- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Recently, there was a “Values Voters” Summit held in Washington, D.C. According to press coverage, none of the Republican presidential candidates who showed up made much of a showing. “Values voters,” of course, refers to the Christian right, as though no one else has values but them.
We have a war in Iraq where nearly 4,000 Americans have died; close to 50 million Americans without health insurance; a stupendous national debt and deficit, and other problems. But what did a survey of those at the summit reveal as their top issues? You guessed it. Abortion and gay marriage.
Most Americans would not list those two items as being the nation’s worst crises. But while the “Christian conservatives” may be a tiny but vocal part of the whole country, in the GOP, they’re the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
This influence explains what appears to be one of the most remarkable “flip-flops” of any major political figure in recent memory. I’m speaking of the incredible transformation, real or faked, demonstrated by Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
Northeast Republicans, for the most part, tend to be more moderate than their counterparts in the South, West and Midwest. For example, compare Maine’s two U.S. Senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
In Massachusetts, Mitt Romney personified this moderate GOP tradition in that region. In fact, he was considered downright progressive on gay rights and abortion rights, the very issues that boil the blood of the “Christian conservatives.”
When he ran against the liberal legend Ted Kennedy in 1994, he was pro-choice on abortion and had moderate views about gay rights. Even as late as 2005, I believe, he was still supporting what a majority of Americans defend: a woman’s basic right to choose a medically safe and legal abortion. But not anymore. Romney knew that once he switched from Massachusetts to a national stage, the Republicans before him would be quite different.
It seems very fishy that he’s had this amazing conversion from pro-choice to pro-life just in time to run for president. Also, there’s been doubt cast on the story Romney provides to explain his conversion.
He says he had a conversation with a doctor, or some other professional, about stem-cell research. During that talk, he apparently had some epiphany (I guess, both spiritual and political) about “life.” It was then that he changed his position. But the professional involved doesn’t quite remember the conversation that way.
There’s also the matter of Romney’s Mormonism, which, for whatever reason, gives a lot of religious rightists pause. A fascinating profile of him appeared recently in “Newsweek.” It showed, among other things, that he’s been far more active in the Mormon church than he now seems comfortable talking about.
So the whole thing is strange. Here’s a guy who has changed his entire political identity to court a segment of the party he knows has the power to nominate him or deny him the nomination, and yet he’s reluctant to discuss the one thing that drives them the most: religion.
I say, let Romney be Romney. The old Mitt Romney was right; the new one is a stale compromise. George W. Bush has so thoroughly ruined the fortunes of his own party for 2008, that a Bush-like candidate, with blessings from the religious right and the few war supporters left, can’t win anyway.
The previous, more moderate Mitt Romney - with the money he has and his personal appeal (not to mention the lead currently in both Iowa and New Hampshire) - might be the only person with a chance to beat Hillary Clinton.
But the religious right is absolutely prepared to lead the GOP over a cliff rather than compromise its “distinctive ideology.” It’s a shame that Mitt Romney, instead of challenging that, has bowed down to it.