Two weeks out from the election, Romney attempts to reinvent himself on foreign policy, auto bailout.
Remember that debate two weeks ago? That one was unquestionably won decisively by Mitt Romney? That was the day that a whole new Mitt Romney emerged from this campaign: It signaled the first 2012 appearance of “Moderate Mitt,” as Bill Clinton likes to call him.
That night the President came out lethargic, clearly not ready to spar with an aggressive and confident Republican challenger. Perhaps (probably) he was caught off guard by the sudden and unexpected softening of the Republican on so many issues, ranging from abortion to his compassion for “the 100%.” Obama was expecting to meet the “severe conservative” Mitt Romney on the stage that night in Denver, but instead encountered a whole new Mitt Romney that the nation had never met before. It was quite obvious that the new and improved Mitt Romney 3.0 threw Obama off his game. He didn’t quite know how to react to this brand new model. Consider that after scarcely a word throughout the 2012 presidential campaign about his time as Governor of Massachusetts, suddenly it’s a central talking point?
In the second debate, Obama was ready, and he challenged Mittens on his positions. Moderate Mitt got clubbed around pretty good and Obama came away the victor according to the polls.
Then came last night. “Severe conservative” Mitt was nowhere to be found again. Romney didn’t just run, he sprinted away from the policies he supposedly held so near and dear just a few months ago with the speed that would have made Deion Sanders proud. This time, however, Barack Obama was not about to allow Romney to get away with it.
After months of excoriating the administration for announcing that it would withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, calling the announcement “misguided,” suddenly he’s all for it. Yes, 2014 is when we’re leaving, he says…….unless the military commanders tell him otherwise.
During the opening exchange, and throughout the evening, Romney commended Obama for his administration’s work in going after al Qaeda. But he also criticized the President for not stopping al Qaeda splinter cells from fleeing to other, smaller, weaker countries, specifically mentioning Mali several times. As if it’s a simple matter to capture and kill a whole pile of cockroaches, preventing them from scattering and disappearing into the shadows.
“Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize al Qaeda as a threat, because a few months ago when asked what is America’s biggest geopolitical threat you said Russia. Not al Qaeda, Russia. The 1980’s are now calling for their foreign policy back,” Obama shot at his opponent.
“Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980’s, just like the social policies of the 1950’s and the economic policies of the 1920’s.”
On Syria, after months of saying that the Obama administration hasn’t done enough to put an end to the massacres taking place at the hands of the Assad government, suddenly Romney believes that the administration is doing the right thing in working with allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the region. And yet he was critical that the “Friends of Syria” coalition that Obama said his administration put together wasn’t doing enough to arm the insurgents.
We have to make certain “that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or our allies in the region,” Obama said.
Romney complained that the U.S. isn’t doing enough to help the insurgents fight the Assad government, failing to recognize that arming anyone and everyone who would oppose Assad amounts to arming potential terror cells, when the last thing we want is another Afghanistan circa the 1980’s.
Still, as of last night, apparently, there is nothing that a Romney administration would do differently with regards to Syria.
On China, Romney lamented that “We have an enormous trade imbalance with China, and it’s worse this year than last year, and it’s worse last year than the year before. And so we have to understand that we can’t just surrender and lose jobs year in and year out.”
“Well Governor Romney’s right. You are familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas,” Obama said.
The conversation then shifted to the auto bailout, which became perhaps the most revealing moment of the night, and the most troubling indicator of who and what Mitt Romney is. “If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry,” Obama said, “we’d be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China.”
“I am a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was the head of a car company. I like American cars. And I would do nothing to hurt the US auto industry,” Romney said. “My plan to get the industry on its feet when it was in real trouble was not to start writing checks. It was President Bush that wrote the first checks. I disagree with that. I said they need — these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy. And in that process, they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d — they’d built up.”
“Governor Romney, you keep on trying to, you know airbrush history here. You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies, even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true,” Obama retorted.
In November, 2008, Romney penned an op-ed in the NY Times entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and has since several times reiterated that position. In that op-ed, Romney wrote that “The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.” Apparently Romney now would like us all to forget that ever happened.
The problem that Romney refuses to acknowledge, and that Obama correctly pointed out, was that there was no “post-bankruptcy financing” available to the auto makers. The economy had just cratered, and private equity was frozen. No bank, no hedge fund, no investors were willing at that time to pour any money into the American auto industry. And if there was a private equity firm (such as, for example, Bain Capital?) willing to take over the car giants, it’s quite likely that they would have sold off the component pieces of the companies to maximize their profit, dismantling them and the entire auto industry with them.
It is nothing more than revisionist history for Romney to suggest that there was anyone other than the federal government willing and able to provide the necessary capital that subsequently allowed the auto makers to survive. And not only are they surviving today, but they are thriving, and an Ohio economy where one out of every eight jobs is auto industry related is bouncing back strong. But Romney now wants us to believe that he never said what he so clearly said. Never happened. “I would do nothing to harm the U.S. auto industry,” he says. Only that’s not what he said four years ago.
This never-ending metamorphosis, constant etch-a-sketching by Romney is completely disconcerting. Romney now agrees with Obama on the Afghanistan pullout. He now agrees with how he has handled al Qaeda, and he agrees with Obama’s use of drone strikes. He now agrees with Obama on ending the Iraq war, whereas just a few months ago he said it was a mistake to leave Iraq, and that the U.S. should have left 30,000 or more troops there. And he now agrees that Obama is doing the right thing in imposing crippling sanctions on Iran instead of saber rattling and threatening an all out war. He is also now in complete agreement that the U.S. should not send troops into Syria, a shift from what he was saying just a few short months ago.
In Egypt, where Romney was once critical of Obama for “throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus,” he now says that the administration did the right thing, although he doesn’t like the fact that the Egyptians elected a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to be their president. To Mitt Romney, somehow the results of free and fair elections in Egypt shouldn’t count.
Let’s be clear about something: It’s okay for a candidate to change his mind. It’s perfectly acceptable for a candidate to adopt new positions, so long as they acknowledge that it is a departure from what they previously believed. “You know what, I was wrong before. I understand that now. This is what I believe now and this is why…” That’s admirable. People respect that.
But that’s not what Romney did last night. After spending months on the campaign trail bludgeoning President Obama for being wrong on foreign policy and doing serious damage to America’s standing in the world because of his policy positions, Romney sat at the debate table right next to the President, both literally and figuratively. Suddenly those policies that were unpalatable as a threat to our national interests became the exact approach that Romney himself would take.
As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted, changing your position but doing so in a manner that completely ignores past statements and positions, as if the past never happened, is a question of character. And Romney’s willingness to say anything he has to in order to get elected, regardless of past statements or positions, and his breathtaking ability to act as if he’s never held any positions other than the one just then articulated, and his ability to shamelessly and blatantly lie to the American public about his record should disqualify him from the highest office in the land. It should disqualify him from consideration as the leader of the free world.
What Romney revealed last night is that he truly believes in nothing; only in what he thinks will get him elected. And that is not the kind of leader this country needs. It’s frightening to think that that’s exactly the kind of leader we just might get.