Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Pragmatic Conservatism

Michael Gerson, conservative columnist for the Washington Post and former Bush speechwriter, makes the same case today that I made here yesterday, namely, that Romney is essentially a pragmatic conservative, who could make a good team with Boehner and McConnell to further the conservative agenda.  Interestingly, he uses Romney's Mormon credentials to backstop his cultural conservatism.
Being an elected Republican from Massachusetts all but guarantees past political heterodoxy. But a hungry political party will tolerate some heterodoxy in the nomination of a strong candidate — if it is convinced that his or her values are sound. The alternative is to rule out large portions of the country in the production of Republican presidents — or to reward candidates who have no governing experience at all.

So are Romney’s current views his most authentic ones? On some issues — say, health care policy — it is difficult for an outsider to tell. In a different political environment, I suspect that Romney would be proud of his Massachusetts health reform instead of struggling to minimize it. But in the current presidential cycle, Romney has an advantage. The main issues of this campaign — economic growth and budget restraint — are in the sweet spot of his convictions. Romney speaks on these matters with ease, authority and evident sincerity. On the largest topics of the day, the charge of inauthenticity doesn’t stick.

Romney also has the potential to allay the fears of many social conservatives. A position change on abortion is always damaging — particularly a relatively recent one. But Romney has converted to a view that seems more consistent with his background. Is it really reasonable to assume that a former Mormon bishop, deep down, is a cultural liberal?

Even conservatives who buy none of these explanations may calculate that Romney is acceptable. Precisely because he has a history of ideological heresy, it would be difficult for him to abandon his current, more conservative iteration. He has committed himself on key conservative issues. Having flipped, he could not flop without risking a conservative revolt. As a result, conservatives would have considerable leverage over a Romney administration.

There is, however, a less-cynical conservative case for Romney. Opponents accuse him of political pragmatism — of which he is clearly guilty. But Romney might put his pragmatism to good use. His economic advisers are solidly conservative. Before the primary season is done, we are likely to see some serious entitlement and tax reform proposals. A leadership team of Romney, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might be just what the moment requires: prudent adults who are conservative but not too far ahead of the public. They would stand a decent chance at doing what it takes to encourage job creation and avoid fiscal disaster.

Prudence and the avoidance of disaster are not the most inspiring political themes. But they could appeal to conservatives and to others — if Romney can make the positive case for pragmatism.
Make no mistake: Romney is not my cup of tea. But I think the flip-flopping accusation has been exaggerated. And furthermore, if the Republicans keep the House and retake the Senate, we are in for what looks like complete paralysis in the political process if Obama is re-elected. I almost think, given the crisis that we are in, that a government of one party, able to act, might be better, no matter what they do. At least people would have a sense of who to credit and who to blame.

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