The 2012 Presidential campaign has been marred by intensely vicious, personal attacks. Many of these are totally unfair and unbecoming of those men seeking to become leaders of the free world. Unfounded attacks on a person’s “American-ness”, his wealth, his faith, his place of birth, or the color of his skin have no place in our current debate. One attack, however, is particularly stinging because of its truth… That of Mr. Romney’s “flip-flopping” on key issues.
Mr. Romney’s waffling positions on social issues are famous by now, from his support for abortion rights (and his charitable contributions to Planned Parenthood) to his vehemently pro-life stance. Likewise, his support for gay marriage has shifted to a vehement opposition. His shifting positions on policy are also gaining more and more attention. As governor of Massachusetts, he advocated and argued for an individual health care insurance mandate, one he now argues is unconstitutional. At various times, he has come out both for and against a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
To many, these shifting policy stands disqualify Mr. Romney for the presidency. In my view, they represent an asset which may uniquely qualify him for the job.
The Presidency of the United States, as it is conceived and expected, requires almost superhuman capabilities. The President, after all, is not a king nor a dictator imposing his whims or his views on the people. He is an elected executive who ideally represents a “first among equals” among citizens; meant solely to provide checks and balances to the legislature, and to speed along the beaureaucratic process. Importantly, the president is elected to represent the people. Not just the people of his home district (like a congressman), or the people of his state (like a senator), or the people of his party (like a chairperson) but the entire citizenry of the United States–equally responsible for considering the welfare of the coalminer in West Virginia, the Sierra Club member in California, and yes, the casino magnate in Las Vegas.
We rightfully demand principled leadership from our most prominent representative. However, we do not often reflect upon what principles we are demanding. Principled leadership is extremely important–when it comes to the principles which we all share. Defense against common enemies, shared prosperity, freedom and liberty, and many others explicit and tacitly implied in the constitution. If Mr. Romney is elected, and is pressured to pursue a militantly pro-life agenda (just using this issue as an example), he is doing a disservice to a large segment of his own constituents who are equally vehemently pro-choice; and thus not doing his job to represent the American people as a whole. He was not elected to be the President of the Republican Party, after all, but to be the President of the United States of America (even of those who didn’t vote for him).
Many of the issues a president must confront deal with less constitutionally clear decisions. In these cases, flexibility, an open mind, and the ability to see all sides of an issue are paramount. Misplaced rigidity leads to a hyperpartisan atmosphere, disenfranchisement, gridlock, resentment, and eventually political instability. On those issues where legitimate disagreement exists (and it always will) regarding an interpretation of our core values (eg: does abortion violate a right to life, or does banning it violate a right to freedom?), a president must have the ability to carefully weigh all opinions and all listen to all parties, and only then reach a conclusion which he will be responsible for communicating to his constituents.
A candidate who has spent his life cultivating and defending a single world view on social or economic issues will have a considerably harder time considering the rights, welfare, and arguments of all of his constituents than one who has spent time on both sides of an issue. Mr. Romney’s colorful history, to me, means that he has carefully considered all sides of an issue, and at various times in his life convinced himself of the merits of each side of an argument. It means that he recognizes that a single approach is not appropriate in every situation, and that complex issues have complex answers. Even if it just represents politically expedient pandering, it belies the understanding that his constituency has diverse and disparate interests.
There are many reasons I may not vote for Mr. Romney, but his flip-flopping will not be one of them.