By RB Scott

Boston, Massachusetts

May 12, 2007

Is there anything we don’t know about Willard Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who would be President?

He has confessed that most follicles in his 60-year-old scalp still produce thick black hair, making every tottering windbag in the land all the more envious. It was enough to learn His Hunkiness is a testimony only to clean living and regular exercise not to some gossipy plastic surgeon or bottle-tanned personal trainer.

Although Mitt has been openly campaigning for the Presidency for more than a year now – officially since January – the only thing we may know for certain is that he looks real good up close and personal and that he may have changed his mind on the key issues of the day about as often as his great-great grandfather and mine added new wives.

Ann Davies Romney, Mitt’s only wife for nearly 40 years and his high school sweetheart, may be the best kept secret of all. She was unknown to the rest of the world until she joined her husband for an interview with CNN’s Larry King. Still extraordinarily good looking despite having borne and raised five sons and battling multiple sclerosis for several years, Mrs. Romney’s spontaneous, direct but kind and literate comments instantly belied those persistently pernicious “blonde” jokes, not to mention the overworked caricatures of subservient “Molly Mormon” women.

Even the predictably cynical and pragmatic Democratic strategist James Carville visibly caught his breath and admitted almost ruefully: “I think his wife is going to be interesting as the campaign progresses. She is obviously a woman with some pretty strong opinions.”

Surprise seems to have been the name of the game since Romney hit the road to the White House. He knocked pundits and savvy pols back on their heels a bit by raising more money in the first quarter –$21 million – than did any of the better known Republican candidates (Rudy Giuliani $15 million and John McCain $12.5 million). If money is the name of the primary game, as some experts claim, the current ledger balance suggests a Romney landslide even if the polls don’t.

After a full year on the stump, introducing himself to America and fielding questions about his religious beliefs, he staged a sort of “come to Jesus” confab at his home in Belmont, where he disarmed key Christian leaders who had previously openly doubted that they could ever consider voting a Mormon into the nation’s most important office.

And, just last week he offered to pay energetic students 10 percent of every dollar they raise for him, an intriguing scheme that will give young people incentives to work for him for the duration. Is this the kind of
stunning out-of-the box, preemptive thinking and action we could expect from the nation’s first latter-day entrepreneur president, not to mention its wealthiest?

If, as consultant he convinced Fortune 100 companies to spread their operations around the globe, might he also be capable of explaining that America’s role in the elaborately layered world marketplace is not easily reduced to snappy campaign slogans and sharply defined solutions?

Multi-national business strategies are as fraught with Machiavellian agendas and sinkholes as highly nuanced international trade agreements. The better the leader’s grasp of arcane practices of the capital markets, the more effective he will likely be making the balanced, thoughtful and pragmatic “lesser of evils” choices.

It is not just his friends who say Romney has a formidable grasp of critical, but unheralded quality of life and economic issues. One self-described “occasional socialist,” a Massachusetts healthcare expert, explains it this way: “Romney’s grasp of the arcane procedures of the healthcare delivery and reimbursement system is quite detailed and deep. He knows how the system works and why it often doesn’t. He would be a brainy policy-wonk-of-a-leader – a Bill Clinton without the perpetual hard-on.”

Which gets us around to those “flip-flopping” charges. Has he changed positions? Should he get the Republican nomination, will he change again? The answer is “yes” and “yes.” However, the fact is, his flip-flops to date may not be all that dramatic.

Rewind to 1993. In a private conversation before formally announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by the formidable Edward M. Kennedy and while still serving as president of the Boston Stake (diocese) of the Mormon church, Romney talked about polling data that made it painfully clear no candidate could win a state wide election in Massachusetts who did not support “choice.” Even though he believed that most elective abortions were morally wrong, he based his support for “choice” on two important principles: the Mormon doctrine of free agency as summarized in the oft-quoted axiom: “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves;” and his belief that a representative elected by the people was honor bound to represent the consensus views of the people who elected him.

A thoughtful discourse on the principles of representative government followed. I was not taking notes at the time, however in a follow-up note to him I confirmed some of the key points as summarized below:

–Representatives pledge to represent the majority – the consensus views of the people, even if those views run counter to his own personal beliefs. A Senator representing the entire Commonwealth is sworn to support the decision, regardless of his point of view.

–Elective abortions are not appropriate birth control measures. However, women should be allowed to make good and bad decisions, without interference from the government. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. It is supported by most Massachusetts citizens.

–Same sex civil unions may be the way to deliver government and employment entitlements to gay couples that only heterosexual couples enjoy.

Mitt’s almost chronic problem is a flip lip and, like the irrepressible Lothario who loved every girl he was near,
an over eagerness to please practically every audience he encounters, which often leads to rather shameless pandering.

His recent enrollment in the National Rifle Association followed by a boast that he had been a life-long hunter and gun owner surely turned off the people he aimed to please. Worse, it gave headline writers, critics and humorists lots of ammunition.

The nation needs to hear what Romney has to say, nuanced and carefully parsed though his ideas may be. It would be regrettable if his intelligent voice was silenced by a dodgy claim that he has long enjoyed hunting “rodents,” which, were Mitt not splitting hares, are Lepus californicus to zoologists and jackrabbits to the rest of us.

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