In the Meredith Wilson musical "The Music Man," a small Iowan town faces the sinister wiles of a big city con man, Harold Hill. In introducing themselves, they sing, "We could stand touchin' noses / For a week at a time / And never see eye-to-eye. But what the heck, you're welcome, / Join us at the picnic. You can eat your fill / Of all the food you bring yourself."
By the end of Act Two, Hill has suckered these poor rubes into buying into his scheme. He's done it by pretending to be one of them, by warning them of the evils of big city ways and by speaking on behalf of their innocent children.
These days, Harold Hill goes by a different name: Mitt Romney.
Throughout the Republican debates, Romney has somehow suckered much of the conservative world into believing that he is a solid fiscal, social and foreign policy conservative. He says many of the right things -- though he looks supremely uncomfortable saying them -- and this has been enough to send the GOP establishment, which loves a blue state Republican, into spasms of ecstasy.
But as my dad told me when I was 10 years old: Don't watch what people say, watch what they do. And what Mitt Romney did when he had power in Massachusetts wasn't just non-conservative -- it was all out liberal. Let's leave aside, for the moment, the fact that he tried to run to Teddy Kennedy's left in 1994 on major issues including gay rights; let's leave aside the fact that he disowned Ronald Reagan during that same run. Let's just focus on what Romney did as governor of a major state from 2003-2007, with particular emphasis on the tasks he'd be performing as president of the United States.
First off, he raised taxes. He called these fees, but Romney's push for a balanced budget meant that he proposed raising tuition at state schools; he raised fees for buying a home; jacked up fees to receive a certificate of blindness (that's right, he tried to place a stumbling fee in front of the blind); raised corporate taxes; tried to raise fees for driver's licenses, marriage licenses and gun licenses; and increased a special gasoline fee. Romney may now take a harsh anti-tax stance -- but when he faces deficits that dwarf what he faced in Massachusetts, why wouldn't he apply the same solutions he did then?
Second, Romney rammed through Romneycare. At a time when his state was going bankrupt, he decided -- like President Obama -- that the most important problem was lack of affordable private sector healthcare. To be fair, Romney was under a fair bit of pressure from the federal government to raise healthcare coverage for uninsured patients. But the solution to that problem wasn't an individual mandate. Nonetheless, that's precisely the solution Romney hit upon, and with the support of Teddy Kennedy, made it happen. Predictably enough, the cure was worse than the disease -- Massachusetts has nearly bankrupted itself in order to pay for Romneycare and made itself even more dependent on the federal government.
Third, on social issues, Romney was about as strong a social conservative as RuPaul would have been. In May 2004, he told town officials across Massachusetts to start issuing marriage licenses for two men or two women. He also signed into law one of the most restrictive anti-gun measures in state history. When it came to appointing conservative judges, Romney failed miserably -- at the end of his term, he actually refused to fill certain vacancies, leaving them to be filled by his liberal successor. According to the Boston Globe, a 2005 review of Romney's appointments showed that he had "passed over GOP lawyers for three-quarters of the 36 judicial vacancies he has faced, instead tapping registered Democrats or independents including two gay lawyers who have supported expanded same-sex rights.''
I hear the New York conservative chorus shouting desperately from the wings: "But he was faking it!"
If he was faking it, he's an Oscar-caliber conservative. What the record reveals isn't a conservative attempting to play nice with liberals only to sucker-punch them with right-wing policy that works. The record shows that Romney was willing to change positions repeatedly in order to attain power, and once in power, he was willing to change positions repeatedly in order to maximize it. His road to Damascus conversions on abortion, taxation and other key issues are always conveniently timed to allow him to make a play for the most valuable audience.
Does that make him the "most electable"? Only if you believe, as many conservatives do, that conservatism is a losing argument on a national level. The country has moved consistently to the left since 1928. There's a reason for that: While liberals run unabashed liberals, conservatives run half-liberal candidates. In a time when further liberalism of any sort will destroy America's future, half-liberal measures are no solution. Nominating Mitt Romney would be a betrayal not only of conservatism but also of the greatest opportunity for resurrection of American greatness in a century.
Which brings us back to Iowa. By the end of "The Music Man," Iowans have changed Harold Hill rather than the other way around -- Hill has become a small-town values conservative. But Mitt Romney is not Harold Hill. He was, is and always will be a politician of convenience. If Iowans don't recognize that threat, they'll be undercutting their own case to lead off the primary season and buying into conventional wisdom instead of standing up for themselves. They'd no longer be Iowa stubborn -- they'd be Iowa pushovers.
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