There’s a myth in the right-wing-o-sphere that President Obama was never fully vetted. “We don’t know ANYTHING about this guy!” they’ll say, and in the same breath make fun of the fact he wrote two autobiographies. My answer to this is always: “He ran against a Clinton.” Any skeletons, dirt, deal killers or weaknesses were dug up, dragged out and made public during their exhaustive primary. In spite of all of this Obama still won the nomination of his party. He won against a Clinton; a distinction not too many people have.
You’ll still hear Obama detractors say they don’t know him. “The president still doesn’t have an agenda for a second term,” said Mitt Romney last week. The president has laid out his plan for a second term during his convention speech, stump speeches, interviews — there’s even a brochure. But the Right claims it’s Obama who’s being cryptic. Secretive. There’s a scandal-obsessed media — an entire industry ready to pounce on the slightest misstep of any notable but somehow they’ve all conspired to protect Obama from scrutiny.
But as far as Romney goes, I really don’t know who this dude is: I’ve watched dozens of speeches, read hundreds of articles and sat through 23 national debates and I can’t tell you where Romney stands on any issue. And it’s not for lack of trying or just general contempt (which I suspect is the reason some on the right feign ignorance of Obama’s positions), it’s from too many answers to every question. I had assumed Romney was just going to sell himself as the opposite of Obama. I based this on his odd claim that he will repeal ObamaCare, the health care law modeled after the reforms Romney implemented while governor of Massachusetts. That seems arbitrary rather than reasoned policy, so I expected that would be the theme: Romney the not-Obama.
“The president has communicated weakness,” says Romney on Obama’s foreign policy. But then during the foreign policy debate-in-name-only Romney happily agreed with Obama on everything from the withdrawal date in Afghanistan to drone strikes. On Egypt: “I believe, as the president indicated, and said at the time that I supported his — his action there,” relayed Romney.
Romney has mainly been running against himself on YouTube. For every position he’s held, he’s also fervently held the opposite — effortlessly switching sans explanation. He’s a candidate who was for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, then against it, then neutral. He’s been both for and against minimum wage increases; for and against the auto bail out; for and against gun control; for and against the Bush Tax Cuts; for and against a woman’s right to choose; for and against more tax cuts; for and against Reagan.
I was asked to speak at a high school a few weeks ago and the civics students earnestly wanted to know where Romney stood on the issues and I really wanted to help them. One of the teachers asked if it’s more instructive to look at what Romney says when he thinks there’s no camera or when he knows there is one. I told him it might be the former. But I’m not sure. Mainly I just threw my hands up and said, “Look, I’m not a spokesperson for his campaign.”
You can’t go by what Romney has said because he’s said a lot of things … most of which contradict each other. You can’t go by his record because it’s even further from what he’s said (he never raised taxes while governor just tons of “fees”). What’s left is a debate over what you think he might mean versus what he really might mean. If you value evidence at all — this is “sketchy” territory. It’s all speculation and reading between the lies.
Yet everyone seems to have their theory as to who the real Romney is: He’s a moderate — he’s a hard-line right-winger — he’s a vulture capitalist — peacenik, etc. But who is he really? What would he actually do as president? He’s untethered from all his former statements (including ones made minutes ago) so it’s anyone’s guess.
Because Romney has been on all sides of every issue, he’s lined up perfectly with his opponent at one time or another. The only way Romney has been clear is by diluting his positions beyond recognition. Just by continuing to say inconsistent things (and plenty of them) the only thing we can all be certain of is he’s not Obama.
It’s an intellectual impossibility to vote for Romney because there’s no telling what he’s actually for. He really is just a not-Obama.