01/29/2008 03:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mitticisms: "Effectively"

John McCain's campaign just produced a new internet ad called "A Tale of Two Mitts." (Get it? It's a pun. Because "Mitt" and "City" are both words. Must be old people humor.)

The ad features Mitt Romney running for senator in 1994 and saying:

"I believe abortion should be safe and legal in this country."

And then, when he was running for governor:

"I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose."

But then, in a debate this year:

"You can go back to YouTube and look at what I said in 1994. I never said I was pro-choice but my position was effectively pro-choice and I've said that time and time again."

Now, of course a person is allowed to change their mind, that's the whole point of abortion. What's reprehensible is to say one thing, then say another, then claim when you said the first thing you didn't actually say it. Because, when you said the first thing, what you meant to say was something that sounded like that, but didn't mean it.

"I didn't say 'pro-choice.' I said, 'effectively pro-choice.' Except on those occasions when I flat out said I supported a woman's right to choose. But cut me some slack. Remember, when I said that, I was trying to lie. The words just came out wrong. And by wrong, I mean right."

What kind of idiot lies, and in his defense claims that he was trying to split hairs?

Mitt Romney is George Bush trying to be Bill Clinton.

But let's pretend Mitt Romney always remembered to call himself "effectively pro-choice." Is there a difference between that and plain old "pro-choice?"

What Mitt means is that he never did anything, in government (and presumably, Staples and the Olympics) to limit a woman's access to an abortion. He wanted to be pro-life; he just never got around to it.

("Sorry, Juno, you're on your own. Go use your cheeseburger phone to call someone who gives a shit.")

Mitt's not bragging about this. He's apologizing. But he's also trying to make a distinction between endorsing an act and not preventing it; between a sin and a sin of omission.

Thomas Aquinas, of course, says there's no useful distinction at all. A sin of omission follows from a sin of commission -- the act of deciding not to do what's right. This is why Aquinas tells us that the material difference between a sin of omission and a sin of commission is the same as the material difference between stabbing someone and strangling them. Which is to say, not fucking much.

But what did he know.

When Mitt Romney says "effectively" what he means is "the thing and its opposite." The way, in the Michigan primary, he could claim his business experience -- downsizing companies -- gave him the expertise to create jobs.


Saturday, in Lakeland, Florida, Mitt Romney "effectively" ate some Kentucky Fried Chicken. ("Yeeee-haaaa! See, Clem! He is one'a us after all!") The problem with this brilliant photo opportunity was a lack of advance planning. No one phoned ahead to make sure there was broiled chicken available. So when the Governor got to the counter he had to eat fried. Which, as you might guess, was about as appealing to him as human contact with poor people.

He peeled the skin off with a plastic knife and fork, and threw it away.

Which reminded me of something Norman Mailer wrote in 1962:

"The worst story I ever heard about Jack Kennedy was that he sat on his boat one day eating chicken and threw the half-chewed bones into the sea.

"So few people understand what I mean it forces me to explain that you don't give the carcass of an animal to the water. It was meant to seep back into the earth...

"Throwing a chicken bone into the sea is bad because it shows no feeling for the root of death, which is burial. Of course Kennedy might have muttered, "Sorry, old man," as he tossed the bone. That is the difficulty with anecdotes. One cannot determine the nuance. I have the conceit that if I had been there I might have sensed whether Kennedy was genuinely rueful, oblivious to the fact, or acting like a dick."

That's the difficulty with anecdotes, all right. Nuance. But we know exactly what Mitt Romney said over his bird:

"This is healthy," he announced to the press. "I take the skin off. I'm taking off the fried and the skin. Underneath it is plain old chicken."

Why did the candidate think this was worth explaining? (I'm obsessed with the guy, and even I don't care.) So why?

Because he was proudly performing the ultimate Mitt Romney act: He was eating fried chicken while not eating fried chicken.

He was taking two sides of a biological function.

I was effectively pro-choice, but that's only because I don't care about human life, one way or the other. As a general rule, I ask the same hard moral questions a lobster does.

"No, Dad, I did not have a party. I effectively let my friends come over and drink all your booze."