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Never in my life have I encountered a politician who does a better imitation of a mannequin than Mitt Romney, particularly when called on to address social issues. Does this presidential candidate have an “opinion,” for example, on recent attempts to run the food chain Chick-Fil-A out of large municipalities because its president, Dan Cathy, had spoken up for traditional marriage? What is Romney’s view of President Obama’s application of executive power to grant legal status to almost a million illegal residents? Does Romney have a view about such matters? If he does, he is keeping it well hidden. The only thing I hear him saying on the domestic front is that Obama has not addressed the high unemployment rate or our soaring public debt. Presumably Romney will.

All of this has been carefully scripted to make Romney electable without requiring him to show his hand, with one terrifying exception that I’ll soon get to. Admittedly there may be something to be said for this strategy. Obama has messed up the economy and despite his personal popularity, he may not be able to put together the winning coalition he had four years ago. Romney, who looks presidential and can claim corporate business experience, has offered himself as the alternative; and if the economy continues to go south, the former one-term Massachusetts governor may squeak to victory.

But even here Romney hasn’t created for himself a strong profile. Obama went after him nonstop for weeks as a grasping CEO while heading up Bain Capital, and Romney long avoided countering, even when he held the good cards. Since Obama’s brief was at best spotty, the incumbent couldn’t get as much out of it, but certainly not because of Romney’s combativeness. All I heard him say even after weeks of accusations was that Obama was slandering him.

The GOP game plan seems to be that its media brigade, led by such worthies as Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter, will save Romney the hassle of taking socially conservative positions. Sounding “conservative” may not sit well with hypothetical independents, and so the party propagandists have provided their candidate with an opportunity to dodge divisive issues. But there is no real fit between the journalistically cultivated image of Romney as a social traditionalist (outside his own family life) and his actual political record. A book that landed in my hands, despite the efforts of GOP operatives to keep it from going anywhere, is an expose by Amy L. Contrada on Governor Romney’s “deception” during the campaign for gay marriage in Massachusetts. From Contrada’s account, it is hard to pinpoint where Romney stood on this sensitive social issue. The same is true for his position on abortion, which he changed with some regularity. The conflict-avoiding Romney has been around for some time, and he’s in his element when he avoids getting pinned down on social questions.


This seems to be the routine GOP strategy in presidential races, running centrist candidates who are depicted as “conservative” but who waste capital and credibility trying to break into liberal Democratic constituencies. But Romney may be taking the smoke and mirrors game to a new level of evasiveness, by leaving it entirely to the friendly media to keep the base behind him. And given his persistent problem in overtaking the stumbling Obama, I would guess this approach is not paying off.

What may make matters worse is that Romney the mannequin turns into a reckless ideologue when he gets into foreign affairs. Having surrounded himself with neoconservative foreign policy advisors, he has taken over their characteristic views, that Obama has not been pushing “American exceptionalism,” that he has “betrayed” our Israeli allies, and that we have not been aggressive enough in bringing the rest of the world into line with our “values.” This mannequin on internal issues became an instant fire-eater when he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that “we must remain at our post and keep guard of the freedom that defines and ennobles us and our friends.” Perhaps he could defend freedom in his own country by declaring openly for Dan Cathy’s right to speak up for traditional marriage, without being persecuted by political thugs in our major cities. Or would this take Romney out of his game-plan?

Listening to Romney’s supposed gaffe in a speech in Jerusalem about why the Palestinians lag behind the Israelis, I found nothing wrong with Mitt’s statement that “if economic history teaches us anything, it is this: Culture makes a difference.” I shall readily concede that the main reason that Israelis have expanded their GDP from 66 billion to 243 billion dollars between 1993 and 2011, while more than doubling per capita income, is a combination of dumping oppressive socialist policies with a hard-working (Jewish and Palestinian) population. The Palestinians by contrast have an utterly corrupt government that exerts too much effort on the creation of fruitless violence. One may be justified in making these observations even while noticing that the present Israeli government has no real interest in granting statehood to the Palestinians and has been less than fair in negotiating with them.

