Friday, October 28, 2011

More Adventures of Mitt and Rick

by Gaije Kushner

The social conservatives who currently constitute the Republican base have never loved the prospect of a President Romney. They don't find him trustworthy, they say. His shifting positions on some of their pet issues have them questioning the depth of his commitment. Some even say they wonder if he has any core principles at all, or if he's willing to say anything to get himself elected. Oddly enough, the same group seems untroubled by Rick Perry's recent changes of heart around the very same issues. Maybe it's just my suspicious mind, but I can't help thinking they aren't being entirely forthcoming about the precise nature of their issues with Romney.

It's certainly true Romney's positions on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, health care reform, and taxes, have changed dramatically since his Massachusetts days. Where he once was pro-choice, he now values lives fetal over those full grown and female. Promises to advocate for gay rights have given way to support for the Federal Marriage Amendment. Despite having increased an array of fees and taxes as governor of Massachusetts, he's signed a pledge to neither create nor increase any existing taxes, should he be elected president. The senatorial candidate who supported a federal health insurance mandate, the governor who proposed and signed Massachusetts's universal health coverage law, has become a presidential candidate calling for the repeal of national health care reform, its mandate, promises of something approaching universal coverage, maybe, one day. In 1994, he was an opponent of school prayer. By 2007, he'd somehow become a supporter.

It is indeed a lot of change, all in the more conservative direction one might reasonably expect to appeal to Republican primary voters. Romney's held to his new positions consistently since at least 2007 though, rendering questions about his commitment somewhat suspect. Granted, it's impossible to know what he, or anyone else, believes deep down in his innermost heart of hearts. But why does that matter, in the face of his endlessly avowed conservatism, his clearly stated support for their agenda?

Perry's about faces, on the other hand, are of a much more recent vintage. They began in August, and seem still a work in progress. Shortly after becoming a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry was predictably questioned about some of the more extreme ideas he'd voiced in last fall's manifesto, "Fed Up!" These included declaring social security unconstitutional, along with child labor laws, environmental regulation, and the federal income tax. He went on to call for the repeal of the 16th amendment, which establishes that federal income tax, and the 17th, which provides for the direct election of senators.

How did Perry respond to the questions? Did he take the opportunity to further articulate his thoughts? Explain them, carry them to their logical conclusions? No, not exactly. In a matter of days, his communications director was saying, "Fed Up! Is not meant to reflect the governor's current views," his campaign announcing he did not in fact believe the 16th and 17th amendments should be appealed. His critique of social security no longer centered on constitutional concerns. Instead, he doubted its long term financial viability.

The ideas in his book aren't the only ones Perry's repudiated. As recently as July, his support for the 10th amendment's protection of states' rights was a governing principle. He went so far as to say both abortion and gay marriage were issues to be addressed by individual states, as each saw fit. By August, he was supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, and pledging to use every means available to him as president to deprive American women of control over our very own bodies.

Perry's changing views are, again, much more recent than any of Romney's. If they aren't politically motivated, they are so plentiful, so sudden, as to be inexplicable. Yet, neither conservative advocates nor mainstream media seems much bothered about them, especially compared to their responses to Romney's. It's impossible not to wonder what the difference could be. Might it have anything to do with Perry's endlessly professed evangelical Christianity, Romney's Mormonism?

About 25% of all Americans consistently say they are less likely to support a Mormon presidential candidate, as do 15% of Republicans. When it comes to the white evangelicals amongst them, the number jumps to 30%. In September, a Gallup poll found religious Republicans preferred Perry over Romney by a margin of about 2 to 1. A CBS poll just two weeks ago found 42% of white evangelicals saying most people they know would not vote for a Mormon.

In 2009, in the wake of Romney's failed first go at the Presidency, then RNC chair Michael Steele opined, "it was the base that rejected Mitt because it has issues with Mormonism." If Mormonism promoted political positions or values in opposition to the white evangelical Republican base, this antipathy might not be so disturbing. As it doesn't, it seems nothing but a religious test, based on the belief Mormons are somehow not real Christians. Is there any reason to think they'd feel any different about a Jewish or Muslim candidate? A Buddhist, or maybe a Hindu? I'd love a way to see all this as anything but religious bigotry and hate, but it continues to escape me.

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