|God Bless America!
People are accustomed to politicians stretching the truth. Voters understand that politicians exaggerate their achievements and minimize the accomplishments of their opponents. In the past, people have expected the press to pierce the fictional claims and force truth to surface. But the public also once expected candidates to have the character and integrity to stand boldly and firmly in support of their own core principles.
Apparently Mitt Romney determined that the old standard would not work for him. With the emergence of the Tea Party as a force in the Republican Party, he accurately concluded that he would not win the nomination with a politically moderate approach. However, extreme positions on issues would cause him to lose the final election. Moderates and independents would not be inclined to support the Tea Party standard bearer.
Romney often touts his talent as a successful businessman. Those skills helped him establish his approach to the presidency. The act of defining his positions as a candidate was merely an exercise in marketing. After research to determine the attitudes of relevant constituencies, Romney would then adopt positions most likely to be successful. The problem was how to pivot away from those positions after the primary.
Romney’s aid, Eric Fehrnstrom, casually provided the answer. Like the children’s Etch A Sketch toy, you simply erase the past positions and create a new reality. While it is not unusual for a politician to change his position on an issue as circumstances might require, a massive Etch A Sketch change is novel.
In a democratic government, the electorate has a responsibility to force candidates to declare their posture on issues. It would be unacceptable for a candidate to conceal his views and pivot at will. Even as the presidential election approached its final days, many voters were still uncertain where Romney stood on any major issue.
This is a disturbing precedent. However, future political aspirants would be unwise to rely on the Romney strategy because he had a rare advantage that will be unavailable to others in the future. Judging from the persistence of the birthers and their ilk, there was a substantial constituency willing to support anyone but Obama.
Surprisingly, the anti-Obama hostility continued to be strong even after it was revealed that Romney had little respect for 47 percent of Americans. At a fundraiser for wealthy backers in Boca Raton, Romney claimed that 47 percent of American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. These people “… pay no income taxes” and “ are dependent upon government, … believe they are victims, … believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, [and] believe they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing …” He allowed that this group of 47 percent of Americans was not his concern.
The career of most politicians would be over after such a declaration of antipathy for half the voters. What sustained the Romney campaign despite such a declaration? If racial prejudice toward President Obama was a significant factor, America has a larger racial problem than is generally believed.
The role of the press has also been deficient in this campaign. There is a long list of achievements of the Obama administration during the past four years, but the press has not aggressively publicized them. The focus has too often been on conflicts. This made it easier for Romney to assert from time to time that there has been little achievement in Obama’s first term.
As issues become more complex, the press will have to be sufficiently knowledgeable and journalistically competent to inform the people. Without adequate public information, democracy will suffer. And the press must be relied on to force candidates for high office to declare with clarity where they stand.