But even while recognizing the self-evident truth of Romney’s larger observation, about the link between culture and economic growth, and the more specific application of the principle to the Middle East, I feel impelled to raise a question: Why doesn’t he make the same observation about the American underclass? Doesn’t the same truth apply even more strongly in our country than it does in the Middle East? The Palestinians are an occupied people; the American underclass is hardly that. And from the reports, it would seem that Romney is running for president here, not in Israel.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2012 Election, Mitt Romney 
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The way I remember it, the same “say as little as possible” approach worked well for Schwarzenegger when he ran for governor of California in the carnivalesque recall election. He promised to “knock together ze heads of ze girly-men in ze Legislature” (or something like that), and that was good enough.

    Later, California Republicans had cause to repent of putting that fellow in the governor’s office, but they were very proud of themselves at the time.

  2. I see. Those who exercise their freedom to influence others by choosing to boycott their business establishments are called “thugs” while the business owner, who opposes the civil rights of a narrow portion of the population, needs defending by the elites. Was this article ghost written by John Roberts or a descendant of Lewis Powell, I wonder?

    Edmund Burke lives!

  3. Harrison says:

    I am curious: does Paul care at all about the opinions of the American electorate, or is he just a grumpy authoritarian old man? The majority of this country supports amnesty for children raised here through no fault of their own. Younger voters approve of gay marriage overwhelmingly. The same goes for abortion-the Buchananite absolutist position is overwhelmingly rejected. Of course, Romney’s foreign policy is atrocious, but on the domestic front, Paul and this magazine are simply out of touch.

  4. I see. Those who exercise their freedom to influence others by choosing to boycott their business establishments are called “thugs”…

    No, politicians like Rahm Emanuel and Thomas Menino are being called thugs. This is because they are government officials, not private citizens, and are threatening legitimate business activities over disfavored speech, and because the Constitution forbids this.

    while the business owner, who opposes the civil rights of a narrow portion of the population, needs defending by the elites.

    Neither you nor anyone else (including gay people) cared about this “civil right” two decades ago. I’ll take your views more seriously when and only when you are willing to defend marriage among first cousins and polygamy (as many societies allow). When you fail to do so, you are in fact “discriminating” whether you wish to admit or not. That’s what licenses — all of them — do, by their very nature.

    Was this article ghost written by John Roberts or a descendant of Lewis Powell, I wonder?

    Edmund Burke lives!


  5. Ottozone says:

    Dr. Gottfried: What I find laughable about Romney’s statement is his apparent ignorance of the non pareil and sine qua non role of the US in Israel’s success.

    Official Israel likes to pretend that Israeli managed all this on their own. They didn’t. Israel’s debt to the United States is literally incalculable, one we cannot afford to forget and should keep before us when smugly referring to “cultural” differences that poor Mr. Romney couldn’t describe if you let him cut and paste his answer out of Wikipedia. Then again, perhaps for Romney the Uber-Capitalist, the hundreds of billions we’ve lavished (and continue to lavish) on Israel IS “culture”.

  6. Josh says:

    Peter: It may be that “no one cared” two decades ago because the idea of gay marriage was unthinkable to a clear majority of society at that time.

    There’s a lot more commonality between two men and two women marrying that one man marrying several women, or first cousins marrying.

  7. TomB says:

    Paul Gottfried wrote:

    “Never in my life have I encountered a politician who does a better imitation of a mannequin than Mitt Romney”

    That’s a really keen way of grasping what seems to me is the biggest question about Romney, which is what he really is. And the next big question is the incredible stealth capability he has shown in preventing that question from ever really coming up.

    Watching him in debate, for instance, is like watching a robot merely following its software’s algorithms: “If opponent A says X you say Y, but if opponent A says Y you say Z…,” and on and on.

    Just utterly slick, pre-planned phrases, as calculated as possible to simply say nothing about an issue but to leave people on each side feeling he either supports them or is not really really against them.

