“Moderate Mitt” and His Promises

Don’t mean to be a crank about this, but as I’ve feared, the “Moderate Mitt Meme” is being widely accepted in the MSM and many liberal precincts (though not, by and large, among conservatives), and because this affects not only the presidential election but the fate of the Republic if this slippery man manages to win, I will continue to point out for a while that a few gestures do not a “reinvention” make, even if you are inclined to assign Romney any personal credibility. Here’s Jonathan Cohn with some reminders:

Romney has been running for president since June, 2011. Unofficially, he’s been running for a lot longer than that. During that time he made quite a few policy commitments, although surprisingly few people seem to remember or have noticed all of them.

He said he would cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product, setting aside 4 percent of GDP for defense spending. Such a limit would force draconian, virtually unthinkable cuts to programs like food inspections, public housing, air traffic control: Pretty much anything, and quite possibly everything, the federal government does besides defense and Social Security would be subject to serious funding cuts. Romney also vowed to repeal Obamacare and to end Medicaid as we know it. In its place, he proposed a tax deduction and a scaled-down insurance program for the poor that would, at best, cover only a fraction of the same people. According to independent and non-partisan estimates, tens of millions of Americans would lose health insurance. Among them would be the poorest and sickest people in America, depending on how states dealt with the funding cuts.

And when Romney wasn’t endorsing specific plans during the campaign, he was sending clear signals about where his sympathies lie. He mocked President Obama for suggesting that hiring more teachers would help the schools and boost the economy. He dispatched surrogates to lavish praise on the Ryan budget—the first Ryan budget, the one that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would have left the typical senior citizen responsible for two-thirds of his or her medical bills. In one memorable debate, he joined fellow Republican candidates in publicly rejecting spending deals that included even one dollar of tax increases for every ten dollars in spending cuts.

It appears Romney and his advisers now want us to believe that at least some of these old statements don’t matter—that he suddenly believes in hiring teachers, for example, and that his health care plan would help many more people than his previous positions suggested. But it’s not like those previous commitments were ancient history. Every single example I just mentioned was based on statements that he and his advisers made within the last sixteen months.

Jon could have gone on and on, and mention “self-deportation” for undocumented workers; support for overturning Roe v. Wade; the promise to destroy Planned Parenthood; endless demagoguery against the enforcement of environmental laws; support for a national “right-to-work” law (something no Republican nominee has ever endorsed); endorsement of interstate health insurance sales, which would gut longstanding state protections for the old and sick; the education voucher proposal that no one is talking about; and probably a dozen other important things I’ve forgotten about but that some conservative commissar will be enforcing. And above it all, and making a mockery of all the other pretensions of moderation, there is his total rejection of a health insurance plan modeled on his own in Massachusetts, which no matter of blather about “federalism” can justify.

In the face of this mountain of conservative extremism, I’m tempted to say that those who buy the idea that Romney has now “proved” himself a moderate, or has the power or the intention to defy the conservative extremists who own his party and are financing his campaign, deserve the shock they’ll get if he Romney takes office, particularly if it’s with a Republican Congress. We went through this before with the “uniter not divider” Bush, under conditions for “moderation” and “bipartisanship” a lot more promising than those prevailing today. It takes a lot of self-delusion to expect a better result with Mitt Romney.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.