Thursday, March 22, 2012

Romney and the Etch-A-Sketch - The Perception of Flip-Flopping Politicians – The Strategy Santorum Should Adopt Post Haste.

Mitt Romney’s top advisor, Eric Fehrnstrom’s remark on CNN produced a bit of brouhaha – or a joke if one will, regarding the former Massachusetts Governor’s ability to move from position to position in what appears like lightening speed. He’s quickly shrugging it offaccording to CNN, however, in looking at Politician’s, especially from Massachusetts or similar states (Illinois anyone?), one knows there is a pattern that is strictly political, that of taking up one position and quickly changing that position as public opinion, the political climate and geography are considered.

It is a fact of life in a State such as Massachusetts that one can be a conservative on the inside, but in order to get into office, one must swing to the left – or vice versa, this is regardless of political party. Even in Massachusetts, during the aftermath of 9/11 and the rise of George W. Bush’s approval ratings, politician’s doing door-to-door retail politics, (on a local scale) we’re not readily admitting to party affiliation. When asked about party affiliation, one aspiring candidate noted that he was a “conservative”, when pressed as to what that meant, he honestly replied that if he were to say he was a Democrat he might not get the votes he needed (there are pockets of Republican’s even in the Bay State) – that type of honesty got the vote, even in a State where it was assumed a Democrat would win (which he did not), but at the least he was honest. It’s a rarity here, and elsewhere, that a politician stick to a position for very long – and the two most noted for changing position rapidly in Massachusetts are John Kerry (D-MA) and Mitt Romney, referred to as the “Etch-a-Sketch”.

If one sticks to a position, or does not make excuses for their beliefs or background, then it is as if that individual has some sort of flaw – if one stick to the middle, or swings with public opinion then that person appears to win out. The fact that voters have short-term memory can be counted on in every election, in every state of the Union, by these politician’s who one cannot tell if they mean what they say even ten percent of the time.

Case in point is Romney’s gubernatorial campaign against a Democrat rival who was as conservative or more conservative in some area’s than Mitt Romney – Shannon O’Brien and Romney both tried to “out-pro-choice” each other in the final weeks leading up to the election, and O’Brien put her foot in it, watching a 15 point lead evaporate to a deficit by the time votes were cast. The fact that Romney was not clear on his position (pro-choice, pro-life, pro-choice) even had the Massachusetts GOP concerned when acting Governor, Jane Swift, urged Romney to make his stand on abortion clear(Boston Herald). One can imagine that the issue of abortion, especially in Massachusetts is a non-issue, but that is not entirely the case, there are “degrees” of how pro-choice even Catholics can be – using the argument that “I personally would not advise abortion, but who am I to say what someone else can do” – it is Freedom of Choice that is primary in those voters minds, as they go to the voting booth – and depending upon how the argument is framed, the politician either wins or loses – in Romney’s case, he won by standing on both sides of the issues.

Would he have been re-elected? That’s debatable, one can point to a myriad of reasons why not, but the most likely would have been his “Conservative Stance” in Massachusetts on the budget and the cuts that he made to balance the budget, the fees that he raised or instituted that aided in brining in the cash needed to balance the budget – and the Democrat Party in Massachusetts poised to spin or tell the truth, either way – about his “flaws”. Meanwhile, Conservatives in the State were souring on the Governor for his stance on raising fees (taxes), and his Universal Health Care law. One has to understand that there is a streak of independence in Massachusetts whereby even the sane laws are challenged – the seat-belt law, helmet laws - making it difficult for politician’s to appease everyone and keep smiling and in office.

There are exceptions to this rule, however, and one who supports Mitt Romney, Scott Brown, is one of them. Brown does not vote or write legislation to appease the political winds, he does not change his mind in opportune moments, he is who he is, which can confuse the Conservatives and Democrats alike – he is, aside from polls indicating his rival in November, Elizabeth Warren, anywhere close to unpopular – he is a self-described independent, which ends up being a moderate in some people’s minds, a conservative in others. He makes no excuses for who he is, or the positions he takes, and if challenged by his constituents, he explains why – he is the exception to the rule in Massachusetts. Yet, there are those on the right who supported his candidacy, and now feel that he is too far to the left, and there are those on the left who feel he is too far to the right – that make’s Scott Brown the only Senator from Massachusetts who is doing his job - which gives independents, or the majority of voters, exactly what they want.

