W. Mitt Romney will be 61 years old on the next Inauguration Day.
He is the son of a very political family; his father was the Governor of Michigan, was one of Richard Nixon’s Secretaries for Housing and Urban Development, and ran for President in 1968 as a Republican. His mother unsuccessfully sought the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 1970. He is a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, having served as a Bishop (leader of an individual church) and Stake President (leader of a local group of churches) and regularly attending temple. He has never served in the military; during the Vietnam era, he was in college and graduate school, as well as thirty months in France serving on a religious mission. While in France, he was injured in a serious automobile accident in which one person was killed (the fault was the other driver’s). Upon returning to the U.S. in 1968, he married his high school sweetheart (a convert to Mormonism) and went to Brigham Young University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1971, and went on to get a joint JD/MBA at Harvard, which he earned cum laude for law school and earned honors for being in the top 5% of his B-school class. He and his wife have five adult sons and eleven grandchildren; his sons support Gov. Romney’s big for President by jointly writing a campaign blog, to which their parents sometimes contribute.
Unlike most of the candidates for President, Romney has never formally practiced law. Instead, he began his private career in a business consulting group in 1975. Three years later, he became vice-President of Bain & Company and later ran a spin-off of that company, Bain Capital, that specialized in leveraged buyouts of other entities. He grew very wealthy at Bain, and later returned to the parent company and steered it out of a financial crisis. His personal wealth has been estimated as high as a quarter of a billion dollars. He left Bain in 1998 to take over the distressed Salt Lake Olympics Committee, and takes credit for pulling the 2002 Winter Olympics out of a mire of debt and bribery into an enterprise that actually generated a profit of $100 million (note, though, that the “profit” figure ignores nearly $225 million for security costs donated or paid by other entities, mainly the Federal government, that SLOC did not pay back).
In 1994, Romney won the Republican nomination for Senate in Massachusetts (for the same seat his mother had run for and lost 24 years earlier), against Ted Kennedy. Kennedy won by a margin of 58-41. After the 2002 Olympics, became the Republican nominee for Governor of Massachusetts and despite claims by Democrats that he was a carpetbagger from Utah, Romney was handily elected. He resisted the high-profile decision of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but after that drama played out in favor of same-sex marriage, reluctantly complied with the ruling and instructed town clerks to issue the licenses — but only to Massachusetts residents, saying that he did not want his state to become the “Las Vegas of gay marriage.” Romney declined the opportunity to seek a second term as governor of Massachusetts and left office in early 2007 with a 43% approval rating.
On The Issues
Abortion: Rating: Quite famously switched from pro-choice to pro-life, some time between the middle of his term as Governor until before he ran for President. He claims to have switched opinions while researching cloning and stem cell researching; however, I had some difficulty finding evidence of pro-life statements he made before declaring his candidacy for President. Rating: 0 of 1 points.
Amending the Constitution: Has consistently opposed the idea of same-sex marriage and supports Constitutional amendment to that effect. Stops just short of endorsing human life amendment. Rating: 1 of 6 points.
Anti-Terrorism Policy: Proposes increasing size of military by 100,000 troops and pledges to spend at least 4% of the U.S. GDP on defense. In 2006, GDP was $13.13 trillion; in 2006, defense spending was $419.3 billion, meaning that currently, a little bit over 3.2% of GDP goes there now, so his target defense budget for 2009-10 would be about half a trillion dollars. Would liberally spend money on a “new Marshall Plan” to boost prestige and power of moderate Muslims around the world, and rededicate military forces in Muslim nations to nation-building and counter-insurgency measures under leadership of special forces. Rating: 4 of 7 points.
Balanced Budget: As Governor, Romney claims to have balanced the state’s bloated budget without raising taxes through a combination of efficiency measures, spending restrictions, closing loopholes in the tax laws; however, a tax hike passed just before his administration kicked in after he took office, and he significantly raised “fees” like driver’s license fees and tuition-like fees for state universities (he claims that the amount of raised fees was minute compared to the spending cuts), and the bulk of his spending cuts were in the form of grants to local governments, most of which responded by raising local taxes. Romney used his line-item veto power hundreds of times as Governor, but was overruled on virtually all of them, resulting in continuing actual operating deficits for Massachusetts’ government. His anti-terrorism policies sound very expensive. Rating: 4 of 8 points.
Civil Liberties: Rating: Purchased a lifetime membership in the NRA just before running for President but still supports “assault weapons” ban; claims of rabbit hunting experience as a small boy as engendering sympathy for hunters turns out to be untrue; he’s been hunting exactly twice in his life. Supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the military. Reluctantly supported domestic partnerships as Governor of Massachusetts as an alternative to same-sex marriage imposed by state court decision, but now opposes them. Supports the PATRIOT Act. Would aggressively enforce obscenity laws and “get tough” on retailers who sell violent video games. Critical of news reporters who publish stories about national security issues. Rating: 0 of 9 points.
Education: Once supported abolishing Department of Education, but now a backer of No Child Left Behind Act. Endorses home schooling tax credit. Would encourage greater parental control of childrens’ curricula. Rating: 2 of 5 points.
