Why Not Me?

The talking points over the last few days in the media have included the theme carried forward by Governor Palin at CPAC that some of our GOP candidates may not be as conservative as we’d like.  This is undeniably true, and the particular focus of that criticism heretofore has been Mitt Romney.  People in the media seem aghast at the notion that most mainstream conservatives might question his record as a conservative, but their incredulity may simply be another expression of their basic disconnect from the American people in general.  It’s clear that most of the media is comprised of people who don’t understand why Catholics, and indeed Christians generally, would be so upset by the Obama administration’s attacks on First Amendment protections, but they demonstrate a similar lack of understanding of the questions conservatives are asking about Romney’s supposed conservative credentials.

Let us first stipulate that capitalism and conservatism are two different things, and that corporatism is yet another.  The problem for the mostly leftist media is that they mistake these all as interchangeable, despite the fact that they are distinct. Whether this is journalistic slothfulness, or simply reflects their ideology, what it demonstrates is why they are surprised that so many who are center-right look at Romney’s record and question the veracity of his claim to conservatism. As I have written, and as others including Governor Palin have mentioned, what Romney seems to lack is a conservative instinct, or put another way, he demonstrated a statist reflex while Governor of Massachusetts.  Rather than looking for conservative solutions, most of the programs he introduced merely threw tax-payer funds at problems through the creation of new agencies, bureaus, and commissions, or extending the authorities and responsibilities of those already in existence.  When a politician does this, and reliably so, as was the case in his term as governor, actual conservatives notice and frequently rise in opposition.

Conservatives have gotten wise to the Trojan Horse tendency of liberal Republicans who frequently campaign as conservatives during primaries, but also govern as big government liberals.  Of course, many have noted that Gingrich and Santorum seem to share in at least some of this criticism, and to varying degrees, that could be true, except that Romney’s health-care reform program, widely referred to as “Romneycare” outpaces by leaps and bounds the most unconservative acts of the other two in any reasonable comparison.  This is ultimately the reason the Republicans lost Congress in 2006:  Too many looked at the spending programs of the Bush administration and the GOP-led Congress and concluded they could no longer support what was at the time thought to be egregious spending.  George Bush may have claimed to be a “compassionate conservative,” but his “compassion” was destroying conservatism. All of these adjectives stacked in front of “conservatism” now raise suspicions, but this is why I believe Sarah Palin has begun to say “constitutional conservative” because rather than being vague, it specifies that the conservatism under discussion pays respect to our Constitution.

It’s not that actual conservatives don’t have “compassion,” but that they don’t believe government is the proper conduit for it. What Romney’s record reveals is merely another liberal who simply applies state authority to problem-solving.  There is something fundamentally wrong with the notion that government exists to solve all problems, and it is in this venue that Mitt Romney has shown his tendency toward big government.  Romneycare was merely the most brutally statist of his programs, but it was not nearly the only one, with the absolute buffoonery of the program widely known as “Welfare Wheels” serving as another.   More, in terms of regulation, Romney was only too happy to go along with the latest enviro-fad on the question of carbon, and to use the executive power of his state to push through implementation of ideas that are both anti-growth and anti-human.  If liberals in the press have some confusion about this, it’s no surprise, because they will generally favor such programs and regulations.

Romney’s reflex has been to reach for the power of government as a way to confront most issues.  While the media points to his business experience as evidence of his alleged conservatism, what conservatives know instinctively is that business acumen does not translate into conservatism, or even capitalism, but all too often, corporatism.  Conservatives understand that people who are concerned with the welfare of corporations may be capitalists, but all too frequently, they slide across the line and become crony capitalists.  This is why actual conservatives may not really care very much about Romney’s business experiences, but instead focus on how he governed as a more accurate indicator of what a prospective Romney presidency would be.   On this basis, conservatives don’t like what they see, and it’s here that Romney loses them.

The other problem is that consistent conservatives tend not to be flip-flopping, vacillating, “evolving” thinkers in the sense that they’re open to throwing out all principles in favor of some expediency.   Romney has demonstrated this tendency repeatedly, changing his view on abortion, on global warming, and on gun control, along with a whole host of issues that strongly suggest he doesn’t really have core beliefs, but instead mere transient positions that are exchanged like suits, one each for every audience.  Romney doesn’t seem to hold hard and fast to anything, and this troubles conservatives who wonder: “If we elect him on the basis of his alleged conservatism today, will he tomorrow revert to his big government, corporatist tendencies and stick us with the bill for our trouble?” It’s a perfectly valid question, and Romney’s campaign has as much as admitted that he has changed his positions on some things for exactly this sort of response to political expediencies.

To conservatives, this is as much a problem as anything, apart from the concretes of his positions, because what it means to average Republican voters is that Romney will not be pinned down on anything, and that he will therefore be unreliable.  It’s not as though we haven’t seen this before, after all.  In a recent Fox News interview, Romney said of Palin’s remarks “I’m not quite sure what she’d be referring to, ” but I think it’s pretty clear, and I also think Governor Romney knows it: He touts a record as a conservative, but on so many issues, he has been every bit as liberal as Ted Kennedy.   His campaign has effectively conceded he has changed positions to win office, although it was posited in terms of his shifts to the left as temporary shifts.  This worries conservatives, because what it implies is that he may well do the same with respect to us. Once he secures the nomination, will he suddenly morph from “Conservative” to “Moderate” to “Liberal?”

Many conservative Republicans and Tea Party voters remain skeptical, and the reason the media won’t understand it is simple:  Just as they don’t understand why the contraception controversy is an infringement on the free exercise of religion, since they are generally insincere in their faith, neither can they understand why political positions shouldn’t be fungible depending upon the office one seeks.  It’s ultimately the same thing: For them, values, principles and positions should be as flexible as a weather vane.  The problem is that conservatives don’t believe this is so, and they tend to recoil from any who do.