[Note: I did not want to write this post. I’m tired of discussing politics and politicians and was looking forward to discussing something–anything–else. But many people have chastised me lately for basing my political view on emotion rather than reason (Dude, I don’t do that. I’m not Rush Limbaugh.). So this is a partial defense of my position. I hope that even where we disagree that we can remember that our differences in political opinions are ultimately trivial and should not be treated as more important than is necessary. As Dennis Miller used to say, “…of course, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”]
Many people have harshly criticized me for my harsh criticisms of Mitt Romney. They believe that my attitude is merely a matter of “sour grapes” over my preferred candidate fairing so poorly. While this claim is untrue, I have to take some responsibility for giving that impression. My experience working on the Huckabee campaign did leave me with a less-than-favorable impression of Romney and his staff.
In this respect, Romney is unique. I didn’t like Rudy Giuliani either yet had warm feeling toward his staffers. I did like Fred Thompson, but maintained a strong dislike for his team (except for my friend Jon Henke). And I respected both the staff and candidate of Team McCain. So it wasn’t just a matter of campaign rivalry.
No, what really turned me off of Romney was closely examining his positions and character–and finding both lacking. Unlike many of the people who chastise me for not jumping on the Romney bandwagon, I have done my due diligence in examining the candidate.
Listed below are just some of the reasons why I think he is an unacceptable choice to be President. The list is lengthy but not exhaustive. I could have made the post twice as long and still not covered all the concerns I have about Romney.
But before we jump in, let me say that this is not meant to change anyone’s mind. I’m not trying to put Romney supporters on the defensive. They surely have thoughtful reasons for supporting him just as I believe I have thoughtful reasons for withholding my support.
Lack of Integrity — The main reason I can’t support Mitt Romney is because of John Kerry. I spent much of the 2004 election bashing Kerry for his political expediency. How then can I defend a candidate that is a bigger flip-flopper than Kerry? If he were a Democrat Mitt Romney would be excoriated for his lack of integrity. But because he is a Republican many conservatives are willing to overlook the fact that he has changed positions on:
1994: Believed abortion should be safe and legal
2002: Personally against abortion but pro-abortion rights as governor, endorsed legalization of RU-486 (morning-after pill)
2007: Firmly anti-abortion
Stem Cell Research
2002: Endorsed embryonic stem cell research
2005: Vetoed stem cell research bill
1994: Supported assault weapons ban and Brady bill, rebuffed the NRA
2002: Supported assault weapons ban and Massachusetts’ tough laws on gun control
2006: Joined NRA as a life member and said that states should ease licensing requirements; claimed he was a gun owner but later admitted that he’s didn’t in fact own a firearm
1994: Opposed increase as an “anti-business” position but told David Brinkley in October that he supported tying an increase to rate of inflation
2002: Supported increase in line with inflation
2006: Vetoed minimum wage increase
1994: Opposed federal marriage amendment, vowed to help establish “full equality for America’s gays and lesbians”
2002: Provided legal protection to same-sex couples in Massachusetts
2007: Supported federal marriage amendment, worked to block same-sex couples from adopting
Gays in the Military
1994: Supported “don’t ask, don’t tell,” saying it was a step toward “gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation’s military”
2007: Didn’t want to change “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy
Capital Gains Tax Cut
1994: Opposed capital gains tax cut
2002: Refused to sign “no new taxes” pledge
2007: Supported capital gains tax cut as part of his pledge to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent; signed “no new taxes” pledge
All of these changes occurred in a span of 13 years, from the ages of 47 to 60. If the “evolution” had occurred in his 20s or even his 30s it might have been acceptable. But for a politician to change on such a divergent lists of issues in his late 50s is simply unbelievable. I truly don’t believe that he was sold on better arguments and reasoned his way into conservatism. Indeed, I believe that Romney is a man who believes in only one thing–getting elected–and all his other political beliefs flow from that single, unshakable conviction.
Healthcare — As Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute says, “Romney has been able to claim the Reagan mantle despite his support for…A health care plan virtually indistinguishable for the one proposed by Hillary Clinton.”
And before he received the endorsement of NRO (and the daily effusive praise that came with it), the magazine had the audacity to point out that he governed like a liberal:
In a nutshell, then, the Republican presidential hopeful is pouring political capital into creating a new state health-care bureaucracy, further regulating health insurance, forcing individuals to spend their money on a government designed product, and increasing spending by $200 million. It’s not hard to see why liberals such as Kennedy are excited about his bravery. They recall what such acts of courage did for another Massachusetts governor with presidential ambition, Michael Dukakis.
Yet that is what he wants to bring to the rest of the U.S. In the debate in Iowa, Romney expressed his fondness for government mandates for healthcare :
GIBSON: But Government Romney’s system has mandates in Massachusetts, although you backed away from mandates on a national basis.
ROMNEY: No, no, I like mandates. The mandates work.
Homosexual rights — One of the few issues on which Romney has been semi-consistent is his support of gay rights. He did snub gay Republicans, though, by flip-flopping on ENDA and “Don’t Ask, Don’ Tell.” As he told National Review:
Lopez: And what about the 1994 letter to the Log Cabin Republicans where you indicated you would support the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and seemed open to changing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military? Are those your positions today?
Gov. Romney: No. I don’t see the need for new or special legislation. My experience over the past several years as governor has convinced me that ENDA would be an overly broad law that would open a litigation floodgate and unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges.
As for military policy and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, I trust the counsel of those in uniform who have set these policies over a dozen years ago. I agree with President Bush’s decision to maintain this policy and I would do the same.
He can’t be accused, though, of merely pandering to gay voters for he supported homosexuality even for children. In 2004, Romney issued an official state proclamation celebrating “Gay Youth Pride Day” which boasted of supporting “the Commonwealth’s gay and lesbian youth through school-based and educational programs.”
Same-Sex Marriage — Along with a lengthy record of flip-flops, Romney has a history of avoiding political fights that might hurt his career. A prime example is the same-sex marriage issue. After the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts struck down the traditional laws of marriage in that state, law professor Hadley Arkes wrote an op-ed for National Review Online (The Missing Governor):
The deeper failure must go to the man who stood as governor, holding the levers of the executive. And if it is countdown for marriage in Massachusetts, it is countdown also for Mitt Romney, whose political demise may be measured along the scale of moves he could have taken and the record of his receding, step by step, until he finally talked himself into doing nothing, or nothing much.
Against a plural body like a legislature, a single executive could act as force to impart focus and energy. But as the legislators splintered along several lines, Romney preserved a decorous silence in public, while he sought counsel, and mulled over schemes, in private. The range of things he could do in combination with the legislature was considerable—if there was a will to do them.
After laying out all the ways that Romney could have prevented the usurpation by the courts, Arkes delivers a stirring condemnation of the Governor who lacked the political courage to defend marriage in his state:
If [Romney] were going to open himself to controversy and litigation, why not finally take his stand on the constitution itself, where his own authority on matters of marriage is clearly spelled out? And in taking his stand on the constitutional question, he would move to higher ground, with the burden of challenge shifted to the courts. As the arguments and recriminations fly freely about, he can in effect blow the whistle, invoke his authority, shift the focus dramatically, and make it clear—to the relief of the public—that a grownup is finally in charge.
It might have been a striking appeal to the south and west in the Republican party, that there was a northern governor, aligned with them in their moral perspectives, and with the resolution to act. If Romney recedes yet again, he confirms a rather different sense of his party: that the Republicans are ever more comfortable in talking about taxes but lose their confidence to speak when it comes to addressing the questions of deepest moral consequence, the questions that establish the terms of principle on which we live.
2nd Amendment — This one isn’t much of a secret. Romney has always given lip service to supporting the 2nd Amendment while supporting initiatives such as the Brady bill and the so-called “assault weapons” ban that undermine it. Yet anyone wondering why Romney polls so poorly in the South should remember that the people down there still take that issue seriously.
Judges — According to the Boston Herald, Romney has a history of picking Democrats and independents over Republicans when selecting judges:
Governor Mitt Romney, who touts his conservative credentials to out-of-state Republicans, has passed over GOP lawyers for three-quarters of the 36 judicial vacancies he has faced, instead tapping registered Democrats or independents — including two gay lawyers who have supported expanded same-sex rights, a Globe review of the nominations has found
If Romney would not even support Republican judges when he was Governor, how can we be sure he’ll select conservative judges if he is President? Because he says he will and he’s always been so trustworthy?
