Mitt Romney’s nomination as the 2012 Republican candidate for President is an important and historical moment for me and many other members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the U.S. and the world. A thick glass ceiling was shattered when Romney, a prominent member of my faith, overcame anti-Mormon bigotry prevalent in parts of the Republican primary electorate to clinch the GOP nomination. During the past twelve years we have been witnesses to a triumph over a wide array of social prejudices in American politics with the nomination of Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is Jewish, as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic run as the first serious female contender for the White House in 2008, and Barack Obama’s election as the country’s first African-American president. We may very well have a Mormon as our President starting next January. While I admire Romney’s dedicated unpaid service in my church as a bishop and stake president, believe that he is a good family man who also cares deeply about our country, and am thrilled by Romney’s ascension to the GOP nomination in this Mormon moment, I am confident that he is the wrong person for the job of President of the United States.
Major Shifts on Major Issues
GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a very different person from moderate Republican Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. I liked Governor Romney much better. In order to survive at the national level in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney had to undergo one of the most astonishing political transformations in modern American politics. His dramatic 180-degree shifts on such a significant number of major political issues in such a short period have revealed him to be one of the greatest political chameleons of our age. The timing of his shifts, which usually synced with the new electorates he faced, seemed to be choreographed better than a Hollywood political satire. Here are a few of Romney’s most significant flip-flops:
I recognize that many politicians shift their positions from time to time, but cannot think of any politician as well-known as Governor Romney who has gone through such seismic political shifts. These shifts are disconcerting not only to me, but also to many GOP primary voters who wondered whether Romney was as “severely conservative” as he said he was. Governor Romney’s GOP Primary opponents were often frustrated by Romney’s flip-flops and had difficulty cornering him on any particular issue. How do we know how Romney would govern as President? While I suspect Governor Romney may not be as conservative as he appeared in order to clinch the nomination, no one really knows. This is why I do not find Romney to be trustworthy as a politician.
More Defense Spending, Major Cuts in Non-Defense Programs
Flip-flops aside, the policies Governor Romney currently advocates are wrong for America. Romney favors a significant increase in already record-high levels of defense spending, boosting defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, but has given no specifics on how increased defense spending would improve our security. At the same time, Romney claims to be serious about confronting our debt problem. Despite the fact that U.S. defense spending is greater than the next 17 countries combined, Romney claims he can simultaneously increase defense spending, lower the deficit, and cut taxes. Even Pentagon officials, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, have acknowledged that the federal debt is one of the biggest threats to our national security and that reduced defense spending has an important role to play in the solution. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recognized this when he, as Secretary, unilaterally proposed $78 billion in defense cuts in 2011.
While Governor Romney favors this increase in an already bloated defense budget, his economic proposals would invariably lead to even more catastrophic cuts to safety net, education, infrastructure, and research programs than those previously proposed by his running-made, Congressman Paul Ryan. A September 2012 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) shows that for the government to meet Romney’s proposals of a 4 percent of GDP minimum on defense spending with an overall cap on federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, programs like Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), as well as veteran’s benefits, food stamps, unemployment benefits, and children’s school lunches would be hit with massive cuts- potentially over 50 percent in 10 years. These cuts would mean millions of the poorest Americans would lose their health insurance coverage. Many people, especially children, would face hunger and malnourishment at the erosion of food stamps and school lunch programs. Not only safety net programs would be affected, but also other key items such as education, law enforcement, and medical research would have to be significantly rolled back to meet Romney’s budget benchmarks.
Romney and Ryan also propose to end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system. Multiple independent analyses of the Ryan Medicare reform plan, which is similar to what he and Romney currently propose, concluded that seniors would eventually pay over $6,000 more per year for their benefits.
At the same time, Governor Romney proposes significant cuts to federal taxes, which are at a 60-year low. Our debt problem cannot be solved by decreasing tax revenue and increasing defense spending while slashing programs for the lower and middle classes. As Bill Clinton said in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, it’s a matter of “arithmetic,” and Romney’s math doesn’t add up. What’s ironic about Romney’s and various Republican proposals on the budget is that they cut spending in areas that were not major contributors to our debt problem. Since Bill Clinton left the White House in 2000 with a federal budget surplus, the three greatest contributors to public debt have been the Bush-era tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the recession. Thus any prudent approach to our budget deficit must address these factors. That is why President Obama’s proposals on solving the debt problem have been so much more balanced and sensible.
Middle Class Tax Cuts: Republicans’ Trojan Horse
Governor Romney was not the first Republican to complain about the nearly 50 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax when he made his infamous “47 percent” remarks. This became a notable issue during the GOP Primary with Governor Rick Perry and Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann feigned dismay at the supposed injustice of what they see as a “taker” class. Congressman Paul Ryan told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that “we’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society.” This recurring theme of a “taker class” is illustrative of Romney and his party’s approach to governing. Romney and his fellow Republicans fail to acknowledge that this phenomenon occurred primarily because of tax cuts enacted by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and by George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003. As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post observed, “Republicans have become outraged over the predictable effect of tax cuts they passed and are using that outrage as the justification for an agenda that further cuts taxes on the rich and pays for it by cutting social services for the non-rich.” It’s almost as if the small portion of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts which went to the lower and middle classes were really just a Trojan Horse to help the GOP muster enough support to dismantle our safety net and education programs as well as other critical public services. Romney's budget proposals are designed to do just that.
