Mitt Romney has surprised us all. Despite numerous gaffes; more public and media focus on his finances than his policies; and being against a President that is so likable that he is the political equivalent of the go-compare Meerkat: he has a real chance of an election win tonight.
To many, such a thought brings fear to their hearts. They see Mitt as the figurehead of a party that wishes to stamp its singular ultra-conservative views on the US: making abortion illegal, banning pornography, repealing the health-care reform act, cutting taxes for the rich and a capping of public spending. Abroad, the situation would be no better – Iran bombed, China insulted and Israel overtly supported above Palestine.
While such scare-mongering works, the reality is far more hazy and confusing. Romney is not as severely conservative as many people would like to believe, at least not according to his résumé. His term as Governor of Massachusetts is a testament to this fact – in his four years of office, he supported abortion rights, gun control and even took steps to tackle climate change.
Even more surprisingly, he signed an innovative health reform law that required all citizens of the state to buy medical insurance; within it, there was a guarantee of generous state financial aid to those who could not afford it. Massachusetts was the first state to approve a law of this nature and it became Romney’s best achievement in office. At the time, it became known as ‘Romneycare’ – sound unorginally familiar?
It is, in fact, very similar to ‘Obamacare’; which is essentially just a nationwide version of the policy. Romney himself declare that the Massachusetts policy was a blueprint for the nation.
Bipartisan Mitt has left the building; conservative Mitt is here to stay.
Alas, this is the very problem; Mitt now opposes all of these things. As he campaigned for the GOP candidacy, Romney made clear that he opposes abortion, doesn’t care about climate change and wants to repeal Obama’s health reform act; a policy he essentially created. Bipartisan Mitt has left the building; conservative Mitt is here to stay.
Or is he? Since October and into the election campaign’s final stretch, Mitt has once again cast himself as a moderate centralist rather than the right-wing spouting fanatic. He has moved away from the divisive social policies that he adopted during the primaries – which are somewhat polarizing - to focus the debate on his key strength, the economy.
Indeed, on some policies he has even backtracked – despite a fervent opposition to illegal immigrants earlier in the year with a policy of “self-deport”, he has now created a new far more centre-orientated immigration policy with promises to reunite families and help seasonal work employment. He has further promise more money to be put into Medicare using some of the funds freed by the rescinding of Obamacare.
Consequently, Mitt has suffered much abuse from his often changing stances on key issues; even Obama has referred to him as a “flip-flopper” – or, in other words (and apparently said to Rolling Stone), a “bullshitter”. In another zinger, Obama urged his supporters not to fall for Mitt’s “Romnesia”.
Indeed, the man who espoused conservative ideas and policies out of every corner during the Republican primaries has since cast himself as “moderate Mitt”. The mind of Mitt is certainly a muddle; or so a phrase might go.
It is thus difficult to assess what he truly believes. Of course, one of the major problems is the growth of the Tea party movement since 2009 and more-right wing conservative elements in the Republican party; many who regarded Mitt was suspicion over his record.
Romney had to swing out to these elements during his attempt to court the party’s nomination during the primaries. He was, after all, the odds-on-favourite from first to last, but his battle was long, cumbersome and painful in such a lacklustre field of competitors; only ridding himself of his rivals slowly; one by one. It was not until the very end, in April, that he gained the nomination.
This abandonment of his own beliefs to adhere to GOP orthodoxy should not be ignored, however. The fact that he is willing to play PR man – the rubber stamp – of the Republican conservatives shows that he will do anything to get to the presidency. His adoption of Paul Ryan, the isolationist right-thinking Wisconsin congressman, as his running mate can be seen as such.
Moreover, the GOP policies remain dangerous – abortion should not be a political decision, gay marriage is a fundamental human right of equality and climate change is real.
While at times it has seemed that Romney has been frustrated to be dealing with such controversial politicians – the Todd Adkin affair just one case amongst many which shown how the Republican really think – he has struggled to contain his foot soldiers; in power then, such a dynamic created is unlikely to change.
His economy policies also deserve much scrutiny; his plans to create a smaller federal state, cut taxes and reduce state help are, to many, admiringly bold. Yet, the tax cuts disproportionately favor the rich whilst the cuts to state programmes will only affect the poor – the economic divide will only increase. It is the same policy that Cameron and Clegg have embarked on here; cutting government, taxes and regulation in the hope it will stimulate the economy. Yet, for the UK, it merely sent us into a double-dip recession and would likewise do the same to the already limp recovery of the US economy; which would not only spell doom for the USA, but the rest of the world too. It is economics of faith; not logical.
His foreign policy ideals are also somewhat idiotic too; he would bring the US back to the neo-conservatism of the Bush-era, especially as he wants to increase defence-spending to 4% of GDP. He wants to label China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office – at a time when the US should be embracing dialogue with the rising superpower, Romney wants to create a 2nd Cold War; a task particularly dangerous considering the country’s trade-links. His policy in the Middle East is no better; he wants to bomb or bring the US into war with Iran and has shown a unregimented amount of bias towards Israel over Palestine.
So then? Romney for President. No; while it is difficult to assert that he is a Republican zealot, his adopted of dangerous and extreme policies cannot be ignored. They may not be what he truly believes, but as president, the influence of hundreds of politicians upon him – none more so than Tea Party poster-boy, Ryan – he will find them difficult to drop his policies. For example, he may not actually believe abortion should be illegal, but the fact that has stated he supports such legislation means a Romney vote is not a worthwhile risk.
“We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We just need a president to sign this stuff”Grover NorquistHead of Americans for Tax Reform
The real fear is that of a triple triumph – of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives- as then there would be no checks on the party’s power. Here, the conservatives; the ideological lynchpins behind the Presidential Candidate would dictate policy; and there is no reason to assume that they wouldn’t steam ahead with their plans.
Indeed, as one leading-Republican said “We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We just need a president to sign this stuff”.
A Romney-led America would be a scary one indeed; leaving the US (and world) facing not just an economic black hole, but an growth of an unequal and illiberal society.