Abortion — This one has been harped on many, many times yet it is still worth discussing. I’m always in favor of politicians moving toward a pro-life position–at least as long as the shift is sincere. A close examination shows that Romney’s flip-flop on abortion rights raises concerns that it was just another matter of political expediency.
During a 1994 debate with Sen. Ted Kennedy, Romney revealed that a close relative died of an illegal abortion years ago and said, ”Since that time, my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter, and you will not see my wavering on that.”
In 2002, when running for Governor, he made it explicitly clear that he would protect the “pro-choice” laws in the state. When asked if he would support a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion could be obtained he reiterated that he would not allow the pro-choice laws to be restricted in any way. Watch the video for yourself and see how adamant he is in claiming that he will support abortion on demand.
What is interesting is that his opponent raises two significant points. First, when he was running for Senate in 1994, he accepted the endorsement of Mass. Citizen for Life (he claims not to have accepted it). Second, she notes that when Romney was considering running for Governor of Utah he wrote a letter to the editor of one of the state’s newspapers saying that he was “not pro-choice.” Yet when he came back to Massachusetts he suddenly became a “passionate supporter of a woman’s right to choose.” Romney gets irritated and points out to Tim Russert that he never used the language that he was “pro-life.” He goes on to add: “I do not take the position of a pro-life candidate.”
This was a mere five years ago that Romney was vehemently pro-choice. What made him change his mind on such a significant issue? According to Romney it was… “cloning?”
Q: You were effectively pro-choice as governor?
A: About two years ago, when we were studying cloning in our state, I said, look, we have gone too far. It’s a “brave new world” mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us, and I changed my mind. I took the same course that Ronald Reagan took, and I said I was wrong and changed my mind and said I’m pro-life. And I’m proud of that, and I won’t apologize to anybody for becoming pro-life.
Q: Some people are going to see those changes of mind as awfully politically convenient.
A: When I ran for the first time, I said I was personally pro-life but that I would protect a woman’s right to choose as the law existed. Two years ago, as a result of the debate we had, the conclusion I reached was that cloning and creating new embryos was wrong, and that we should, therefore, allow our state to become a pro-life state. I believe states should have the right to make this decision, and that’s a position I indicated in an op-ed in the Boston Globe 2 years ago. (Source: 2007 GOP primary debate, at Reagan library, hosted by MSNBC May 3, 2007)
So if Romney become convinced that cloned embryos deserve protection then he must be opposed to embryo-destructive research, right? Well….no. During the same debate he made it clear that it was perfectly acceptable to destroy “spare” embryos for the purpose of research. Let me make it clear for anyone who hasn’t connected the dots: If you are in favor of destroying humans at the embryonic stage of life then you are not consistently pro-life.
Romney’s position on life issues is not only inconsistent but incoherent. You would think that someone so practiced at political pandering would be a bit less clumsy.
Business Ethics — There are few aspects of Romney’s life that are more misunderstood than his business experience. Early in the campaign Romney cited his credentials and urged voters to reject “lifetime politicians” who “have never run a corner store, let alone the largest enterprise in the world.” But as the New York Times points out, neither did Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney, though, never ran a corner store or a traditional business. Instead, he excelled as a deal maker, a buyer and seller of companies, a master at the art of persuasion that he demonstrated in the talks that led to the forming of Bain Capital.
“Mitt ran a private equity firm, not a cement company,” said Eric A. Kriss, a former Bain Capital partner. “He was not a businessman in the sense of running a company,” Mr. Kriss said, adding, “He was a great presenter, a great spokesman and a great salesman.”
Still, his achievements at Bain were impressive. In 1984 the company was worth $36 million and when he left in 1998 it was valued at $1.2 billion. Along the way he was able use his business acumen to acquire a $350 million fortune.
All of this is a laudable testament to Romney’s ability to use our system of free market enterprise to grow the economy and increase wealth. But I have concerns about some of his business dealings that, while perfectly legal, are morally problematic. A prime example is his dealings with the Damon Corporation :
Perhaps the most legally thorny was Bain Capital’s 1989 purchase of Damon Corp., a Needham medical testing firm that later pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government of $25 million and paid a record $119 million fine.
