Somewhere in the Republican presidential nominee is the sensible, data-driven moderate that the Bay State knew as governor. But it may also be that Massachusetts didn’t know Mitt Romney very well, after all. Stuck in a party far to his right, Romney made a fateful bargain to adopt sharply conservative positions, and then start clawing back. Now, voters have no way of knowing what kind of president he’d be.
Romney touted his health plan as a national model, then claimed that states should devise their own solutions. Lately, he’s talked about another federal plan.
In the primaries, Romney catered to the right by promising to cut income-tax rates by an extra 20 percent beyond the extension of the Bush cuts. Now, he cagily claims he’d pay for it by cutting loopholes that don’t strike the middle class, which is mathematically impossible; this additional tax cut, far larger than Bush’s, should erase any notion that Romney is a fiscal conservative. His “moral” pledge to cut the debt is worth nothing without a workable plan.
On foreign policy, voters should worry about the bellicose tone Romney struck for most of the campaign, about his history of offending allies such as Great Britain, and his promise of “no daylight” between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has beat the drum too strongly for war with Iran. Yet voters should also worry about Romney’s abrupt shift away from many of the positions he held quite recently. During the foreign-policy debate last week, Romney was suddenly hard-pressed to identify any serious differences with Obama.
Identifying the real Romney on any major issue — social, economic, or foreign — is impossible. But a president this vulnerable within his party, needing to satisfy a conservative Congress, could never make good on his moderate commitments. Whichever Romney shows up, the Romney years would end up looking a lot like the Bush years.
It shouldn’t happen. Obama set a trap for himself with his “hope and change” campaign of 2008, allowing supporters to look beyond his actual promises — which have been mostly fulfilled — and project their own gauzy expectations onto him. Obama hasn’t been the Moses-like character some imagined. Instead, he’s worked tirelessly to undo a series of disasters that preceded him, while pushing forward on health and education. If he’s reelected, amid signs of new life in the job and housing markets, Obama can again be the transformative figure that Washington so desperately needs.