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.