Last year, many Americans were hoping that Governor Romney would run for the presidency if not as a Rockefeller Republican then at least as a centrist Republican in the tradition of Presidents Eisenhower and Ford, New York Governor George Pataki, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., or even the largely pragmatic Richard Nixon.
Instead, he proceeded to tack so far to the right on a succession of social issues that one is entitled to wonder whether the moderate persona he displayed in last Wednesday's debate is genuine, in which case his Republican base may have cause to scratch their collective heads in dismay, or has been finely honed to appeal to those independent or still undecided voters who will decide this year's election.
In the hope of shedding some light on this quandary, here are three issues Governor Romney should be asked about at the next debate or in any media interviews he might give between now and Election Day.
Health care. At the Denver debate, Governor Romney declared unambiguously that "pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan." He then moved quickly to another subject after President Obama pointed out that
"actually Governor, that isn't what your plan does. What your plan does is to duplicate what's already the law, which says if you are out of health insurance for three months, then you can end up getting continuous coverage and an insurance company can't deny you if you've -- if it's been under 90 days. But that's already the law and that doesn't help the millions of people out there with pre-existing conditions."
Following the debate, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom confirmed on CNN's The Situation Room that President Obama had in fact correctly described Governor Romney's healthcare plan, such as it is, during the debate. "We will give the states initiatives and money so that they can manage these decisions on their own," Fehrnstrom said. "But, of course, we'd like them to see them continue that pre-existing band for those who have continuous coverage."
In other words, it appears that if Governor Romney becomes president, many Americans with pre-existing conditions can and probably will be denied healthcare coverage if they do not presently have such coverage or if they lose their jobs and are not able to obtain new insurance within three months. Under President Obama's healthcare law they are protected. Governor Romney should be asked why he believes that any insurance companies should be allowed to deprive any American of coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
Abortion rights. According to his website, Governor Romney "believes that life begins at conception." At the same time, he told CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley on August 27 that he is "in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother."
In a 2005 op-ed in the Boston Globe, Governor Romney wrote that,
"there is not now a decisive national consensus on abortion. Some parts of the country have prolife majorities, others have prochoice majorities. People of good faith on both sides of the issue should be able to make and advance their case in democratic forums -- with civility, mutual respect, and confidence that democratic majorities will prevail. We will never have peace on the abortion issue, much less a consensus of conscience, until democracy is allowed to work its way."
Appearing on Meet the Press on September 9, Governor Romney said that,
"I hope to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that will follow the law and the Constitution. And it would be my preference that they reverse Roe v. Wade and therefore they return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue."
Constitutional and religious rights, however, must by definition never be subject to majority rule.
In 1994, while running for the US Senate against Ted Kennedy, Mitt Romney said in an interview that he would "fight for the right of all people to live by their own beliefs and to make their own choices." Accordingly, the question he should be asked is why any women anywhere in the United States should be deprived of the right "to live by their own beliefs and to make their own choices" simply because they happen to live in a state with a pro-life majority.
Contraception and women's health issues. Earlier this year, Governor Romney said that he would cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. His exact, highly publicized words were, "Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that." Except that Planned Parenthood provides critical services to women that range far beyond abortions, including contraception, cancer screening and prevention, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infection for both men and women. As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein explained,
"though the fight over Planned Parenthood might be about abortion, Planned Parenthood itself isn't about abortion. It's primarily about contraception and reproductive health. And if Planned Parenthood loses funding, what will mainly happen is that cancer screenings and contraception and STD testing will become less available to poorer people. Folks with more money, of course, have many other ways to receive all these services, and tend to get them elsewhere already."
We know what the radical pro-life, anti-choice elements of the Republican Party, which includes not just the likes of Todd Akin, the wingnut GOP senatorial candidate in Missouri, but Governor Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, think of Planned Parenthood. Rush Limbaugh, for one, has called Planned Parenthood a "death squad."
Governor Romney should be asked specifically whether he believes that low income or unemployed women across the United States should not have access to the type of essential and often lifesaving medical care that Planned Parenthood provides. It's a yes or no question.
While President Obama may have had a lackluster night in Denver, we know who he is and the principles he espouses. Governor Romney should now be asked to clarify to the American electorate, or at least to those voters who have yet to make up their mind, which Mitt Romney will be on the ballot on November 6 - the seemingly moderate pragmatist who showed up at the Denver debate, or the much more right wing hard-liner of the GOP primary season.
"Both" should not be an acceptable answer.
Menachem Z. Rosensaft teaches about the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse universities.