Friday, October 07, 2011

EDITORIAL >>Strange bedfellows

Three months before the first test with actual Republican voters in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has cultivated an air of inevitability although history suggests that it is far, far too early. Republican politicians are climbing on what they hope is a bandwagon, and a few of them are baffling.

Our own congressman, Tim Griffin, and the new lieutenant governor, Mark Darr, announced Wednesday that they were supporting Romney, and Griffin apparently will chair his campaign in Arkansas. Only a few weeks ago, Griffin was touting Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is favored to win the Arkansas primary next spring. Perry’s bumbling performance in the presidential debates, when he made everyone else on stage look like Demosthenes, clearly sapped his momentum, but it is too soon to write him off.

How Griffin and Darr, of all people, could align themselves with Romney must be mystifying to conservative voters. Romney owns the most liberal record of any candidate in the race and the record stretches back over two decades.

Throughout the 1990s, when he was climbing the Massachusetts political ladder, Romney argued forcefully for a woman’s right to have an abortion, defended Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion decision, championed the rights of gays, including civil unions, sympathized with the plight of illegal immigrants (he even hired some of them), favored a ban on some guns, supported minimum-wage laws, fought for higher taxes on corporations and, finally, pushed through a universal health-insurance law in Massachusetts that became the template for the national law that Republicans now loathe.

Of course, Romney began to reverse himself on all those issues in 2006 when he began to prepare for a campaign for president and had to appeal to voters in the South and Midwest. He still defends his health-insurance law, which requires people in Massachusetts to purchase insurance, but says he doesn’t think it is right for the rest of the country. He doesn’t advocate repeal of his law but promises to try to repeal the national version of it.

That has been Romney’s big obstacle, which he has not yet overcome. Republican voters—well, voters of every stripe—wonder who is the real Romney or if he holds any core values at all. We suspect that he still has to close the deal with enough Republican voters to collect his party’s nomination.

If Tim Griffin holds a single view on the issues of the day with the pre-’06 Mitt Romney, we don’t know what it would be. We don’t know Mark Darr’s position on all those questions except health insurance, but we would be surprised if, like Griffin, he shares any ideology with the pre-’06 Romney.

In the same remarks endorsing Romney, Darr condemned the president’s health-insurance law because it requires people without insurance to buy coverage with government help if they earn more than 400 percent of the poverty line. No one pointed out that his man Romney’s signal achievement in public office is a law that does essentially the same thing.

But we think we understand Griffin’s gamble. He faces a difficult re-election in Arkansas next fall. Last year, he rode the widespread unpopularity of Barack Obama to victory. Helped by a tide of commercials from independent groups, he linked his Democratic opponent, a black female state senator, to the president and won. It is risky for Griffin to yoke himself so closely and so early to the man he expects to be the nominee, but it helps him pose as a leading foe of Obama, who may well be elected president but who will not scratch 43 percent in Griffin’s district. Griffin will run against Obama, not whoever the Democrats nominate for Congress.

It may prove to be a shrewd strategy. If Romney implodes from all his internal contradictions, it will not be so good. He will be the man who sided with the Republican who was most like Barack Obama.

Consider Griffin’s statement endorsing Mitt Romney. It begins not with “Mitt Romney. . .” but “President Obama’s policies. . .” Is that a clue about his purpose? Griffin said Obama’s policies had been “categorical failures” and he blamed him for high unemployment, the deficits and the regulatory burden on businesses. And he wasn’t quite truthful about it.

“Our deficits are growing,” he declared. Actually, the deficits are shrinking, although not so much that we should be heartened. But they are NOT growing. The last budget deficit of the George W. Bush administration was $1.41 trillion, slightly more than Bush’s budget office forecast two months before he left office. Some try to blame a little of that on Obama’s stimulus program, but stimulus spending did not really kick in until the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2009.

Obama’s first budget, 2010, ended with a deficit of $1.29 trillion. The budget for the year that ended last week was $1.28 trillion in the red. $1.41 trillion to $1.29 trillion to $1.28 trillion—that is not growth but a downward trend, small as it is.

In politics, that is not called an untruth but merely spin. Mitt Romney at least can appreciate his young Arkansas votary’s mastery of the technique.