Vaporware is so easily debugged and upgraded: The Romney pivot

Romney’s phony pivot to the center.

I am still fuming about last night’s debate. I am angry with President Obama for his poor defense of a worthy record in difficult times. I am angry with moderator Jim Lehrer, whose failures to preside over the proceedings resembled those of a hapless replacement referee.

Most of all, I am angry with Mitt Romney, who repeatedly presented false or misleading claims about taxes, health policy, and other matters. He’s gained a tactical boost in the past two days by rhetorically pivoting to the center. Just today he walked back his 47 percent remark. That’s the right and obvious play. It’s also way out of keeping with what Romney’s been doing and saying all year, and what his political base will demand if he were to win election.

Before and during the Republican primaries, Romney embraced yet another round of supply-side tax cuts which independent experts find would mainly benefit the wealthy while either exploding the deficit or raising middle-class taxes. He favored repeal of health reform, which would prevent about 30 million people from obtaining health insurance coverage. He embraced deep cuts in the domestic discretionary component of the federal government. He embraced the conversion of Medicare from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution program that would quite intentionally shift costs and risks onto seniors. In the primaries, Romney ran to the right of Rick Perry to embraced deeply intolerant policies on immigration. (Remember all that self-deportation stuff?)  Romney took similar emphatic stands on reproductive rights, gays in the military, and more. He appointed Paul Ryan as his running mate, too.

The Romney campaign has followed a deliberate strategy of provided very little detail regarding the most politically sensitive fiscal policies.  How will we constrain Medicare cost growth? The magic of competition will obviate the need for any actual tradeoffs. Is there any evidence that will work? Don’t need any. The power of competition is self-evident. How will your tax plan work? We’ll lower the rates and broaden the base without specifying which deductions and exemptions will be ruled out. When will you provide the details? We’ll decide that after the election. How would poor, elderly, and disabled Americans deal with $810 billion in Medicaid cut over the next decade? Don’t worry; the states will figure that out. But your party’s 2012 campaign platform is stridently conservative on every issue from tax policy to immigration to gays in the military to abortion, That’s just the platform. Pay no attention.

When details are provided, they never quite seem to hang together. In any event, the details readily shift with political expediency. Here, for example, is the New York Times today on Romney’s health plan:

Mr. Obama said that if Mr. Romney repeals his health care law, insurers would no longer be required to provide coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems. Mr. Romney countered that “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.”

Mr. Romney made a similar claim in an appearance last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” At the time, he said, “I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform. Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I’m going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”

But Mr. Romney’s aides later clarified that he would only explicitly guarantee insurance for people with pre-existing conditions if they have maintained coverage with no significant lapses. That could exclude millions of Americans with conditions like cancer, heart disease and asthma.[italics added]

This is no small issue. Tens of millions of Americans have lapses in their health coverage. Four million are uninsured and have already been diagnosed with serious medical difficulties such as cancer, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. The Romney campaign is silent on how these Americans would be covered, what kind of financial and regulatory help they would receive, and other essential details. The Romney campaign’s “repeal and replace” and Medicare policy documents are basically the length of this blog post.

The Tax Policy Center, one of the nation’s most respected organizations in its field, performed an extensive analysis which identified serious difficulties with Romney’s tax plan. As Thinkprogress documents, Romney blithely dismissed TPC’s work during the debate:

“I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families. Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it’s completely wrong.” The studies Romney cites actually further prove that Romney would, in fact, have to raise taxes on the middle class if he were to keep his promise not to lose revenue with his tax rate reduction.

Romney surprise debate lurched to the rhetorical center last night was cynical and phony. His tax proposals are what the Tax Policy Center said they are. Reducing capital gains, upper-bracket income and corporate tax breaks would indeed blow a hole in the deficit while providing unnecessary breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Romney’s proposal to cut Medicaid by $810 billion speaks for itself. So does his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

More to the point, the last-minute cosmetic shifts in Romney’s rhetoric are mostly irrelevant. To elect him is to empower conservative congressional Republicans to fill in the fine print of his tax, spending, and health proposals. These are the House Republicans who passed a fiscal year 2013 budget that would sharply curb Medicare and Medicaid, that would also repeal health reform and cut the discretionary component of the federal budget.

