Steve Chapman

Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have many differences and something in common: Each governed a liberal place, and each, while in office, often sided with liberals on particular issues. They are both making the presidential campaign more entertaining through strenuous but unconvincing attempts to live down those youthful indiscretions.

Lately they have been arguing over the line-item veto, which lets a president excise individual spending programs without killing an entire bill. Romney faults Giuliani for going to court to challenge the line-item veto enacted under President Clinton, and Giuliani insists he couldn't tolerate this well-meaning law because of his deep respect for the Constitution.

In last week's debate, Romney declared, "The best tool the president has had is a line-item veto. And Mayor Giuliani took the line-item veto that the president had all the way to the Supreme Court and took it away from the president of the United States. I think that was a mistake."

Giuliani said it was not a matter of loving spending cuts less but loving the Constitution more. "The line-item veto was unconstitutional," he replied. "What the heck can you do about that, if you're a strict constructionist?"

Romney has proven time and again that if he has to look ridiculous to become president, he's willing to make the sacrifice. No position he took in the past was so firm or clear that he is not willing to abandon it like a burning car. Abortion, gay rights, immigration, gun control -- you name it, he's argued it either way.

But his latest venture puts him in an even odder position. When the Supreme Court struck down the line-item veto, he insisted, only two people applauded -- Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Giuliani.

Not exactly. Contrary to Romney's recollection, it was not Giuliani who took away the line-item veto but the Supreme Court. Among the justices who voted to strike it down were two justices revered on the right: William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas.

They voted that way because the line-item veto defied the clear intent of the framers -- who stipulated that the president may sign a bill or veto a bill, but may not sign the whole and then veto a part, as this measure allowed. Anytime a Republican presidential candidate floats the proposition that Clarence Thomas is not conservative enough on matters of constitutional interpretation, he's not doing himself any favors.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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