Earlier this year, when describing Mitt Romney’s planned pivot to the center after a bruising GOP primary pulled him ‘severely’ starboard, one of his advisors anticipated the candidate’s Etch-A-Sketch strategy of turning himself upside down and shaking until the memory of those unpopular positions disappeared from the electoral screen. Once the slate was clean, Romney could outline a new, swing voter friendly image. The competent business man, the turnaround specialist, someone who has never served in government**, the classic outsider from the private sector, here to save the day.
** = Massachusetts never happened.
Turns out this Etch-A-Sketch metaphor isn’t entirely accurate. Instead of drawing a new picture of himself for voters with clear straight lines, Romney has decided to be the Rorschach candidate. His apparent goal is to present a big amorphous ink blot and hope that voters see whatever they want to see in his candidacy. He has apparently decided that vague impressions trump substantial information, and sadly he might be right.
This is not an accidental approach. This was Romney speaking earlier this year about his plan to divulge as little of his post-election plan as possible. He was responding to a question about what federal agencies he thought should be eliminated:
"One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don't care about education. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I'm not going to give you a list right now."
In other words, Romney believes that if he tells the public what he might actually do in office they will dislike his plans and reject them. If he does tell you what he will do, the opposition might repeat his plan aloud so the electorate is fully informed about what they are buying with a Romney vote. That would be an unfair “attack” on freedom, or job creation, or people in general. Better the voter project their own most disfavored federal agency into his non-answer. In that way, you the voter will be satisfied.
What will he do in Afghanistan? He won’t say, except that he’ll listen to the generals on the ground before deciding. Translation – he doesn’t know, so neither will you, the voter, before casting your ballot.
Will he reverse the President’s recent immigration order allowing children brought here by their parents to avoid deportation? He refuses to say, except that he will seek a more permanent solution once elected. I ask you, what the hell does that mean? Whatever the listener wants it to mean, I guess.
Romney will repeal and replace Obamacare. How he plans to repeal a law passed by Congress he can’t say (because he cannot legally repeal the law, unless he now favors an imperial presidency, a position he will not favor until he gets elected). As for replacement, he again provides no detailed plan, unless a declaration of following a “consumer market” model passes for details in GOP Land.
(Since Romney won’t give any details on what “consumer market” plans means, I’ll fill in the picture for you. It might well bring down insurance premiums for people healthy enough to be the object of all that competition, but for everyone else, it could make the status quo much, much worse, destroying existing state regulations that protect access to health insurance and seek to provide some parity in rates, as companies gratefully migrate to states that let them do whatever they want.)
Since the Equal Pay Act is before Congress, Mr. Romney, can you tell us if you would have supported the Lily Ledbetter Act, the first law Obama signed as President? The Romney response was, “We’ll get back to you.”
Romney will close the deficit by closing tax loopholes. He won’t tell us which loopholes, and he has said that his plan “cannot be scored” for its impact on the debt by the Congressional Budget Office. Even Romney’s BFF, Rep. Paul Ryan, the architect of The Plan, can only offer his solemn word that his party will make good on closing those nondescript loopholes. Pressed by Fox’s Chris Wallace this month to name any loopholes he would support cutting, Ryan responded, “I can’t because those decisions haven’t been made.” Romney would allow Congress to make those decisions. That should work out just fine and dandy.
Romney has proposed to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and to then cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending. To make up for that lost revenue, he has promised to cut spending as well, but he has been reluctant to mention specific cuts. Remember, his opponents may notify the public about his proposed cuts, and that would be an “unfair attack” on the rich, Mormons, white people, women, and reason.
His approach echoes the genius of Delta fraternity President, Robert Hoover, who when responding to charges of indecency at his Faber College fraternity famously said, “The Delta House has a long tradition of existence to its members and to the community at large.” Well said, Hoover, well said.
The Rorschach Candidate could be too scientific a name. Maybe the Slinky candidate – no spine, shiny to look at, beauty is in its simplicity. Maybe the Yo-Yo candidate - up, down, up, down, but never really going anywhere.
Romney wants a referendum on Obama, and the more vague Romney remains in the minds of the voters, the better his chances. But this election is not just a referendum on Obama. It is a choice. You are not only rejecting one vision with a vote against Obama; you are embracing a different vision with a vote for Romney. It should not be too much to ask to know what that vision is. So far, I have heard platitudes which sound like George Bush without the compassion rhetoric. It is a fair question to ask what specific policies he will endorse that differ from what the GOP has already tried. It would be even more fair to ask what SPECIFICALLY do you plan to do as President.