Monday, February 4, 2008

McCain vs. Romney, and Flip-Flopping

I know this is a blog about legal and constitutional issues, but sometimes, I just can't help it. I am a political junkie, after all.

Tonight, on the eve of Super Tuesday 2008, angst continues on the conservative right about our front-runner, John McCain. Bloggers, Rush, Hannity and others have been harping on McCain for his feckless conservatism, and with good reason. McCain-Feingold, opposition to the Bush tax cuts, anti-corporate populism and open borders are McCain issues which vex purebreds.

Those who support McCain against Mitt Romney, his only serious remaining competitor in these primaries, have been arguing in various forums that it would be better to support McCain, with all of his faults, than a flip-flopper of such magnitude as Mitt Romney.

Such folks point to Romney's 1994 positions on social issues such as homosexuality and Roe v. Wade as evidence that Romney's views have changed over time. Romney admits as much. Sceptics among this crowd further contend that the changes are born of politics, rather than conviction. We shall talk about this in a moment.

Let me say right now, however, that a political philosophy which is internally consistent at any given time, but whose orientation might have drifted over time, is vastly superior to one which displays absolutely no internal consistency at any time.

Many great thinkers have arrived at their opinions or political convictions over time. No less than the revered Judge Bork dabbled with a curious libertarianism in his early days only to settle on a most conservative and originalist position in his later years. I would not compare this to the rightward drift of Romney, but only suggest it as one example to prove that deeply considered thought may change over time. Indeed, is it not something to be celebrated, rather than decried, that someone's thought might move right, and attain more internal consistency over time? When asked about the changes in his positions, Mitt Romney states something like (I'm paraphrasing), "As I've gotten older, Ronald Reagan certainly has gotten smarter..."

Contrast this, then, with McCain, whose views right now display such inconsistencies as to be an affront to conservatism, the rule of law, the Constitution and good, reasoned thought. How can one defend McCain Feingold, with its attack on first amendment liberties and claim to be a conservative? How can one rail against the "rich get richer" aspect of the Bush tax cuts and claim to be a small government conservative? How could one possibly talk about the life-saving drug companies the way McCain does, and still claim to be a conservative?

Now, it's possible that Romney is just playing us all so that he will get elected. I don't think so, but it's possible. However, what I do know, is that if we elect John McCain, there will be no question: we will be forced to deal with his bizarre, inconsistent, maverick beliefs for four years while he offends us from the highest position of authority in the land. Sorry, but I'll take the former.


Joshua B. Mack said...

I'll agree with your overall point; an ideology that shifts over time but remians internally consistenty if the result of reasoned thought is preferable to an ideology that is internally inconsistent at any given time. However, how is support of a big government program like universal health care consistent with small government? How is a government mandate consistent with individual responsibility? How are fee hikes (taxes) consistent with lower taxation? How is the appointment of judges who view the Constitution as a living document consistent with a textualist view? These are just some of what Romney accomplished as governor from 2003 through 2007. A shift in ideology based on deliberative rethinking of your position is unlikely to occur in the span of 12 months, unless you are running a presidential campaign. I think you have pointed out an important principle, but your application was flawed as to Romney. I do agree with your analysis of McCain. The principle you identify is worthy of a longer paper with a more exact application. It's an interesting way of viewing the candidates.

mfinlay said...

I have sympathy for your arguments, but people have made similar arguments about Ronald Reagan, too.

I don't profess to know a lot of detail about Romney's record, but it is true that he was governor in a profoundly democratic state, and therefore it's possible that he was forced to make compromises from time to time. With regard to his health care plan, that was not a government program, but rather, as you suggest, a government mandate, which is not quite the same thing. With regard to the taxes, it is possible that he, like Huck, perhaps, was faced with a situation wherein non-discretionary spending was rising (because of previous, democratic legislatures) in such a way that it was necessary somehow to raise revenue to keep the government solvent. This is understandable (although disingenuous if he accuses Huck of the same thing).

When I put all this into a blender and mix it up, as a real conservative, I end up liking Mitt better than either McCain or Huck.

Not much, but better.

Joshua B. Mack said...

That's fair. I am not trying to tell you who to vote for. You are right about governing a state as opposed to the federal government, but Romney seems to me to be pretending his record in Mass never happened. He does this by attacking Huck over the same things he did. As for his health care mandate, a mandate is government. The only difference is that government forgos the usual formality of first taking the money into its own account. It is still levying a claim to a portion of your income by telling you how to spend it. I took a close look at his program in Mass and wrote about it here if you are interested:

mfinlay said...

Thanks for the link - I'll take a look. As I said, I don't really profess to know much about Mitt's record - I was really writing about McCain's.

Sounds like we pretty much agree on most things.