Weak on Foreign Policy
Governor Romney’s approach to foreign policy has often been troubling. From his anachronistic suggestion that Russia is our number one “geopolitical foe” and his consideration of reinstating torture, to his saber-rattling with Iran, Romney has demonstrated an intent to return to the neoconservative foreign policies of the George W. Bush years. Governor Romney opposed a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia that had staunch bipartisan support, including endorsements from former Republican Secretaries of State Colin Powell, George Schultz, and Henry Kissinger, as well as former Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. Romney routinely criticizes Obama for not being tough enough on Iran, but has offered no specifics of how his Iran policies would differ. He’s also ignored that current economic sanctions against Iran are the toughest ever implemented (yes, they are much more intrusive than sanctions applied under Bush), and have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy. Romney criticized Obama for ending the war in Iraq and labeled the administration's decision not to keep significant numbers of troops in the country for years to come an “astonishing failure.”
On the Middle East, Governor Romney has been as feckless as President George W. Bush was reckless. While Governor Romney fully embraced President Bush’s “freedom agenda” in the Middle East, including the messy full-scale invasion of Iraq, he hypocritically opposed the Obama administration’s efforts to support democracy in the Middle East during the Arab Spring and in some cases actually advocated supporting the existing dictatorships instead of the people who were protesting for freedom. Romney was highly critical of Obama’s successful intervention in Libya, which ousted long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Yet at the same time, Romney has been agitating for much greater U.S. involvement against the Assad regime in Syria. Governor Romney used the recent attacks on our embassies in Benghazi and Cairo as an opportunity to score political points when he anachronistically criticized the administration’s response. This is consistent with his line of attack on Obama for not doing more to guide the transition to democracy in the Middle East, but as usual, he offered no specifics on alternate actions he would take as president.
Overall, Governor Romney’s foreign policy critique of the Obama administration is full of rhetoric but void of content. As foreign affairs commentator Thomas Friedman noted, Romney’s foreign policy vision is one where, “America stands astride the globe with unrivaled power to bend the world our way, and the only thing missing is a president with 'will.' The only thing missing is a president who is ready to simultaneously confront Russia, bash China, tell Iraqis we’re not leaving their country, snub the Muslim world by outsourcing our Arab-Israel policy to the prime minister of Israel, green light Israel to bomb Iran.” Romney’s foreign policy vision is little more than a return to the verbose belligerency of the previous administration.
A Conservative-Activist Supreme Court
There is another major reason to be concerned with a Romney presidency. The Supreme Court currently has a slim conservative majority, and four of the justices are now in their seventies. In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, I am concerned about an activist conservative Supreme Court giving more political power to corporations and wealthy individuals, which would further erode our democracy. In addition, given the extremely close decision on the Affordable Care Act, a court packed with more right-wing judges would likely be more aggressive in challenging our country’s core safety net programs.
Furthermore, Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito have all shown affinity to an extreme legal philosophy -- the Unitary Executive Theory, about unchecked presidential power in matters of defense -- during their tenure on the court or in their preceding legal careers. Decisions about checks and balances concerning the executive branch arise frequently and the Court’s conservative faction has shown much more deference to the president in matters of civil liberties. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Court affirmed on a 5 to 4 vote that the president had the power to indefinitely detain without trial U.S. citizens captured overseas on or near a battlefield. A federal appeals court extended this power in the Padilla v Rumsfeld decision to U.S. citizens detained on U.S. soil. A Republican-controlled Congress codified the president’s power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens on U.S. soil in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That act remains the law of the land today and has not yet been challenged at the Supreme Court-level. The conservative justices Romney would appoint to the high court would likely vote to uphold the president’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested while in the U.S. We need President Obama to continue to appoint justices to the Court who will serve as a check on burgeoning corporate political power, protect the social contract, and vigorously defend our civil liberties.
A Romney administration would mean trouble for the nascent clean energy industry and more subsidies and loopholes for the dirtiest forms of energy. Mitt Romney has ignored the overwhelming consensus among climate experts on human-induced global warming and has demonstrated that he would do nothing prepare the energy sector and our nation to combat and adapt to climate change.
While Governor Romney’s candidacy is exciting for Mormons and has done a tremendous service for our church by helping to bring it out of obscurity and to generate a national and global conversation about Mormonism, a Romney presidency would be wrong for our country in many ways. Even if Romney is more moderate than he seems, many of his party members in Congress are “severely conservative” and would put tremendous pressure on him to pass right-wing legislation and appoint right-wing officials and judges.
For these reasons and others, I cannot support Mitt Romney for President.