Monday, February 12, 2007


There has been much criticism--from the right--of Mitt Romney's "flip-flop" on abortion and gay rights. Consider this excerpt from a New York Times article on right-wing presidential candidates:

"[O]n a fundamental matter like the life of a fetus, some social conservatives say, the turnabout by Mr. Romney is worthy of skepticism.

'I know people can change, but sometimes when people want to be president, they speak of a change that has not occurred,” Mr. Wildmon said. “I like to go with a person whose words match their actions.'"

Romney explains his case as follows:
"Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has tried to explain his conversion on abortion rights, from support to opposition, with a made-for-television story: As he listened to a Harvard researcher discussing stem-cell science, and the destruction of embryos, he saw the antiabortion cause in a new light.

At some recent conferences for social conservatives, Mr. Romney has used a line that some conservatives find credible: 'On abortion I was not always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Reagan.'"

So social conservatives do not trust Romney because he changed his position. Let's rephrase that: social conservatives don't agree with someone who was convinced by their arguments. Now, were I Stanley Fish, I would have something much more complicated and profound to say about this. But since I'm not, I will say this: this seems very illogical. I know that there is a huge chance that Romney is acting or lying, but shouldn't his "made-for-television story" be considered a success by these people?


Blogger Robot said...

All this means, I think, is that the Dems are finally doing what the GOP has been able to do for years: get a given candidates' supporters to question their support by planting in them a seed of doubt about his or her character or consistency of views. It's kind of similar to the whole flip-flopping Kerry thing, except that Kerry didn't have the balls to actually explain the fact that he too had changed his mind about things since his initial vote on the resolution. The major difference here, of course, is that the general swift-boating of Kerry was meant to shake the foundations of swing voters, whereas this is somehow intended to shake the foundations of The Base.

I agree we're seeing something strange here, though. Doesn't the religious right realize its only chance is going to be through a Romney-type guy who has the potential to be popular with liberal voters? Or will they only accept religious candidates who have been born-again, and who have come to their positions via faith and not more the more rational "persuasion" it appears Romney has experienced?

12:46 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

I actually don't see anything too strange here. The point is not that Romney was persuaded by evidence but people don't believe him, or that his should be a faith-based decision rather than a rational one: the point is that the guy has absolutely no evidence that he means what he says. His record as governor reveals an extremely liberal (in strongly Christian eyes, at least) position on abortion, homosexuals, et al. These Christians are just asking what any other interest group does when scrutinizing political candidates: is this person being honest (the answer to which can pretty much only be found in a voting record, that is, deeds not words) or are they just being a slimey politician? Nothing tricky in my mind. It's all in what Mr. Wildmon says.

The nice thing about Romney's story, which I'm sure he will be pimping endlessly in the coming months, is that it is both a persuasive case and a "conversion" moment. Thus for a more sophisticated audience he can say how he was rationally persuaded by an argument, while another sort will be more impressed by the "momentous" aspect of it all ("I realized then and there that all life was sacred," whatever). This is not to deny that there are sophisticated arguments against abortion, I'm just stating how I think Romney will use it for his own purposes.

Pace Robot, I don't think that the Democrats have all that much to do with raising doubts about Romney (or at least, they need not). It's not like the Dems are insinuating this stuff, or making it up, or distorting the evidence: it's all plainly there in Romney's career. Evangelical Christians' skepticism is fully warranted and I'll leave it up to them, not to the Dems, to self-select their candidates. (Remember that the Harriet Myers battle was also an internecine conservative struggle.)

You ask a good question about the sort of candidate that conservative Christians would ideally propose. I think rather than making the issue one of "born again" vs. "rationally persuadable", there strongest option might be submitting a candidate who is staunchly socially conservative (on gays, abortion, church & state, etc) but economically populist and internationally isolationist. This could pick up a number of people from different groups while satisfying the core fundamentalist checklist. The drawback to this strategy is that the majority of Christian fundamentalists in the Bible belt also subscribe to a fiercely pro-military, pro-capitalist ethic. The most influential of them are absurdly wealthy exurbans who don't give a shit about inner city social issues, or at least they won't tackle problems through the government, only "faith-based charities." (I can't believe that Andrew Sullivan were refer to some of these people as "Christian socialists"; there are probably fewer European-style Christian socialists in America than there are Communists, meaning maybe 3.)

But at the end of the day, conservative Christians won't have the ultimate say in the candidate, and I suspect they'll get behind whoever's on the Republican ticket. White evangelicals ain't going nowhere from the GOP.

10:12 PM  
Blogger Sebonde said...

I am one of those three, then.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Scantron said...

And sebonde, I can't imagine you'd like the idea of being likened to Bush & co.

Speaking of political beliefs, and especially very rare ones, I found this great quote from Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone's political journalist:

'OK, to begin with, I'm just absolutely tired of this bullshit coming from people like Klein who insist that "leftists" are "rooting" for American failure. Let's get this straight: there are no "leftists" in modern-day America. Or, rather, there about ten of them, and you can find absolutely every single one of them at the next antiwar or anti-anything protest in Washington; they all fit in one section of the park behind the White House, where you can find pretty much all of them passing out small stacks of socialist fliers, mainly to each other. These socialists are committed, dedicated, utterly serious political activists, which makes them absolutely atypical Americans, which is why there are so few of them.'

Lest you think that Taibbi (much less I) identify with this group, there's this right afterward:

'The rest of the people that the Kleins of the world are calling "leftists" are mostly cautious consumers who watch a lot of Netflix movies, have maybe read Love in the Time of Cholera once or twice, and whose most aggressive step in the direction of socialism is a vote in favor of increased school spending. They might drive a foreign car, or willingly see a movie with subtitles. If that makes them "leftists," what word are we going to use for real leftists? It's totally fucking stupid, and Klein is old enough and close to bright enough to see the absurdity of red-baiting the basically timid conservatism of the American TV-watching, net-surfing leisure class.'

Yeah, that's about right.

11:34 PM  

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