Simon Williamson

Mitt Romney’s biggest gaffe

2012-03-23 14:40

Simon Williamson

Of all the gaffes Republican presidential candidate favourite Mitt Romney has made in this election campaign, Wednesday’s “Etch A Sketch” sound bite is, quite simply, the worst slip up his campaign could have imagined. Particularly for a candidate who has often been accused of changing his mind to suit the people he wants voting for him. A lot.
 
While on CNN on Wednesday, a senior advisor to Romney, Eric Fehrnstrom, was asked whether Romney’s competitors were pulling the campaign too far to the right, which would hurt Republican chances of picking up key moderate voters in the general election which is in November. Fehrnstron replied to the CNN host, “It’s almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.” An Etch A Sketch is a mechanical drawing toy which one can merely shake to make blank, and begin drawing again.
 
Fehrnstrom was most likely attempting to say that campaigns for the nomination and campaigns for the general election are two different animals, but ended up, through some shocking phraseology, making it sound like Romney would just change his stances to make himself more electable in the general.
 
Sadly for Romney, this has been a criticism of him since he first began running for President way back during his failed attempt in 2008, and has followed him even more intensely throughout 2011 and 2012.
 
Romney is a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, a staunchly Democrat and liberal state. Republicans who are elected there are not the same Republicans you find in more conservative southern states. Romney-type Republicans tend to be more liberal on issues such as abortion and gay rights, while advocating tighter controls on guns and less decisiveness based in religious beliefs.
 
Romney was indeed one of these kinds of Republicans, with his conservative streak aimed towards to fiscal management. Romney, back in his Massachusetts days, also advocated civil rights for gay couples, a woman’s right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy and a softer attitude towards immigrants. However, since he began running to become president, he has changed his mind on all those things, sparking a national conversation that he will say just about anything to get elected.
 
Let’s go through a few examples. In 2004, gay marriage was legalised in the state of Massachusetts through the court system with Romney openly against it. He then, again publicly, chilled out a bit and began advocating civil benefits for married homosexual couples, such as shared health insurance plans and family leave time. By 2011, Romney had signed a pledge by an anti-gay body called The Family Leader which called for presidential candidates to denounce rights for same-sex couples, and seek a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage specifically as between a man and a woman.
 
Abortion was another significant flip-flop. Romney was pro-choice up until the early 2000s, when he changed his mind and called for the cancellation of the famous Roe vs Wade court case (which, in a nutshell, ruled that abortion could not be made illegal) and have the decision-making power returned to state legislatures.
 
On gun control, Romney famously said when running for senator in 1994 that he would not “line up” with the National Rifle Association (NRA, a powerful gun lobby). In 2002 he said his policies would not make him popular with the NRA. Romney also signed a bill that banned assault weapons when he was governing Massachusetts. But in 2006 (less than a year before his first presidential run) he took out a life-time membership with the NRA. Also, just within this 2011-2012 campaign, Romney said he had been a hunter “all my life”, and then later confessed to never having owned a hunting licence.
 
But by quite some margin, Romney’s biggest change of heart is over his own healthcare law, signed into law in Massachusetts to provide healthcare to those who couldn’t afford it. In 2009, Romney said the president (Obama), who was drawing up his own healthcare reform, could “learn a thing or two” from the legislation he signed in his state. Nowadays, Romney refuses to acknowledge that he ever thought his progressive plan would ever work outside Massachusetts, with his only defence being that “Romneycare” was merely state-wide.
 
So Fehrnstrom’s assessment that Romney would push the reset button, or shake his Etch A Sketch, when he begins campaigning for the general election quite justifiably set off some panic buttons.
 
Of all the gaffes the Romney campaign has made so far, this is the one that will ring in its ears until the general election on 6 November. And correctly so.


Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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Read more on:    simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012
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