The United States has an increasingly parliamentary political system. This election is not about Obama and Romney as individuals. At least it’s not only about them. In domestic policy, anyway, it’s mainly a choice between two broad coalitions.

One coalition seeks to enact social insurance so that we can protect one other against life’s crushing risks. That was the basic message of the Democratic convention in Charlotte. The other coalition profoundly distrusts social insurance “entitlements,” particularly those which tend to channel resources down the income scale.

One coalition embraces (imperfectly) a vision of social inclusion regarding women, race/ethnic and sexual minorities. The other profoundly distrusts the multi-race/ethnic, culturally diverse trajectory of American life.

One coalition embraces (imperfectly) policies to curb inequality and to tackle tasks such as environmental protection that would otherwise be left undone by a minimally-regulated economy. The other coalition profoundly resists such economic policies and often regards concerns about rising inequality as simple hatred of economic success.

Republicans have spent the past four years making their position clear on each of the above matters. President Obama is much closer to the political center than his Republican opponents are. Yet he certainly presents a liberal vision.

Which governing vision do you prefer? That’s the choice. No Etch-a-Sketch can conceal that.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

25 thoughts on “Vaporware is so easily debugged and upgraded: The Romney pivot”

    1. Lies repeated are actually not truth. To turn 180 degrees from all your previous statements, and say you agree with the President, is disingenuous at best. In truth, Romney is just what we all thought he is. A person who will do anything, and say anything, and promise anything, just to be President. It is pathetic. Reminds me a bit of W, who, we are told, wanted to do justice to his father’s legacy. There’s more than a bit of that in Slick Willard. Just because you WANT to be Prez doesn’t mean we should elect you. At least you could stand for something, as opposed to trying to convince us that you share many values with the President. Maybe you did – – for the duration of the debate. But not at any other time.

      There’s not much to be gained by electing a deceitful liar to office. That is what Romney has openly shown himself to be. Go back to Bain and leave us alone!

  1. This is not the place to vent your frustrations, just admit, Romney is the clear logical choice!

    1. Depends on your definition of logic. If it is logical to change your position every ten minutes, then fine. Romney is the logical choice.

      If your definition of logic has to do with being logical, then fine. Romney is obviously NOT your choice.

  2. In my opinion both Romney and Obama are poor choices and it scares me that we put ourselves in this position. Four years ago I was so excited to see “change” and believed most of what was promised, so I ran to the polls feeling like I could make a difference. Nothing good has happened in the last 4 years! I personally think Ron Paul is what America needs but I am an obvious minority. It would have taken some honesty and whole heartedness from the president to get me to consider voting for him again this year but honestly he seems lost now. The way I see it…anything different at this point cant be any worse then what we have had and I think it is time to get someone new in Washington. I am going to vote for Romney and hope things turn a bit in the next four years for the better. Guess I’m waiting for 2016 now :'( Hopefully we will have some better options…..


      1. Doubling down? As I said in my post I will be trying the alternative this time…


    1. Nothing good has happened in the last 4 years!
      … anything different at this point cant be any worse then what we have had

      If you believe that then you’re either wildly naive or you’re not paying attention (or both).

      Of course, you could voice your displeasure and vote for Ron Paul anyway. Think about how inwardly satisfied you’ll feel afterwards. And who knows, you could be a part of that history that finally destroys the last bit of our social and environmental protections. We don’t need no stinkin’ EPA!

  3. You’re being too hard on Lehrer; He tried, he really did, but a moderator can only help one of the candidates so much before it becomes so blatant that it backfires with all those weenies who think moderators are supposed to be impartial.

