As I survey the post-debate coverage this morning, it seems there are two issues that need a little bit of cleaning up.
The first is Senator McCain’s accusation that Governor Romney used to oppose the Bush tax cuts — as Senator McCain did then and, apparently, does now. The basis for this is a 2003 Boston Globe article detailing a meeting between Governor Romney and the Massachusetts congressional delegation. It’s easy for people to mischaracterize, because it’s not freely available on the Globe website anymore. However, the Log Cabin Republicans have posted the whole thing, and it’s worth a read. If you look at the facts, Governor Romney never opposed the president’s tax cut; he just said it was a federal issue in which he didn’t want to involve himself. Look, for instance, at this portion of the story:
Since taking office in January, Romney has been reluctant to voice support or opposition to the president’s tax cut proposals. As he emerged from the delegation meeting yesterday, he again refused to be specific. “I very much support an economic stimulus,” he said. “An economic stimulus is a good thing for Massachusetts.”
Pressed further, he said, “I don’t wade into national politics. I will let our delegation sort that out.”
Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville, one of the state’s 12 members of Congress, said he understands the governor’s caution. “That strikes me as politically smart for the benefit of the Commonwealth,” Capuano said. “He is, after all, the only Republican in the delegation, so to speak.”
It’s also important to remember the political context of 2003-2004. Those were Governor Romney’s first two years in office in the bluest state in America. It was also when the 2004 presidential election was ramping up and then happening. Massachusetts Democrats thought — reasonably, I’d say — that Governor Romney might become the GOP’s resident John Kerry Attack Dog. Instead, as he said in that Globe article and in the debate last night, he intended to keep his head down and work on the state issues he was elected to take care of. Frankly, I think that’s a wise strategy for a Republican governor of a left-wing state. Furthermore, if we decide that the litmus test of a true conservative elected in a leftist is that he has to go to war on every issue, all the time, or else he’s a flip-flopper — then we’re going to cripple Republicans in a lot of states. No politician can behave that way.
On a side note, it also strikes me as unfair that on the one hand, Governor Romney’s critics fault him for fighting too hard to protect traditional marriage (which the Massachusetts left didn’t like) and for not running for another term (as Governor Huckabee did last night) just as they rake him over the coals for not staking out a conservative position on controversial national issues during his term. Such a critique doesn’t make logical sense.
The second matter I want to address is Senator McCain’s accusation that Governor Romney supported the McCain-Kennedy immigration plan in 2005. The basis for this is — imagine that — more Boston Globe reporting. My understanding is that the Globe asked Governor Romney about a number of immigration proposals then in circulation, and that he dubbed them all “reasonable.” He didn’t endorse McCain-Kennedy or give it special commendation. Governor Romney’s opponents then usually trot out these words he said to the Lowell Sun in 2006:
I don’t believe in rounding up 11 million people and forcing them at gunpoint from our country … With these 11 million people, let’s have them registered, know who they are. Those who’ve been arrested or convicted of crimes shouldn’t be here; those that are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should begin a process towards application for citizenship, as they would from their home country.
The sad part for Senator McCain is, these words are precisely consistent with Governor Romney’s position today. He doesn’t think we can, or should, deport every single illegal immigrant. That’s not why he differs with the McCain-Kennedy approach. No, where he differs with Senator McCain is the issue of the “path to citizenship” and how it works. Under McCain-Kennedy, illegal immigrants would essentially butt in line — they’d get to stay, while the millions of people around the world who have waited years to come here get told to go pound sand. That’s the essence of the “Z visa” Senator McCain proposed last year.
I welcome readers to correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think the Z-visa details had been hashed out in 2005 — and that’s why Governor Romney included Senator McCain’s plan, then not totally formed, in his list of “reasonable” proposals. When it became clear that the Z visa would (a) be unfair to those who have waited in line like they’re supposed to and (b) encourage future unlawful behavior by giving illegal immigrants a leg up in becoming citizens, Governor Romney opposed it. That was the right thing to do.
Finally, I must say it’s pretty silly for Senator McCain to claim Governor Romney doesn’t really believe what he says on illegal immigration. The man’s been endorsed by Tom Tancredo, for crying out loud.