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Mitt Romney’s Republican rivals have called him a weak candidate. Their motives are purely political, and wrong, but they’ve got the label right.
Romney’s constant backpedaling on issues he once supported, like universal health care, has given the impression of a man without a center. The most recent episode came during an interview with an Ohio news network in which Romney said he did not support a bill sponsored by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt that would allow employers to deny coverage of their employees contraceptive care on religious grounds. The bill was in response to an Obama administration mandate that employers pay for their employees’ birth control needs.
Romney said, correctly, that the presidential primaries needed to be about bigger things than birth control. “I’m not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I’m not going there,” was his response to the question.
But later that same day, Romney reversed his position. During an interview with a reporter for the Boston Herald, Romney said he had “always” supported the bill. When questioned about the sudden change, his aids claimed that he had misunderstood the earlier question. Transcripts of the Ohio interview clearly show that the reporter had accurately described the bill and the reasoning behind it.
Romney’s flip flops on controversial issues to appease conservative voters have become so commonplace that they’re no longer front page news. But a few days later, on the same question of employer support for employee birth control costs, Romney took another nose dive which could, and should, come back to haunt him if he manages to actually win the Republican nomination.
In response to a Georgetown Law School student, Sandra Fluke, who had testified before Congress that employers should pay for their workers’ contraceptive care, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Worse, Limbaugh suggested that Fluke should post videos of herself having sex on YouTube, “…so we can all watch.”
When a reporter asked Romney to comment on Limbaugh’s rant, how did the Republican frontrunner and would-be leader of the American people respond?
“Not the words I would have used,” said Romney.
That almost sounds as if Romney agrees with Limbaugh’s deeply offensive comments. He would have just used less colorful language. Or does Romney believe, as is probably the case, that women who testify before the US Congress should not be subjected to vile, personal attacks by conservative media celebrities?
We’ll never know what Romney actually thinks about Limbaugh’s comments, and that’s not okay. Romney’s defenders point out that Limbaugh is just a right wing radio shock jock whose job is to sell advertising by vilifying Democrats, liberals, intellectuals, and all others who disagree with his angry, narrow world view. He’s not a politician or presidential contender, so it made no sense for Romney to take him on.
But Limbaugh is also one of the most influential opinion leaders of the Republican party. Romney should have had the courage to clearly and unequivocally condemn Limbaugh’s comments. He might have alienated ultraconservative voters who enjoy Limbaugh’s witless drivel, but he would have demonstrated to millions of American women, Democrats and Republicans, who were deeply offended by Limbaugh’s sexist comments that he has the backbone to do the right thing when necessary. Instead, Romney wimped out by uttering the most neutral, noncommittal comment his staffers could concoct.
If Romney can’t put politics aside for one moment and stand up to a bully like Limbaugh, who will he stand up to? He may be the best choice among the three remaining Republican contenders, but so far Romney has shown little of the leadership and judgment necessary for the office he aspires to.
Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore