In my mind, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the most unacceptable presidential candidate in the 2008 race. He is a fair-weather phony that will say or do anything to get elected. In short, he is a poster-boy for everything wrong with politics and represents the reason many people stay home instead of heading to the polls on Election Day.
On the surface, Romney appears to be a strong candidate. He is articulate, looks presidential and was elected governor of a liberal state. He turned state deficits into surpluses and helped pass an innovative healthcare plan in Massachusetts.
Even with his impressive resume and stature, Romney has an uphill battle for the Oval Office because he is a Mormon. Polls show that nearly 4 out of 10 Americans would not vote for a person of this religious persuasion. In order to offset this baggage, Romney’s strategy is to sandbag gay people.
The legalization of equal marriage rights in Massachusetts has offered Romney a perfect platform to pretend he is a right wing ideologue. Last year, he courted noted fundamentalist leaders and reportedly met with Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Romney also embarked on a self-serving, stomach-turning tour of southern states, where the sitting governor showed remarkable disloyalty by unabashedly bashing Massachusetts. To warm up conservative audiences, Mitt used one-liners such as, "Being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts," he told a GOP audience in South Carolina, "is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."
But Romney’s gesture made him look like a jester whose comedic talents as the Bay State buffoon were only surpassed months later by Sen. John Kerry’s crack about our troops in Iraq on the dawn of a midterm election.
Of course, if the Mormon issue does not sink Romney, the moron issue likely will. The undeniable fact is that Mitt is full of it. Like the quintessential snake oil salesman, he changes his sales pitch depending on what audience he is addressing. He seems tragically unaware that satellites and the Internet have been invented and what he says in Red States can be viewed instantaneously in Blue States.
For example, while speaking to the rabidly conservative crowd in South Carolina, Romney flat-out lied about his own stance on gay marriage – erroneously claiming that he has opposed civil unions "from day one". According to an article in the Boston Herald, Mitt had for months backed a constitutional amendment, which would ban same-sex marriage while allowing Vermont-like civil unions.
Such duplicity on gay rights has become a hallmark of Romney’s. In Bay Windows, New England’s largest gay publication, Susan Ryan-Vollmar highlighted Mitt’s metamorphosis. The protean pol pandered for gay votes until he thought it was more advantageous to pound gay voters in his bid for the presidency.
In 1994, when he was running against Ted Kennedy in his bid for U.S. Senate, Romney wrote a flowery letter to the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club saying "we seek to establish full equality for American gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent."
In his successful governors race in 2002, Romney and his running mate, Kerry Healey, distributed pink fliers at a Gay Pride parade, proclaiming, "Mitt and Kerry wish you a great Pride weekend."
You have to hand it to Romney for Chutzpah. He thinks he can sound like Harvey Milk for a decade and then pivot in an election year and milk votes from the Falwell crowd. Sadly, his political calculations may be correct. This is why it is up to the GLBT community to derail Romney’s campaign. However, we have to be smart about it. Paradoxically, the more the gay community denounces Romney, the more viable he looks to voters in South Carolina.
I have a solution. An enterprising activist should start a web campaign, www.RomneyLovesGays.com. The site should list his campaign appearances across the nation so local activists can mobilize and show up at his events. However, instead of calling him a hypocrite, we should call him a hero.
I can’t think of anything that would sabotage his campaign more than gay activists thanking him at campaign rallies for his efforts to outflank Ted Kennedy on gay rights. The signs held by activists at these events should read “Gays Love Mitt” or ‘Thanks for your Support” and contain large rainbows or pink triangles.
The more love we show for Romney, the more the right will love to hate him. Ironically, Romney can bring Falwell and gay people together with both sides saying “Amen” to the concept that character matters for a would-be president.