Amen to exactly everything you said. I’m a Mormon, so I should be Romney’s natural constituency, but that speech just didn’t sit well with me. It never came together. It was recipe conservatism, not conviction conservatism. The part about his conversion to pro-life causes was particularly unconvincing. The catalyst, he said, was when the Harvard profs tried to justify embryonic stem-cell research on the grounds that they’d destroy the embryos they created. The result of this catalyst was that he decided that destroying frozen embryos would be acceptable but not creating new embryos for destruction. Then he mouthed a few platitudes and said he was now a whole-hearted life-beginss-at-conception pro-lifer. That was it. I defy anyone to show any evidence that Romney had a coherent way of connecting those dots.
The connection could be made, of course, and there are some interesting parallels in the pre-Civil War abolition movement. A lot of Northerners were squishes on the slavery issue and would rather the whole issue went away. But they eventually became convinced that the issue would not go away because a radical “Slave Power” was intent on slowing expanding slavery and wickedness throughout the nation through fugitive slave laws, slaves in the territories, Dred Scott laws allowing slaveowners to sojourn in the North with their slaves, and so on. And for many of these Northerners, the logic of their position eventually pushed them into the abolition camp. Deciding that the “Slave Power” was evil made them take a real look at slavery for the first time and, lo and behold, they discovered that the Negro was a man and slavery was evil.
This is the case that Romney needs to make–that he never thought seriously about abortion and was content to keep abortion laws the way they were, but he found that the abortion crowd wouldn’t stop. They kept pushing for more funding, for lower ages of consent, for the right to *create* embryos just to do scientific experiments on them before destroying them–and eventually he decided that he’d had enough. Then he has to explain that this led him to rethink his prior position and realize that if he was horrified about creating embryos to destroy them it must because human beings in embryo are more than just fingernail clippings. This is the only good case I can see him make (the other plausible case is for him to say that he was pro-life all along but was just being pragmatic about what he could get away with in Mass., which is kind of sleazy), but I don’t see him making it. Instead of having us believe that he’s Blair or Lincoln, he’s trying to convince us that a couple of years ago he went to bed as James Buchanan and woke up Wendell Phillips. That won’t wash.
If Romney ever did make the case I just outlined in a convincing way, I’d be his man, but until then I think I’m going to keep longing for Jeb “Smith.” Its not just that making the case would convince me of Romney’s pro-life bona fides, though that would be part of it. But if Romney could make that kind of his case it would show me that his vaunted communication skills actually meant something. George Bush is tongue-tied sometimes so we’re looking for someone who’s better at talking, but we forget that ease at talking is only part of it. Bill Clinton was the Great Talker, but only Ronald Reagan, who’d spent years honing his philosophical convictions about freedom and the struggle with Soviet tyranny, was the Great Communicator.
By the way, apropos your McCain comment: my father is deeply conservative but doesn’t get into politics much. McCain bugs him, for all the right reasons, but last week he spontaneously brought up the idea of supporting McCain as the only potential candidate who had any credibility on Iraq. The more conservatives learn about our half-measures in Iraq, the better McCain looks. McCain will be formidable.
P.S. Can Romney please stop talking down Massachussetts at every opportunity? I know all us yokels out here in the sticks don’t like the place, but we do understand local patriotism and sticking up for your own people. All his Massachussetts talk feels like condescension to me.