Thursday, March 15, 2012

Flipping Burghers

So what to make of this latest Mitt Romney doublespeak?

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday he does not want to close Planned Parenthood, just strip it of federal money. Romney’s comments were the subject of Democratic attacks after he said he wanted to “get rid” of the organization.

“Planned Parenthood is a private organization. What I want to get rid of is the federal funding of Planned Parenthood,” Romney said in an interview.

[...] Discussing reducing the debt in a St. Louis TV interview {Tuesday}, Romney said, “Is the program so critical, it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that’s the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I’d eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

You know, that's a fair criterion for judging whether a program is worth it or not: can we afford it? Is it worth borrowing from China (and owing them indefinitely) to fund a program?

It's not the criterion I would choose to judge programs that don't necessarily fall into line in a cost-benefit analysis matrix, like any social program like the NEA or Constitutional mandate like voter rights or interstate trade, but it's a platform that has some logic to it and at least allows us to have a debate that goes beyond "Well, what are you basing this judgement on?"

But that's a digression and a different column, allowing another nation to dictate domestic policy. I want to look more closely at this Planned Parenthood flip-flop.

His initial comment in the Tuesday interview, where he says he'll "get rid of" Planned Parenthood, some have said, was a dog-whistle to the evangelical right, which of course views Planned Parenthood as an abortion vehicle only.

I don't agree with this assessment. I think ol' Mitt just got caught up in his elocution lessons and tried to come up with a trifecta of get-rid-ofs in the time honored tradition of reinforcing the message with repetition. His mouth got ahead of his mind (admittedly, not a hard thing to do.)

His walk-back yesterday will have genuine repercussions in that same evanglical community, of course, those who misinterpreted the gaffe as a sign Mitt was moving closer to their views.

If Mitt was capable of such subtlety, we would have seen signs of it long ago. His walk-back comments suggest to me he either genuinely made a gaffe in the first place, or realized he had pandered to the wrong audience. Since evangelicals are not, have not been and never will be his base, this seems to be an unlikely situation. He clearly intended this for the general electorate.

Of course, the logic of de-funding Planned Parenthood has its own complications, if you're looking to stop borrowing money from the Chinese who have their own rather liberal birth control & abortion policies as they try to limit their burgeoning population with their "One Child Policy."

If you can call forced sterlizations and forced abortions "liberal."

Indeed, it strikes me that China would be less likely to loan us a lot money for healthcare for babies born out of wedlock than a few bucks to prevent those pregnancies in the first place.

Mitt made a gaffe, and in trying to fix it, nuanced himself into a corner. If I was Mitt's campaign manager, I'd be figuring out ways to keep him away from microphones. Let the prepared commercials do the talking, because right now, they're spending money to win back lost ground.