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Thursday, March 8, 2012
A Decision, and Things Which Didn't Affect It Much

Last time I described things which affect my choice of a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. This time I discuss things which don't affect my decision much. Then, having told you the why's and not-why's, I tell you whom -- that is, whom I've finally decided to support.

Last time I listed some things I've been wanting in presidential candidates the next president. Having read that, you may wonder about other things that are important to me or to conservatives generally, but which I didn't mention as factors in my voting decision. I also promised to tell you whom I've decided to support, for whatever that's worth.

This and the previous post are essentially a compressed chronicle of my decision process. It's compressed because I've taken my time -- months -- to watch, listen, and ponder, and then I've shoehorned all of this into a pair of blog posts, mere days after seeing for myself where the process led. Along the way, I've flirted with the thought that Rick Perry might be presidential material, listened to Ron Paul more than before, pondered whether Newt Gingrich's assets might sufficiently outweigh his liabilities, and so forth.

What About . . . ?

I didn't say much last time about the rule of law and the idea that the Constitution's words actually mean something. Commitment to these is crucial, a deal-breaker for me. It's hard to make fine distinctions based on media hype and campaign spin, without seeing actual job performance, but I'm satisfied that our constitutional government would be far safer in the hands of any surviving Republican candidate than it has been or would be in the incumbent 's custody.

I am mostly conservative in my views, and I'd like my candidate to reflect that, but I'm not looking for the "most conservative" candidate, or the "real conservative" among counterfeits. There's no liberal in the Republican field. I'm not sure there's a real moderate. But it's more than that. I've heard serious people call each of the remaining candidates the "most conservative," the "least conservative," the "only real conservative," and "not a real conservative." The labels have become useless. I'm just looking for someone to lead us back toward limited, constitutional government; toward the healthy and responsible idea that government isn't the answer to every problem; toward renewed economic freedom and prosperity; and toward a political climate that is less toxic to basic American freedoms, especially religious freedom.

Reality (including Governing) Is Messy

Some things trouble many others, but not me. As I list them, remember that I've never been a Tea Partier, despite being very glad for the movement's rise.

I am untroubled by Mitt Romney's much-ballyhooed flip-flops, for at least three reasons.

First, actual governing -- representing all the people, not just the ones who voted for you -- is a complicated balancing act. This is lost on many voters, but not on most experienced elected officials.

Second, Romney's well-established voracious appetite for data, analysis, and opposing arguments strikes me as a great strength. It would be useless if he never changed his mind or adjusted his opinions in response to the data.

Romney began his political career personally opposed to abortion, but declaring that it was a matter for personal choice. Later, as he studied the issue of stem cell research, he changed his mind. I like this for a reason which may seem strange: If learning about a subject can affect his views, then I am less troubled by his concern over climate change. I am optimistic that he will learn to discern between the scientific aspects of climate change and the unscientific, dogmatic, ideological aspects which dominate current discourse and threaten further loss of freedom.

Third, if someone's views have become more conservative, as he has accumulated experience in politics and government, why should that offend conservatives?

I am equally untroubled by Rick Santorum's endorsement several years ago of liberal Arlen Specter, who was then a Republican senator. In exchange for his endorsement, Santorum extracted a promise from Specter to support conservative judicial nominees -- which he did. That's a win for conservatives, not a betrayal.

This is not to say that I favor everything Romney and Santorum did in office, but I've never agreed with everything anyone did in elective office.

Quick Hits

I don't care that a candidate has great hair, or even has hair. I don't care about a candidate's gender.

I care little about random gaffes along the campaign trail. I just don't enjoy "gotcha" as much as some others do, or as much as I used to.

I do like a candidate and president to be articulate, with or without a teleprompter. The remaining candidates are at least adequate on this point, not to mention well-practiced, so it's not tipping the balance for me at all.

I don't give a proverbial rodent's hindquarters about a candidate's religious affiliation. Technically, I don't care if a candidate has no religious affiliation whatsoever. The salvation of the soul is a very important matter, but it's personal, not political. I do think it's nice for a candidate to offer some evidence that he knows, or at least suspects, that he himself is not God; believers and unbelievers alike can do this.

I expect a firm, intelligent commitment to religious liberty, on which point I'm more or less content with all four remaining candidates.


A promise to repeal ObamaCare is not negotiable, but it doesn't differentiate the Republican candidates.

Some of Romney's opponents have embraced the Democrats' not-so-subtle hints that ObamaCare is the direct descendant of RomneyCare, which supposedly brands Romney a liberal and makes him indistiguishable from President Obama. But it's not, and he's not. First, RomneyCare happened at the state level, and the US Constitution reserves broad powers to the states that it denies the federal government. Second, there are some essential differences in what was done and why. We typically don't hear that the federal government was threatening to cut $385 milion in Medicaid funding, if Massachusetts did not reduce the number of uninsured. Nor are we often reminded that reducing the number of health care "freeloaders" was (and probably still should be) an important conservative cause.

Robert P. Kirchhoefer's recent piece comparing ObamaCare and RomneyCare is excellent. He reminds us that RomneyCare was based on personal responsibility and was a conservative approach to a specific problem. Even the Heritage Foundation liked it.