    IMO, these ‘debates’ should not feature moderators at all. Just lock the two candidates in sound proof lexan boxes, with a small speaker so they can hear the opponent, and a microphone connected to an electronic timer, so they’re impartially cut off the instant their time runs out. Then let them alternately discuss whatever they like, without the ability to talk over one another. No moderator bias or questions leaked in advance, just two guys going at it verbally under fair, impartial rules.

    Honestly, I miss the League, but I guess they had to go when they dared to include a third party candidate in the debate contrary to their orders from the major parties.

  4. Everybody keeps missing the silver lining here, and I’m serious about this: Romney may very well be a technocratic centrist at heart (such as he has one). He played a conservative for the primaries, but look at his record in Mass… I just don’t think that Romney is as bad as he seems. Granted, he’s no Obama. They’re not in the same league, not close, and never will be. But I don’t think Mittens is as terrible as he seemed during the primaries. He’s a particularly accomplished liar, even by the standards of American politics…but I’m half-tempted to concede that that’s the only way a sane person could get through the gauntlet of a contemporary GOP primary. I can’t get around my worries about his prominent religious position…but I can squint and get around many of my other worries. He’s not a likable person, but I don’t know how weighty that consideration should be.

    And: did he really have an intolerant position on immigration? The only positions I remember hearing from him were on *illegal* immigration…which, granted, is a type of immigration…but… And were they intolerant? I’m not sure I agreed with them, but I don’t remember them being properly described as intolerant. Unless you mean something just like “not notably tolerant” or “not particularly permissive.” But ‘intolerant’ means something more nefarious. But I might just not be remembering properly.

    1. Do you think Romney would have been so centrist in MA if he had been facing a Republican legislature there instead? Me neither. I think he’s the Zelig of politicians. He adopts the views of whoever is standing closest to him. That’s potentially dangerous (see GWB).

  5. Winston,
    I don’t disagree with a thing you’ve said. Having said that, I’ve only voted for one Democratic presidential candidate (Jimmy Carter, twice.) I’ve only voted against the electoral college twice (Jimmy Carter’s 2nd term and Obama.) I plan on voting for Obama in a few weeks. I don’t count the last two years against Obama, but against the obstructionist republican congress. (As you know, the opposite of progress is congress.) I’ll admit I was wrong four years ago and progress takes a long, long, long, time.

  6. One can only hope the President’s spin team is right and Obama was letting Mitt freely lie to get more info for attack ads. Plus it had to take the patience of Job to not sigh, roll eyes argue like Al Gore did in 2000. I am trying to think of the President’s performance as the debate equivalent of Ali’s rope-a-dope. The expectations going into the town hall debate, clearly an Obama strength and Romney weakness, will be higher for the Governor than they would have been with a poor showing this week.

    The President needs a KO at the next debate. “The Horror in Hempstead?”

  7. Tim,
    W is two more errors on my record, but who knew the apple could fall so far from the tree? And then 9/11.

    Bob, I agree with your first point, but on the second, what ever happened to Occupy Wall Street? They need to camp out in Romney’s face.

    1. Occupy Wall Street has been brutally suppressed by police all over America. Unlike the Tea Party, OWS has no partisan political organizing leadership. I wish they did. I’d love to see them camping out in Romney’s face.

  8. The coalition part is important here. Even if for a moment you took leave of your senses and thoughts that Romney believed with all his heart those centrist things he’s now saying (and was secretly hanging his head in shame for the 47% speech and all the other loony-right things he’s preached up til now) You’d have to remember that President Romney would be faced with a House led by Cantor and Boehner and a Senate led by McConnell and DeMint. Any attempt to enact a centrist platform would be strangled in its crib.

    1. Yes, the system seems to be stacked against the centrist. The one thing we have in our favor is the “flywheel effect” of three classes of six year terms for senators, and when the senators aren’t senatorial, finding the effect is like trying to sort out the fly dung from your pepper.

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