Karma Chameleons

Karma Chameleons

Romney's problem is his moderate policies don’t match his conservative rhetoric, and never have

By Barry Gordon 11/01/2012

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The election is just around the corner, but its outcome is still very much in doubt. Undecideds, which political scientists refer to as low-information voters (with apologies to the few high-information undecideds left), are bouncing around like ping-pong balls, trying to find something on which to finally make their decision. So let me weigh in and try to help by asking one simple question:

Why would anyone in his or her right mind ever votea for an abject liar — a liar so bold he lies right to your face and assumes you won’t know the difference because you’re politically ignorant? A liar willing to tell you anything you want to hear and hope that you’ll swallow it?

Like it or not, my friends, that person is Mitt Romney.

I’m far from arguing you shouldn’t vote for Romney because he’s too conservative. Although he seemed so during the primary, I have no idea whether he’s truly conservative. I’m not asking conservatives to reject him because he’s too moderate, because the only evidence I have of his moderation is his career in Massachusetts, during which he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in a failed attempt to win his Senate seat, and, as governor, passed and signed some moderate-looking legislation handed to him by an overwhelmingly Democratic state Legislature. I’m not saying that moderate Mitt isn’t the real Mitt — I simply don’t know.

His latest “big speech” clinched the deal (or non-deal) for me. It could have been written by Obama’s speechwriters, talking about the need for student loans, fighting for the middle class, covering people with pre-existing conditions. The problem is that if you go to his Web site or listen to those acknowledged to be independent analysts, his policies don’t match his rhetoric.

And that’s the problem. Most people don’t go to Web sites. They listen to the rhetoric and are generally impressed with the last thing they hear. So it may well be that Romney’s genius resides in his understanding human nature. It’s not a very flattering understanding. We can try to find nice words for it like “pivot,” or “evolving,” but when someone stares me in the face and tells me the opposite of what he told me two weeks ago, I recognize it for what it is — lying. And I don’t believe we should reward that kind of behavior in a Democrat or a Republican. If we do, elections are reduced to contests about tone and style rather than substance. It’s easier that way, but it does our electoral system a deep disservice.

Which brings me to California. This year, we’re engaged in a great experiment to make politics less polarized and more productive. Our disdain for politics led us to vote for an open primary system in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, moved on to the general election, pitting Democrat and Republicans against their own. The hope was the candidates would have to attract voters from the opposite party and, therefore, the more moderate of the two stood the best chance. We hoped if we pushed candidates more toward that utopian “center” we prize so much, they would become more willing to cross party lines to accomplish great things and we could all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” having fixed an admittedly broken system.

I’ve visited the Web sites of several of these same-party congressional candidates to see if there was a dime’s bit of difference between them where it counts — on the issues. One would assume, for example, that a more moderate Republican candidate needing to attract Democrats would show more flexibility on the need to raise revenue in order to really reduce the deficit, or might be a bit more liberal on social issues. Frankly, I see no evidence of a change.

If anything, the factors that could decide the winners in these races have become even pettier and more deceptive. Just as with Romney, the rhetoric changes but the policies do not.

I have no crystal ball, and the experiment is admittedly in its earliest stages. Still, as a Democrat, I probably speak for a lot of my fellow progressives when I say that in a race between two virtually identical Republicans, I am far more likely to skip the down-ballot race than I am to hold my nose, flip a coin and vote for the slightly-lesser-of-two-evils. I’d much rather have a Democrat on the ballot, even one with no chance of winning, so we could have a true debate about how to fix the economy or how to deal with climate change.

Do we value conviction, integrity and truth-telling or not? We certainly do when we deal with each other in business or in our family lives. But are we willing to hold our political leaders to the same standard? Hopefully on Tuesday we’ll provide the right answer.


Barry Gordon is an adjunct professor at Cal State LA.

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