Romney sat on Damon’s board. During Romney’s tenure, Damon executives submitted bills to the government for millions of unnecessary blood tests. Romney and other board members were never implicated.
More than a decade later, when Romney was in pursuit of the Massachusetts governorship, his Democratic opponent Shannon O’Brien accused him of lax oversight at Damon and failing to report the fraud. Romney replied that he had helped uncover the illegal activity at Damon, asking the board’s lawyers to investigate. As a result, he said, the board took ”corrective action” before selling the company in 1993 to Corning Inc.
But court records suggest that the Damon executives’ scheme continued throughout Bain’s ownership, and prosecutors credited Corning, not Romney, with cleaning up the situation. Bain, meanwhile, tripled its investment.
Romney personally reaped $473,000.
For Romney to outright lie about blowing the whistle on the company when in truth he was profiting nearly half-million off the deal raises serious questions about his honesty.
However, the most troubling situation at Bain was the plundering of Ampad:
In 1992, Bain Capital acquired American Pad & Paper, or Ampad, from Mead Corp., embarking on a ”roll-up strategy” in which a firm buys up similar companies in the same industry in order to expand revenues and cut costs.
Through Ampad, Bain bought several other office supply makers, borrowing heavily each time. By 1999, Ampad’s debt reached nearly $400 million, up from $11 million in 1993, according to government filings.
Sales grew, too – for a while. But by the late 1990s, foreign competition and increased buying power by superstores like Bain-funded Staples sliced Ampad’s revenues.
The result: Ampad couldn’t pay its debts and plunged into bankruptcy. Workers lost jobs and stockholders were left with worthless shares.
Bain Capital, however, made money – and lots of it. The firm put just $5 million into the deal, but realized big returns in short order. In 1995, several months after shuttering a plant in Indiana and firing roughly 200 workers, Bain Capital borrowed more money to have Ampad buy yet another company, and pay Bain and its investors more than $60 million – in addition to fees for arranging the deal.
Bain Capital took millions more out of Ampad by charging it $2 million a year in management fees, plus additional fees for each Ampad acquisition. In 1995 alone, Ampad paid Bain at least $7 million. The next year, when Ampad began selling shares on public stock exchanges, Bain Capital grabbed another $2 million fee for arranging the initial public offering – on top of the $45 million to $50 million Bain reaped by selling some of its shares.
Bain Capital didn’t escape Ampad’s eventual bankruptcy unscathed. It held about one-third of Ampad’s shares, which became worthless. But while as many as 185 workers near Buffalo lost jobs in a 1999 plant closing, Bain Capital and its investors ultimately made more than $100 million on the deal.
Such blatant corporate raiding is disgusting and would rightfully be condemned by any honest businessperson. For Romney and his cohorts to raid a company’s coffers and then leave the shareholders and creditors (not to mention the workers) to pick over the scraps is simply unconscionable. Driving a company into bankruptcy because of greed is antithetical to the spirit of entrepreneurship and free enterprise. How can so many people respect a man whose could resort to such unethical business tactics?
Summary — In October, John Hawkins of Right Wing News provided a useful summary of why Romney can’t be trusted:
He used to be pro-gun control and wanted nothing to do with the NRA, but now he’s against gun grabbers and thinks the NRA is peachy. He came across as a member of the open borders and amnesty crowd whose position wasn’t much different than that of John McCain on illegal immigration — until it became a hot political issue — and now he’s running ads that make him sound like Tom Tancredo on the subject. Then there are the Bush tax cuts, embryonic stem cell research, and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. There have been so many flips that the flops are still running about two blocks behind, trying to catch up.
Are these shifts genuine? Are they purely for politics’ sake? Is Mitt Romney a conservative or is he a squish telling us what we want to hear while planning to take 3 or 4 steps back towards the middle once he feels less pressure to pander to the base? Probably the former, but there’s no way to really know the truth. Do we really want a nominee in 2008 that we have this sort of questions about?
I certainly don’t.
I’m not expecting anyone to agree with my assessment. I’m also not trying to change anyone’s mind about the suitability of Mitt Romney. In fact, if Romney is the GOP nominee, I will grit my teeth and cast a ballot for him as he loses in a crushing landslide.
But I do ask that people respect the fact that I have given it much thought and that I believe I have reasons why I cannot support him as a candidate.