Thursday, February 14, 2008
Romney Got Rolled By Deceitful McCain And Shoddy Journalism
Most everyone agrees that the primary reason Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign expired was an alarming loss of authenticity brought on by the almost always fatal flip-flop disease.
I agree. But the more interesting question to me is how his competitors—primarily Senator McCain—managed to make the flip-flop charge stick so indelibly to Romney.
It’s indisputable that Romney changed positions on two issues—abortion and gun rights. Romney readily admits to the reversal on abortion. On gun rights, instead of calling it a flip-flop, it would be more accurate to say that Romney is guilty of exaggerating his relationship with guns and the gun crowd. From a policy perspective nothing changed. He supported and continues to support controls like the Brady Bill and bans on unnecessarily powerful assault weapons.
And that’s it for Romney’s flip-flops, making a grand total of one-and-one-half.
Charges of Romney reversals on other issues are either flat-out lies—like McCain’s claim that Romney supported a public timeline for withdrawal from Iraq—or exaggerations that stretch the truth beyond recognition. For example, the oft-repeated charge that he once supported gay-marriage is absolutely false. What Romney has consistently stated throughout his public life is that every human being deserves dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation, that gays should not be subject to workplace or other forms of discrimination, but he would draw the line at any effort to change the institution of marriage. And that’s not at all inconsistent with the statement Romney made in an earlier senatorial campaign that he would be better for the gay community than Ted Kennedy. His point was that gaining an ally in the Republican Party on most (not all) issues of concern to gays would be of more help to them than having another Democrat preaching to the choir in an already entirely sympathetic Democratic Party.
On the other hand, an accurate count of flip-flops would have revealed that John McCain has changed positions more frequently and more recently than Romney. Last year he was the most adamant supporter of amnesty for illegal aliens. Now McCain pretends his amnesty bill never existed. How about the Bush tax cuts? McCain opposed them twice but now wants to make them permanent. How about the influence of evangelical leaders on the Republican Party? McCain used to describe them as agents of intolerance but now embraces them. How about subsidies for ethanol production? Chalk that up as a McCain flip-flop-flip.
There are undoubtedly others, but that’s enough to make the point. In terms of sheer numbers, McCain makes Romney look like a flip-flop novice.
So why did the charge stick to Romney? First, one has to admit the abortion issue is important and carries a lot of weight. But the primary reason the charge stuck was that McCain and his campaign staff flooded the internet, airwaves, debates and campaign appearances with lies and exaggerations about the extent of Romney’s wavering. A day didn’t go by without another YouTube video of Romney taken out of context and McCain himself declaring with obvious disdain that Romney had changed positions on “every major issue.”
Given the limited extent of Romney’s changing views, McCain’s charges were outrageous. His deceitful branding of Romney should have been exposed but wasn’t. To the contrary, most “journalists” joined-in, repeating and amplifying the charges from the man they almost always referred to on-air and in-print as the “straight talking John McCain.” Such favorable media branding for McCain left the impression that if it came from St. John’s mouth it must be true.
The press did get one thing right though. There is a Republican candidate who would say or do anything to get elected. And he’s now the presumptive nominee. Too bad the press fingered the wrong guy.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
'Bob Dole' Rides Again
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. With that in mind, if John McCain wins the Republican presidential nomination, it might be appropriate to temporarily designate the site of the 2008 Republican convention an insane asylum.
Well, a Republican doesn’t need to spend much time on a political analyst’s couch before depressing memories of the 1996 presidential election—also known as the Bob Dole debacle—are dredged up. If you’re old enough to remember that frightening experience, but still too traumatized to recall it, perhaps a brief history of those times will ease you into a more reflective state of mind.
Bob Dole lost a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. Like most Republicans before him, he patiently bided his time as the next nominee-in-waiting. In 1996 Dole faltered badly in early primaries, but thanks to favorable media coverage, the desire of many to reward a former soldier for his heroic service to country, and polls showing Dole the strongest Republican candidate in a general election, his campaign was resurrected. Dole went on to win the Republican nomination.
Already past his 70th birthday, Dole would have been the oldest first term president in the history of the country. He looked and sounded even older when juxtaposed on debate platforms next to a much younger and culturally in-tune Democrat. Age wasn’t the only debate deficiency. Acerbic, poorly delivered quips endeared Dole to reporters and close associates but bombed outside the Washington D.C. beltway. Most often he was the only one awkwardly laughing at his own one-liners. His general communication skills and television presence paled in comparison to those of the Democratic candidate. He lost every debate.
His supposed greatest asset—military experience—was probably more of a liability than an asset. He acquired it more than four decades before the nomination. Military tactics, weaponry and threats in the 90’s—primarily defending against terrorist attacks inspired by militant Islamists—were light-years removed from anything Dole experienced during his time in the military.
And though national security was a concern, voters were more worried about the economy—something Dole showed little interest in and was ill prepared to deal with. After leaving military service Dole was soon elected to public office. He had virtually no adult experience in the private business sector. Instead, his resume offered decades of experience hanging with lobbyists and cutting deals with politicians in Washington D.C.
Unfortunately for Dole and the Republican Party, voters were more interested in electing a president who clearly communicated an energetic vision of the future with a particular emphasis on growing the U.S. economy in a rapidly changing world economy. They had little interest in electing a man who was mired in the past and whose entire professional experience was acquired in Washington D.C.
Dole’s pre-nomination favorability in national polls plummeted as voters came to know the real Bob Dole and not the fictional Dole created by pundits and zealous supporters. In the end, Dole was clobbered by almost ten percentage points and retired quietly to other pursuits, including a stint as a spokesman for Viagra.
In retrospect, there couldn’t have been a more fitting summation of the impotent 1996 campaign than a Viagra gig for Dole.
If you haven’t already figured out what this rehash of the Dole debacle has to do with Republican insanity, in the preceding paragraphs replace the name Dole with the name McCain and update the dates to the current election cycle. The Dole facts when applied to McCain aren’t just similar—they are identical. So why would anyone expect a different result?
That’s why Republicans should honor McCain’s service in some manner other than a presidential nomination. Maybe we could name a bridge to somewhere after him. But let’s not waste another election opportunity like we did in 1996. Repeating that mistake would truly be insane.