Hot potato.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Aug. 31 2007 5:57 PM

Hot Potato

Republicans can't drop Larry Craig fast enough.

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When a man in Eldora, Iowa, asked him about abortion last week, Romney tried to turn flip-flopping into a virtue. "If changing your mind is a problem in this country, we're in trouble," he said. "I won't apologize for changing to pro-life." Romney even invokes Reagan's history on abortion, suggesting that a change of heart is Reagan-esque, not Flipper-esque.

In Sunday's Republican debate in Iowa, Romney managed to score points by attacking Sam Brownback for attacking his abortion flip-flop: "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have."

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Embracing one's contradictions is as opportunistic as explaining them. But this approach offers three distinct political advantages. It skips the embarrassing details. It sounds both humble ("I was wrong") and defiant ("I won't apologize for telling you what you want to hear"). And best of all, it's the flip that keeps on giving. A frequent flipper like Romney can't afford to spend all his time apologizing—or not apologizing. But as the most changed mind in the race, if he can persuade voters that changing one's mind is a sign of courage and leadership, he'll win in a walk.

Romney isn't just resting on bygone contradictions; he's working hard to generate new ones. Last week, he offered a trenchant critique of the Department of Homeland Security as " one big bureaucracy." But far from taming the bureaucracy, he proposed expanding it—by shifting money away from first responders and other homeland-security efforts outside Washington, and pouring it into the second-most hidebound bureaucracy in Washington, the FBI. Romney has his contradictions covered: In 2003, he told Congress exactly the opposite, praising then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge's "stalwart" importance and pleading for more homeland-security money for the states.

Romney recently warned that Barack Obama wants "to have the government take over health care"—a remarkable charge, considering how much the plan Romney enacted in Massachusetts resembles the plans Obama and many other Democrats have put forward. Romney assures conservative audiences, "I don't want the guys who ran the Katrina cleanup running my health care system." That's a job for the FBI.

In standing up for Americans' right to change their minds, Romney may fancy himself in the high-minded company of another Massachusetts man with a soft spot for contradiction, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson gave future generations of politicians comfort with his famous adage "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

But Romney's real political guru may instead be Emerson's admirer and fellow transcendentalist Walt Whitman, who wrote in Leaves of Grass:

"The past and present wilt -- I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future. ...
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself."

Romney and Whitman don't have much else in common, but they share  a curious obsession with oceans. So, perhaps the two men would agree: If you can't beat the dolphins, why not join them? ... 3:25 P.M. (link)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pan to the Ocean: With the sound off, Mitt Romney's new TV spot " Ocean" could be about climate change, The Perfect Storm, or the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina. When David Brody of the Christian Bible Network watched it, he forgot which cable channel he works for: "There are so many shots of the ocean in it, I was waiting for the crew of Baywatch to save someone." More than anything, the spot reminded me of the opening credits of the camp '60s soap Dark Shadows.

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