Why Do Reporters Think Mitt Romney Is a Moderate?

I'm sorry, but I refuse to let this one go, even if I have to repeat myself. Time's Alex Altman writes, "A very conservative party is on the verge of nominating a relative moderate whom nobody is very excited about, largely because none of his rivals managed to cobble together a professional operation." I beg you, Alex, and every other reporter covering the campaign: If you're going to assert that Mitt Romney is a "relative moderate," you have to give us some evidence for that assertion. Because without mind-reading, we have to way to know whether it's true.

What we do know is that when he ran in two races in the extremely liberal state of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was a moderate. Then when he ran in two races to be the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney was and is extremely conservative. There is simply no reason—none—to believe, let alone to assert as though it were an undisputed fact, that the first incarnation of Romney was the "real" one and the current incarnation of Romney is the fake one.

Every single issue position that might mark Mitt Romney as a "relative moderate" is something he has cast off, whether it's being pro-choice, or pro-gay rights, or not hating on immigrants. If you're going to say he's a relative moderate, you have to explain how the Massachusetts Romney was an expression of his true beliefs, and the national Romney is the product of cynical calculation, and how you know this to be the case.

It might be the case. But it is just as likely that the Massachusetts Romney was the fake one, and the current Romney is the sincere one. Or that neither one is real, because Romney simply has no actual beliefs about these issues. (I leave aside the possibility that they're both real, and he underwent some genuine change of heart on most every issue after deciding to run for president. Because no one's crazy enough to believe that.) So please, reporters: if you suspect that Mitt Romney is really a moderate, then say it's a suspicion. But don't treat it like a fact.


I recall when President Obama was running for office, he would make a statement on a policy issue, and it seemed like one half of the media's analysis was that "He's not making specific proposals," and the other half was, "Even though he said X, he probably means something else." As it turns out, if you were paying attention to then-candidate Obama's words you would have had a pretty good idea of what he stood for and how he would govern.

Now we have Mitt Romney, where most of the media seems to tremble at the notion of accurately describing him as a liar, let alone a serial liar. Half of the analysis seems to be "Even though he says X, I think it's reasonably likely that he truly believes the opposite so I'm comfortable voting for him," and the other half seems to be, "Everybody has to lie to be elected, so we should look at his claimed positions from before he started running for the White House and assume that's what he really believes," never mind that he took those positions while running for office and while positioning himself for his White House run.

Basically, the media does a terrible job analyzing when candidates are being honest, when they are shading the truth, and when they are outright lying, and the likely significance of the candidate's veracity to how the candidate might govern. Lying "to get elected" is a forgivable sin, to be expected really, and we're to asked pretend that there's a clear distinction between that type of lie and the "bad type"... although when you try to articulate a distinction it seems that there actually isn't one.

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