Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has one very impressive thing going for him
as a 2008 presidential prospect: the right policy priorities for
fight Islamic jihadists by helping Muslims modernize, tackle the
country's long-term fiscal crisis by reforming entitlements and
health care, address the economic challenge from Asia by improving
education and investing in technology - and try to work with Democrats
instead of fighting with them all the time.
To test whether
he'll sell as a GOP presidential product, he's molded his image
to please the party's right-wing base. He defines himself as a
conservative, says "my thinking has evolved" on abortion
(from neutral to "pro-life") and supports a constitutional
amendment to ban gay marriage.
And yet on
the stump - as evidenced by a recent appearance in South Carolina
- he avoids right-wing demagoguery, advocating immigration reforms
to allow foreign Ph.D.s and other highly-skilled workers to swiftly
become U.S. citizens.
To the dismay
of Massachusetts' scientific community, he's come out against
therapeutic cloning of human embryos for medical research, but
he's to the left of President Bush on the issue, favoring the
use of leftover embryos at in vitro fertilization clinics for
stem-cell research.Moreover, values and "culture" issues
- the red meat that candidates usually toss to their base - come
fourth in Romney's list of challenges facing the country, behind
terrorism, the fiscal crisis and competition from China and India.
And as a
Republican governor who managed to cut spending in a state with
an 85 percent Democratic Legislature, Romney just might be able
to tame what he calls Washington, D.C.'s "gotcha politics"
by sharing credit with Democrats.
the 2008 presidential campaign, I'm especially interested in what
prospective candidates think about the big issues facing America,
and I'm hoping to explore that with them regularly in upcoming
Romney at the National Governors Association winter meeting, and
finding him rather didactic in delivery, I discovered that he
lays out his priority list regularly on the stump. If the priorities
are right - and Romney's definitely are - then that's a good sign.
And the ideas he's putting forward are challenging. They include
what amounts to an individual mandate for people to have basic
health insurance, with subsidies for low-income people, or else
pay all their medical expenses out of their own pockets.
he discovered, it would cost $600 million a year to require "free
riders" to be insured and to offer a basic high-deductible
policy to the poor. But the state would save money because it
costs $1 billion to provide free care to the uninsured.
not eliminate Medicaid, rather reforming it to become an insurance
policy involving premiums, co-pays and deductibles for those able
to pay. And, he'd reform Medicare and Social Security by shaving
promised benefits for younger workers, though he hasn't yet worked
out the specifics.
the failure of Bush's Social Security reforms last year, he said,
"the BRAC approach may make more sense," referring to
the process for closing military bases through a commission whose
recommendations must be voted up or down in their entirety by
difficulty of getting Congress to delegate entitlement policy
to a commission, another flaw in Romney's agenda is his reluctance
to make tax increases part of his solution to the long-term fiscal
He told me,
"I don't like taxes. I think we need less government, not
more government." He closed a $3 billion budget deficit in
Massachusetts without raising taxes, he said.
he told me, "when I ran for governor in Massachusetts, I
was asked, would I sign a no-new-taxes pledge? I said I won't
sign such a pledge, but you know I hate taxes." As a presidential
contender, he said, "I'm not going to say what [former President]
George H.W. Bush said." That's a good sign. We'll see if
he can keep to it.
with China and India - "hardworking, educated, creative,
innovative, family-oriented, mercantile" cultures - Romney
proposes upgrading math and science education and paying top teachers
as much as $15,000 extra a year.
only one strong opposition group, and that's the teachers unions,"
he told me. "At some point, I think America - and, importantly,
the minority communities - are going to say, 'it's time to split
with our friends, the unions and the Democratic Party, and put
our kids first here.' Unequal educational opportunity is the civil
rights issue of our time."
a union-backed bill to block new charter schools from being established
in Massachusetts and had it sustained partly with support from
black legislators. "It was a good sign," he said.
policy, Romney said he's "not a member of any school"
- neo-conservative or realist - but he believes that combating
Islamic jihadists will be the top priority for the next president
and will require "a major, long-term effort to support the
institutions of modernity in the world of Islam."
course, in places where military conflict erupts, we have to win,"
he said, but he added that "the bar for putting American
lives at risk is a very high bar." He supported the Iraq
war based on the belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass
of miscalculations and mistakes were made," he said, but
he stopped short of declaring, one way or the other, whether knowing
what he knows now would have changed his stance on whether to
take the fight to Iraq. Romney is handsome and articulate. He
gained national attention for saving the 2002 Winter Olympics
from collapse. He's not exactly mesmerizing on the stump, but
he should be able to learn. He's definitely tilting rightward
to run for the GOP nomination, but he doesn't seem to be selling
his soul - yet. To his credit, a brochure that touted his accomplishments
in Massachusetts also had pictures of two Democratic legislative
leaders on its cover. That attitude and a sound agenda constitute
a good start toward the presidency.
Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.