What if Mitt Romney said something he really meant? Amid his rhetorical wreckage, what would happen if Mitt said what he really believes? Would anyone hear that tree fall in his forest of flip-flops, gaffes, and outright lies?
I think it happened. Once. In an interview with a conservative magazine, Romney explained why he avoids explaining what he'll do and how he'll do it:
"One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don't care about education," Romney recalled. "So I think it's important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we'll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I'm not going to give you a list right now."
When a private equity guy like Romney uses phrases like "consolidation opportunities" and "program eliminations," factories get closed and pensions get raided. When politicians use the same language, they lose. Perhaps we should be grateful that in trying assiduously not to answer questions, Romney is at least trying not to lie to us.
When Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom called his boss an Etch a Sketch during the primary, we all thought it was a horrible gaffe. In fact, Fehrnstrom's only mistake was giving away Romney's game plan. Somehow Romney has convinced the media that whatever he said during the primary doesn't actually apply in the general election against the president.
Witness the media's evident frustration with Romney's evasive response to whether he would repeal Obama's "I had a DREAM Act" executive order. "It would be overtaken by events if you will, by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution, with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals such that they know what their setting is going to be, not just for the term of a president but on a permanent basis," Romney said. That statement melted decoder rings all over Washington. We should take some comfort that Romney knows that legislation creates laws, but there's no way to tell if Romney's final solution for immigrant children is free cotton candy and hot-air-balloon rides or forced military conscription. For some reason, the media treated Romney's promise during the primaries to veto the DREAM Act as if it were no longer operable. Clearly, Romney's strategy is to shake the Etch a Sketch and leave it blank until after the election.
And it might work, too, if not for those meddling kids in the press corps. When asked about a super PAC's idea to re-litigate the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's incendiary sermons, Romney retreated to this happy place: "I'm not familiar with precisely what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was. I'll go back and take a look at what was said there."
In the backlash of the Supreme Court's decision on Arizona's anti-immigration law, the Romney camp released this statement:
I believe that each state has the duty -- and the right -- to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities. As Candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office. But 4 years later, we are still waiting.
Can you tell from his statement whether he still supports Arizona's law as he did during the primary? Does his statement mean he would encourage states to ignore the Supreme Court's ruling? Where does he stand on the "papers, please" provision that was upheld?
I can't tell what Romney thinks by reading what he says, and that's exactly the way Romney wants it. Get ready for a long campaign of Romney trying to convince us that it really doesn't matter.