Environment: Rating: Supports oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; tax credits for oil companies that improve refinery capacity and efficiency. Praised Mayor of Salt Lake City for resisting environmental objections to mountainside display of electric light bulb Olympic Ring formation. Environment not mentioned on campaign website. 0 of 4 points.
Free Trade: Believes free trade is good economically for under-developed nations and the U.S.; supports NAFTA and CAFTA. Sees opportunities, not threats, in emerging Asian markets. Rating: 5 of 5 points.
Generalized Foreign Policy: Values allies in Muslim nations and democratic trading partners in the Americas. Distinguishes between “resolve” and “arrogance.” Would “isolate” Iran diplomatically. Little discussion of policy towards European Union or Russia. Would appoint an “ambassador-at-large” whose portfolio would be described as “preventing nuclear terror.” Rating: 3 of 6 points.
Health Care Reform: Initially supported states as experimental laboratories for different systems, but now proposes federalized improvements to system. Would indirectly “deregulate” health care insurers, by providing tax and grant incentives to states; increase Medicare block grants to states while decreasing directed funding and funding for “no pay” patients. Expand scope of HSA’s and use high technology to make healthcare insurance funding and scope of coverage more transparent. Rating: 1 of 3 points.
Immigration Policy: Substantially critical of “sanctuary cities” but seems to have done little to restrict such local governments in Massachusetts. Supports ocean-to-ocean physical and technological fence on Mexican border; proposes enhanced employer verification system and withholding federal grants from “sanctuary” cities. Promises to veto amnesty legislation. Would increase student visas and streamline legal immigration for high-skill workers from abroad. Campaign website uses highly deceptive graph to incorrectly suggest recent spike in illegal immigration. Rating: 2 of 5 points.
Iraq: Correctly calls Iraq an “unmitigated mess” and is critical of pre-war planning. Supported troop surge, but envisions a transition period in which Iraqi military and police strengthen and U.S. troops provide logistical and intelligence support, and eventually withdraw to “standby” positions. Opposes withdrawal of troops. Rating: 6 of 6 points.
Korea: Skeptical of new agreement, suspicious that North Korea will “cheat.” Policy otherwise sketchy. Rating: 3 of 5 points.
Middle East Peace Process: Approves of Israeli security fence. Subsumes Palestinian-Israeli peace process into struggle against “jihadism,” with focus being on Iran and its proxies. Opposes, at the moment, the creation of a Palestinian state, but suggests that such a thing could be possible in the future. Rating: 2 of 4 points.
Science and Technology: As Governor, focused on infrastructure renewal, and directed substantial investment of funds in nanotechnology research. Campaign focus appears to be on elementary and high school education with little emphasis on collegiate and graduate work. Rating: 2 of 4 points.
Separation of Church and State: Previously disapproved of school prayer. Demonstrates ability to distinguish between teachings of his church and government policies. As America’s first significant Mormon candidate for President, feels great pressure to continue to do so as well as promoting religious tolerance. As Governor, opposed teaching intelligent design in public schools. As Presidential candidate, castigated secularists for trying to exclude religion from the public square and promised those who bow their heads in praise of God that they would have a friend in President Romney; demonized atheists to curry favor with the religious right. Rating: 1 of 5 points.
Social Security Reform: Wants both parties to negotiate behind closed doors to reform system. Resulting reform should honor existing entitlement commitments, permit private accounts as alternatives, not raise taxes, and index increases in benefits to prices rather than wages. Rating: 1 of 5 points.
Taxes: Supply-sider. While Romney claims to have never raised taxes while Governor, state user “fees” for many services did increase dramatically, and his efforts to balance the state budget appear to have shifted spending liability and authority to more local governments, which then had little choice but to raise taxes. He pushed for and acheived a decrease in the state income tax, and decreased and eliminated other taxes to incentivize business growth. Rating: 4 of 5 points.
Tort Reform: Cap non-economic and punitive damage awards in medical malpractice cases. Rating: 0 of 3 points.
Torture of U.S. Prisoners: Supports “enhanced interrogation techniques” in circumstances where there is a ticking time bomb.” Will not define “torture.” Reserves to himself, as President, the ultimate judgment of the difference between the two, and does not consider himself accountable to anyone for exercising that discretion. Rating: 0 of 4 points.
Overall Impression: Romney’s defining characteristic appears to be the plasticity of his belief system. On abortion, guns, gay rights, and who knows what other hot-button issues, he’s reversed himself with remarkable ease. Put favorably, this means he’s willing to learn and grow and respond to new information; but it’s substantially more likely that he’s simply saying whatever he thinks he needs to say in order to get elected, which calls his honesty into serious question. In terms of real core attributes, his positives include a very substantial business background and as with Giuliani, the promise of a genuinely competent executive running the government although the manner in which he turned around Massachusetts and the Olympics both seem to have involved shifting costs to others rather than eliminating them altogether. However, I am surprised to find myself so pleased by his attitudes towards separation of church and state, which seems to be one of the few beliefs that he has which are both persistent throughout his career and in congruity with my way of thinking on the issue. No matter what his rating on this or any other issue, though, it’s difficult for me to see how anyone can trust this man. He’s changed his mind on so many issues just before he launched his bid for President that no one, of any political stripe, can have any real idea of what Slick Mitt would actually do if he’s in office.
Total score: 41 of 100.
Up next: Hillary Rodham Clinton.