For once in a blue moon, I find myself agreeing with Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (October 18) when he observes that “conservatives are mum about Mitt’s moderation.” Making allowances for Milbank’s ideologically colored view, when he says that in recent weeks the Republican presidential candidate “sprinted toward the center,” this columnist is correct on two points. One, Romney has abandoned just about every “conservative” social position he took during the primaries; and two, “conservative” commentators and GOP regulars don’t seem to mind. They’re too busy celebrating Romney’s ascent in presidential polls, or else complaining that Romney hasn’t savaged Obama’s foreign policy furiously enough.
GOP media celebrities may be receiving their worldview as well as money from neoconservative fat cat Rupert Murdoch, who is an ardent American interventionist. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that most Americans are not complaining about Obama’s insufficient aggressiveness in international relations. How many women voters or even old-time conservatives, like me, do Republican mediacrats think they’ll attract by continuing to scream about Benghazi or, as Ryan did in his debate with Biden, gripe that our president didn’t get tough enough with Putin over Syria? Contrary to something else Ryan suggested in his debate with Biden, it’s not at all clear that the anti-government side in Syria is any more freedom-loving than those Alawi Muslims who are now in power and whom the Russian government backs.
Are we really eager to jump into another Near Eastern quagmire, particularly while we’re still involved in the occupation of two Muslim countries? And allow me to express (for a person of the Right) two other heretical ideas: I’m not sure whether Obama is more to blame for what happened in Benghazi with the attack on our embassy than was George W. Bush for 9/11. Although Obama and his staff misrepresented the facts afterwards, I can’t figure out how they were responsible for the terrorist attack itself. I’m also not sure what Romney intends to do to stop Iran from developing a nuclear device. Will he join the Israelis in launching an attack on that country? I doubt his foreign policy advisors would hold back President Romney if he decided on this course.
Such warlike positions may drive away far more voters than Romney’s adherence to whatever social positions he took as a primary candidate. In the primaries and once or twice since, he’s claimed to be pro-life but when Obama stated during the debate that Romney does not support Planned Parenthood, Romney predictably tried to weasel out of the charge. What he should have answered is that he heartily endorses all the other activities provided by Planned Parenthood, but wishes this organization would restrict its activities to those endeavors and not facilitate abortions. But being a consummate opportunist, Romney wouldn’t take this straightforward position. Perhaps it’s because it’s not the one that he’s consistently held throughout his political career.
When Obama accused his opponent of supporting those tough measures introduced in Arizona under Governor Jan Brewer against illegal immigration, Romney again switched colors. Although he had enthusiastically backed this law and although, as Obama correctly pointed out, had put the person who wrote it on his advisory staff, in the second debate, Romney tried to align his position with Obama’s. Here too he was clearly equivocating in order to reach out to potential Democratic voters.
And I found even more egregious his answer as to whether he supports legislation enacted by Obama and the Democrats allowing women to bring suit against employers for unequal pay (relative to what men were receiving) without time limitations. For someone who supposedly believes in a free market economy and who should not want to saddle employers with endless, expensive litigation by groups of women claiming to have been given unequal pay in the past, Romney should have explained why he opposed this legislation. Of course he did no such thing. He answered instead by boasting about how he had recruited lots of women for his administration in Massachusetts. When Romney decided to outdo Obama on the subject of who could provide more student loans, I yelled out the answer that he should have given: “They drive up tuition and leave students with debts that many of them will default on.”
One knows more or less what four more years of Obama will bring, but Romney seems harder to figure out. He looks nice enough and does have a photogenic family. He probably would manage the economy a bit better than the present administration and would please the Right and center by probably appointing (but who knows!) less left-leaning judges to the federal courts than those favored by the Democrats. But this guy changes his positions the way Beyoncé switches her hair styles. Even worse, his supporters have been so conditioned to hate Obama that they don’t even notice.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, and Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers. His latest book, Leo Strauss and the American Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal, was just published by Cambridge University Press.