As stated by Romney back then, "you will be free to choose but your choices will have consequences." Buy insurance or pay for your healthcare. Romney's goal was finite and simple: to require the few who were sapping the Massachusetts' taxpayers to ultimately pay for healthcare either by paying the state or by paying an insurance provider. These people who had no health insurance -- fewer than 10% in Massachusetts -- would now have to contribute if they wanted healthcare. That was it. Insurance companies were not nationalized. Massachusetts did not become the default healthcare provider in that state. It . . . was seen as bold and it was the kind of "outside the box" thinking that many from both Parties admired. Newt included.

This understanding (not this particular article) lays the issue to rest for me. If it didn't, I would next wonder to what degree Governor Romney got what he wanted in the original legislation. Then I would wonder how the program evolved after he signed the bill. Reality is messy, and so is legislation.

Earmarks, Debt Limit Ceilings, Immigration, Etc.

 You can't kick me out of a Tea Party I was never in, but here are some reasons you might want to.

Earmarks are so far down my list of national crises right now that they're not even on the radar screen. I'm not persuaded that all earmarking is evil, anyway, though I readily concede that some of it is excessive and abusive. In any case, the abuse is a symptom, not the disease.

Lately, ideologues (including many who haven't held significant elective office) are quick to condemn candidates who ever voted for debt ceiling extensions, unbalanced budgets, and the like. Many of these ideologues are so new to politics that they either didn't notice or didn't protest these grave offenses at the time. They don't seem to realize that the political and fiscal landscape looked quite different just a few years ago, to both liberals and conservatives. It was different. There was still opportunity for less drastic course corrections to avert disaster, still hope that some compromises might lead to real solutions -- or at least not lead away from real solutions. Not even hindsight is 20/20, especially when filtered by electoral zeal.

Some conservatives want nothing to do with anything less severe than a swift death sentence for Social Security, Medicare, and other so-called entitlements. I'll agree that such programs are unwise and virtually certain to break the bank eventually. But, right or wrong, we made a commitment to people and took their money for decades, with the promise that Social Security and Medicare would be there for them. Wisely or not, people planned their lives accordingly. We must meet that commitment as completely as we rationally can, while still radically revising our system (and our sense) of entitlement, so that it stops bankrupting us and doesn't bankrupt future generations. We need entitlement reform -- drastic entitlement reform -- but the geriatric equivalent of "Nuke 'em all and let the Lord decide" is not a good model for responsible and humane reform.

Then there's illegal immigration, where our discourse is so poisoned that it's hard to have a rational conversation at all. This issue doesn't seem as big in the 2012 presidential race as it has been recently. Maybe that's because President Obama has made more progress than any president in recent history in turning back the tide of illegal immigration. That's not a badge of honor. I used to joke that he could solve the problem by trashing the economy so thoroughly that no one would want to come or stay here illegally. Things haven't decayed quite that far yet, but it turns out not to have been a joke at all.

That said, you won't find me discarding a candidate because right-wingers call his approach to illegal immigration "amnesty." They call everything amnesty, at least everything short of immediate, universal exile. I oppose real amnesty, but I'm too well acquainted with my dictionary to agree with the zealots. We can do better. Cattle cars and barbed wire are not the right image for a free country.

So . . . Whom?

I didn't begin the election cycle with a favorite candidate in mind. I was not a Romney or Huntsman supporter, despite my religion and state of residence. For a while I thought Rick Perry might be promising; some good things have been happening in Texas. From the beginning I thought Rick Santorum might be a compelling candidate, due to the quality of his thinking, and I'm pleased and surprised at how well he's done to date. (This is based on my experience directly with his words, not what the media says about him.)

Now, however, after considering all sorts of things, as you have seen . . . I find myself supporting Mitt Romney.

I think he can win both the nomination and the White House. T his is more than mere resignation, laced with desperate hope. I don't feel the old pro-Reagan enthusiasm of 1976, 1980, and 1984, but I like Romney as a presidential candidate better than I have liked any Republican nominee since 1992, and I expect that, like George H. W. Bush, he'll be a much better president than presidential candidate.

What I Expect

There's a long road ahead.

This one's for all the marbles, and everybody knows it. It will get ugly and stay ugly. We will see brute force from the Democracts, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote -- figuratively in most cases, but sometimes literally, I expect, where certain unions are involved. We'll see a lot more of the familiar class warfare, on which see Charles Krauthammer. We'll likely also see an effort to convince millions of gullible voters that Obama is fixing their troubled mortgages, at no cost to them. We'll keep hearing about a Republican war on women, among other fabrications, because they have to change the subject from the economy and Obama's increasingly oppressive regime. They'll go after Romney's religion again, and fellow Republicans' primary attacks will seem mild by comparison.

Along the way, after a long and often bitter primary campaign, Republicans generally will line up behind the nominee. If people like Ann Coulter already think Romney's the guy, he won't be too hard for most other conservatives to swallow in the end.

I am optimistic about the outcome, but it's eight long months until Election Day.

Final Thought

You'll think this is unrelated, but it's not. I still recommend Dave Barry's year-end review of 2011. Among other things, it refreshes the memory about how ridiculous our politics and government have become.

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