that he has conviction and leadership skills inconsistent with the shape-shifting caricature. (Although, as Daniel Gross so cannily pointed out, Romney’s flexibility is completely consistent with his acumen as a CEO.) … etc., etc.
Yes, and we would concur with the estimable Jim Rubens on Romney: “Beware Candidates Trying to Purchase a Conservative Label”—NH Republicans “ought to heed the attacks” by other GOPers on Romney “by remembering the the last time a wealthy businessman spent millions of his own money in a campaign to re-define himself as a conservative”