Rick Santorum is another example, one who does not change his position or make excuses for whom he is, however, he is competing on a national scale, against a chameleon who is practiced at the art of political chicanery and who is counting on voters to have a memory lapse during the general election. There are steps, even at this late date, that Santorum could take to capitalize on the “Etch a Sketch” remark, however, buying the toy, and using it for props (he was not the only one do to so), might have been used as a joke, rather than a serious statement on what everyone who is a political junkie and paying attention at this point, knows – Mitt Romney changes his mind faster than most people change underwear.
Santorum stands steadfast in his religion, as a Catholic, as a Christian (Catholic means Universal), he stands steadfast also in his foreign policy views, his views on the economy – he has some brilliant fixes, and articulates those points in a way that appeals across the broad spectrum of the electorate. He has been, however, dogged by the stigma of “social issues”, and perhaps refuses to take the bait, yet it is costing him. People fear his Religious views, without understanding that he has no intention of pushing his views on others. The problem is he has to ask and answer these questions every time he sets foot in front of a camera. He needs to resolve this issue, similar to what his rival, Mitt Romney did in 2008, when Romney held a press conference on religion, and moved one. Of course, Romney lost that election, but it was not the religions aspect, it was a field that had a GOP pre-conceived nominee in John McCain, and a Mike Huckabee who would quit. Huckabee too was branded “religious”, by virtue of his person, and the fact that he was a Minister. If one is a Christian (Evangelical, Born Again), these types of candidates are like a gift from God, but to the balance of the population, those occasional Catholics, or occasional Christians (pick a denomination), those candidates are frightening. When one hears, via the news, that the candidate is one-sided, and is only interested, in Rick Santorum’s case, in running the country with his Catholic Faith, no matter how false a claim that may be, it instills a fear which translates into a vote for Mr. Etch-a-Sketch. Santorum should, from this point of view, make his case once and for all, and drop the subject, and that includes all social issues – people already know where he stands on those fronts, he is a practicing Catholic in his personal life, he is pro-choice – move on – before it is truly too late. It is not to say Senator Santorum should deny his faith, it is to say that is something the general public, his staff, his potential voters, already know – the media can and should be forced to hear the economic and foreign policy points, the social issues can be left on the sideboard – now and in the general election.

It is going to be a point of fact that the Obama administration has more political intelligence on Mitt Romney than any other candidate, so for the media to marginalize Santorum to this extent, should be sending up alarm bells all the way around – he is the last candidate the Democrats want to see nominated, (because he appeals to their voting bloc when he gets a chance to talk about manufacturing, for instance, and he has a record in the Senate to back up his claims), and the media, might just be happy to see Santorum sunk without ever having to publish or broadcast one bit of his voting record, or policy. Romney on the other hand presents a field day – maybe – he is a corporate/political animal, and a corporate/political understands how to play against similarly positioned opponents. Case in point, the President has changed his mind on several issues, alienating his base at times and making the appearance of being pro-pipeline (for example see his recent trip to Oklahoma), while being over the top devoted to his “Green Jobs’ program (see visit to Green plan that employed 5 people while spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars to do so). Should Romney be the nominee, it will, in essence, give voters a choice between two very similar politicians. It is not the ideology that is in question, because it is difficult to pin down exactly what that ideology is, once the ads start running and September is upon us.

The Etch-A-Sketch remark will undoubtedly make it into an Obama for President advertisement, while, perhaps the hypocrisy of the pipeline visit in Oklahoma will end up in a Romney ad – it will be two candidate who are both trying to out-moderate each other – and whoever tries harder may end up losing as the exaggerations of policy are ramped up in the debate over who is more this, or who is more that. Look to history to see a very close race with no clear differences between two candidates.

Rick Santorum would not have it easy, in running against the President, but the difference is his convictions may be more appealing if he were able to get off the pulpit, both real and perceived. That would result in a clear problem for the incumbent, a coal-miners son, who supported legislation in the Senate that put his own Political Part’s panties in a bunch as it was pro-labor, and who also never over promised nor under delivered. Dragging up dirt on Squeaky Clean will be a challenge; therefore, they are marginalizing the candidate now - on both sides of the aisle – to prevent him from getting the nomination and possibly ousting the incumbent, and the other, as they hold a deep seated belief that no Conservative can win a general election. This is how short-term memory works – the GOP has forgotten that the man it most touts as representative of the party is the one man that they wanted out of the race – Ronald Reagan.

One has to understand that when Mitt Romney is endorsed by Jeb Bush, and of all people, Bob Dole, he is the party’s perfect moderate candidate, however if he were to somehow win, it would defy history, and it would be against the odds.

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