Saletan describes how Romney's careful assessment of voter sentiment in Massachusetts lead him to repeatedly declare himself a pro-choice candidate when seeking unsuccessfully to oust Ted Kennedy as a U.S. Senator in 1996. This was followed by a sharp turn rightward while he considered running for public office in Utah during his stint leading the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee. Upon his return to Massachusetts after the Winter games, Romney ran for governor and Saletan describes Romney skewing pro-choice once again:
To appreciate how avidly Romney reabsorbed and deployed pro-choice language in 2002, you have to watch him in action. One clip (watch it here) shows him seated with his wife on a sofa, assuring women that they need not fear him on social issues. He tells the interviewer: “So when asked, ‘Will I preserve and protect a woman's right to choose?’ I make an unequivocal answer: yes.”The section of the article on Romney's purported conversion to a strong pro-life position begins:
Most pro-life conversions start with God, fetal heartbeats, or sonograms. Romney’s conversion started with shapeless embryos in dishes.Saletan describes how Romney later claimed that he was shaken by a conversation he had with the head of Harvard's stem cell research program in early November 2004:
November 2004 was the turning point in Romney’s political calculus. He had served two years as governor. He was beginning to build a network of allies in key presidential primary states. He was testing his message. And he recognized that he couldn’t run as a moderate, as his father had done in 1968. Romney was a Northeastern, Mormon technocrat in a party dominated by Southern evangelicals. He needed credibility with cultural conservatives.
November 2004: The Epiphany
It was at this moment that Romney saw the light. Here’s his version of what happened, as told to Redstate in September 2006:
Saletan explains why Romney's later conduct and public and private statements make it less likely that he had a true conversion on abortion rights:My position changed during the stem-cell research debate. The provost of Harvard and the head of stem-cell research came into my office and at one point said that stem-cell research was not a moral issue because they killed the embryo at 14 days. And it hit me hard at that very moment that the Roe v. Wade philosophy had cheapened the value of human life. And I said to my chief of staff, who was with me in the meeting, as we came outside, “I am no longer content with the description of my position. I want to call myself pro-life.”
The problem with Romney’s story lies not in its core but in the larger narrative Romney later wove around it. How did a meeting about stem-cell research lead to a broad and yet strangely selective pro-life conversion? How did Romney get from cloning to abortion and morning-after pills without changing his position on the underlying question of embryo destruction? Why would a man who had accepted abortion rights despite his experience as a pro-life abortion counselor—and who had paid almost no attention to partial-birth abortion, the bloody, raging late-term abortion controversy of his day—renounce abortion based on a conversation about microscopic embryos? And why doesn’t the record of Romney’s words and deeds after November 2004 fit his account of a sweeping pro-life conversion? Logically, emotionally, and factually, almost nothing about his story stands up to examination.Saletan points out that Romney, an utterly logical business leader, could not have intellectually pivoted to a public anti-abortion position from his opposition to cloned stem cell research. As Saletan explains, Romney continued to support embryonic stem cell research using donated embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics, basing his distinction between these cells and cloned cells on the right of the cell donors to chose to donate their IVF embryos to research to improve human health:
“I support legislation that will permit scientists to obtain stem cells from embryos donated from fertility clinics,”But why, if human life began at conception for purposes of opposing stem cell research using cloned cells, and for assessing the morality of abortion, did it not similarly begin at conception with respect to embryos stored but not implanted in the IVF process? Once again, through his careful research Saletan found a possible answer for the careful distinction Romney made: Three of his five sons have used IVF to overcome difficulties in getting pregnant.
Among the observations made by Saletan in conclusion are the following:
Of all Romney’s revisions, the boldest is his effort to imply that he deliberately governed as a pro-lifer. The record, as documented above, shows that Romney ran for governor in 2002 as a man who would protect the right to choose abortion because he believed in that right, regardless of politics. Then, in 2005, he reinterpreted his pledge as a neutrality pact with the state’s pro-choice majority. “We're going to maintain the status quo,” he told reporters in June 2005. “It's a moratorium, if you will, on change.” Romney reaffirmed that position in July 2005, when he vetoed the bill to distribute morning-after pills: “I pledged that I would not change our abortion laws either to restrict abortion or to facilitate it.”
. . .
My favorite Romney abortion moment happened four months ago, in October 2011, on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show. According to news reports, Romney said on the program that he wished courts would “decide that states have the ability to make their own decisions in regards to abortion.” But that isn’t what Romney said. If you watch the video, here’s what he said: “I am pro-life and would prefer to have the courts decide that individuals—rather, that states have the ability—to make their own decisions with regards to abortion.”
Not a single transcript or media report caught the goof. But it wasn’t really a goof. It was Romney the pro-choicer speaking through Romney the pro-lifer. With the substitution of a single word, he had slipped seamlessly from one persona to the other.
Saletan's article invites the reader to see Romney as a unique, highly intelligent and ambitious human being. As one who tried to weigh the moral nuances surrounding the abortion issue, but who ultimately chose to focus his energy on staking out opaque positions that would leave him maximum flexibility for future political gain. In this final sense he really doesn't seem that different from the rest of the politicians running for the presidency.Which persona is real? Neither. Romney’s soul isn’t in the five minutes he spent as a pro-lifer in that interview, or in the two seconds he spent as a pro-choicer. It’s in the flux, the transition between the two roles. It’s in the editing of his record, the application of his makeup, the shuffling of his rationales. Romney will always be what he needs to be. Count on it.