A couple of months ago, Mitt Romney unveiled a curious line of attack against President Obama. The Republican said Obama's campaign strategy is to "re-elect him so we can find out what he will actually do." Romney added, "With all the challenges the nation faces, this is not the time for President Obama's hide and seek campaign.... Unlike President Obama, you don't have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe in -- or what my plans are."
It remains one of the more ironic comments I've heard from a politician in a long while.
On Sunday, CBS's Bob Schieffer asked Romney four times whether he would keep Obama's new immigration policy in place if elected, and four times, Romney dodged. Yesterday, Fox News' Carl Cameron tried to get a straight answer, but the GOP nominee would only say, "What I can tell you is that those people who come here by virtue of their parents bringing them here, who came in illegally, that's something I don't want to football with as a political matter."
First, "football" is not a verb. Second, for a candidate to state a position on an important national issue is not to turn something into "a political matter," as if "political matters" are somehow inherently awful.
In the larger context, I'm reminded of something Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, said over the weekend.
Romney, Lowry noted, has "a great allergy to specifics and details." Romney may have rationalized the value of such a strategy -- if he told voters exactly what he intends to do, they'd probably vote against him -- but his tactics really aren't healthy in a democratic system, they'll deny him any kind of mandate if he wins, and they reinforce the perception that Romney too often prefers the coward's way out.
Indeed, the problem only intensifies as the list of issues he avoids gets longer.
We talked on the show last week about Romney's vague health care agenda, and Greg Sargent reported on Romney refusing to explain how he'd pay for his massive tax breaks. Josh Israel had a good item yesterday, listing the seven major issues Romney simply won't take a position on, and if recent history is any guide, more are on the way.
The mainstream is starting to notice.
Romney's struggle to offer a clear alternative on the immigration issue was a fresh reminder of one of the challenges he faces, which is to go beyond his steady criticism of the president with a more detailed description of the policies he would implement to replace what Obama has done.
Immigration is a problem particularly because of conservative stances Romney took during the Republican primary campaign that now could cause him difficulty in appealing to Hispanic voters in the general election. But even regarding the biggest issue of the campaign -- the economy -- there are many unanswered questions as to what he would do. [...]
At the rally here in Newark, Romney revved up a couple of thousand supporters by promising to "shock the world with how our economy's coming back," but in a speech that clocked at just nine minutes, offered only broad outlines and few specifics.
Even if Romney sees potential benefits from such ambiguities, maybe he could give irony a break and stop boasting, "Unlike President Obama, you don't have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe in -- or what my plans are"?