    And it’s a perfect explanation for these gaffe’s: They aren’t really gaffes in terms of the guy saying a secret belief that’s unpopular: Romney hasn’t really *had* any real considered belief in what he’s said. They’re just … mouth expulsions, coming out because at the instant uttered is seems to be what others are saying at the moment or what the people around him want to hear. No different than when he was on the phone at Bain talking to investors trying to get them on board to take over this or that latest target: Of *course* you just say whatever.

    The one exception may be his “culture” comments to the Israelis and that’s interesting. No doubt encouraged to say that to the Israelis to suck up to them, nevertheless he’s applied the same language elsewhere so there’s evidence of some actual belief there.

    Predictably enough though even as much as one might basically agree with this cultural understanding, with Romney one has complete confidence it will have no deeper meaning to him in terms of what he will ultimately do or not do on the issue. Instead and at best the overwhelming sense one gets of his embrace of this is that this is him merely him saying “See? With the ‘right’ culture—my culture—everyone of course just wants to be like me having devoted their life to making money.”

    Otherwise, for instance, having said Mexican culture is radically different from ours, does anyone really believe he’s going to follow his own logic and maybe consider huge unfettered future immigration into the U.S. from Mexico a possible cultural problem for the U.S.?

    Oh hell no: Because one just senses that *his* “culture” belief is just different way to describe his one big belief … what’s good for Mit is self-evidently good. And regardless of the possible cultural harm to the U.S., if opposing illegal immigration might hurt Mit, then by definition opposing illegal immigration is bad.

    To say the man’s shallow is to give him way more credit than he deserves. Gottfried’s got it perfect, he’s a mannequin, *the* hollow man.

    And the only consolation that one will have if he wins will be his chronic and indeed instantly embarked upon betrayals of the morons in the Republican party.

  8. Vickie says:

    “The same goes for abortion-the Buchananite absolutist position is overwhelmingly rejected…”

    But so is the absolutist Planned Parenthood position.

    Most Americans, including young people think that abortion should be completely restricted or legal only in limitted circumstances.

  9. Flavius says:

    Don’t we all just wish that it were over!
    The thought of Minimal Mitt the Mormon grinning his way forward to November is unendurable; as is a three month long teach-in from Professor O. The pleasure to be derived from knowing one of them must lose cannot sustain one for that length of time. I must give myself to the hope that one, maybe even both, parties will lie in ruins at the end. Yes, Estragon, there is hope there, is there not? No, Vladimir.

  10. Nathan says:

    Fascinating comments. A few observations:

    Since at least on paper this country is a “republic” whatever popular support there is for abortion is irrelevant. If we believe the entity growing inside the woman to be a “person” and since the woman shares only 50 percent of her DNA with it so it’s not “her” body, then she not being the “Creator” neither she nor anyone else including a majority vote of the people have the authority to deprive that “person” of its “unalienable” rights. The Founders chose a republican form of government specifically to provide better protection against the “mob” for those unalienable rights.

    @Peter: FYI First cousin marriages are legal in around half of the states of the union. Regarding “polygamy” it’s questionable whether doing so is a severe infringement on the First Amendment. We’re always going to draw lines somewhere like not allowing religions who practice human sacrifice to do it here.

    There is a difference between Israeli Arabs living in Israel and Palestinians on the west bank. As the occupying power, Israel ultimately bears the primary responsibilty for welfare of those under its control regardless of what the PLO does or doesn’t do and by most all accounts it has failed miserably. Settler grafiti “Palestinians to the ovens” is all to representative of how Israel sees those it looks after. On every level, health, safety, nutrition, education, economics, all of it, Israel has failed.

  11. Dab says:

    Coming from Massachusetts I can tell you what a phony Romney is. He supported gay pride marches and his “fight” against gay marriage was a fake.

    I am posting this primarily to let you know that a courageous man, Brian Camenker, who leads is being sued by a gay man in Maine for one million dollars for merely posting a letter that the gay man sent around publicly a few years ago. Help Brian by spreading the word, please. Gays are totally out of control.

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