Monday, February 12, 2007

Revealing National Journal Interview

Last Friday's National Journal took an in depth look at Romney's candidacy and has what in my view is one of the most substantive interviews Mitt Romney has given since he started exploring his presidential bid last year. (The article and interview can be found at the National Journal's website, but note that a subscription is required to access them).

The article discusses how Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (the case holding that Massachusetts had no "constitutionally adequate" reason for prohibiting gay marriage) shaped Romney's tenure as governor and precipitated his "journey to the right." It also explores the alternatives that Romney and his team considered in deciding how to frame his candidacy.

The actual interview branches out covers a broad spectrum of issues. I've included some highlights below:

Health Care: Romney answers several questions in depth about health care and makes clear that he considers it one of his most significant accomplishments in the Governor's office. He talks about how he thinks the issue is best left to the states, though he thinks there are things the federal government can do to help, like allowing to buy their insurance in pre-tax dollars. He talks about why he doesn't always bring up health care in speeches as much as some would think he might and why he avoids the term "universal coverage." He explains:
In some audiences, they are very interested in health care and I go into it in some depth and in others I just touch on it lightly, but there's no question I consider the accomplishment of bringing market-based reforms to health care an enormous step forward for our state and potentially for the nation. The fact that a number of other states are experimenting with the same philosophy we brought to bear is also encouraging. Now, I don't use the words "universal coverage," because it typically conjures in people's mind the idea of a single payer system, and that is not what I have proposed or would support.
Iraq: Romney was asked at length about Iraq and was more critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war than I've typically seen him. He also stated that he's read several prominent books which are critical of both the war effort and the justifications used initially to sell the war.
I do believe that the conduct of the war following the collapse of Saddam Hussein suggested that there had not been sufficient planning, that there had not been sufficient preparation for what the rules of engagement would be once the government fell and it was left to Ambassador [Paul] Bremer to develop these policies without the benefit of a great deal of forethought and analysis and debate and consideration. And that led, you mentioned books, to a combination of "Assassin's Gate," "Cobra Two," "Looming Tower"... and others... it led to a number of errors on our part.
While he supports the President's decision to surge troops, he tones down expectations:
[M]y view is that approximately 30,000 troops brought in at one time would have a reasonable probability of bringing stability to Baghdad and al-Anbar. I can't say I'm highly confident in that result. I can say, as long as there is a reasonable probability of achieving stability through a central government in Iraq, that is a lower-risk option or outcome for us than having the country divide into three parts or more, or having the country fall into complete and utter chaos. . . The other options that are being discussed today are either dividing the country or walking away. Both of those have very substantial risks to our interests, which are severe and which we would not choose as long as there is a reasonable probability of an alternative strategy -- which is there is today. The alternative strategy we have today is one of providing security to the Iraqi people and stability to the government and that is what we're pursuing.
At what point would he consider bringing the troops home if the surge fails to contain the violence?
I've indicated precisely what I would do, which is as long as there is a reasonable probability of success, then we will pursue that because it's in our best interest. What I will do is identify what is in the national interest of the American people and get our troops home as fast as we possibly can. We don't want to be there one day longer than we have to be there. But at the same time, we don't want to precipitate a circumstance that would cause us to have more troops ultimately have to be involved, or massive loss of life at a cost to our interests, and to those of our friends and allies, that would be incalculable.
In the context of Iraq, he spoke about how he arrives at decisions, which, in my mind highlights his executive strengths and contrasts him starkly with a Bush Administration that has a reputation for insularity:
[Number one:] I begin by wanting to assemble a team of very smart people with different backgrounds and experience, who are aggressive proponents of their views. I like the debate, almost a case method, where people come in with different views and argue back and forth.

Number two: I like data. I don't want to sit in a room where people just talk about their opinions. I want to see data and analysis of that data which backs up opinions.

Number three: The process of having people debate, with data and analysis, allows all of us in the room to generally reach a consensus about the risks, the upsides, the downsides, the ways to alleviate risks, the opportunities we have, the full range of consideration. With receipt of that information, we can act. Clearly, the decision to deploy American military might and put our men and women at risk is a decision that can only be reached after a very extensive deliberative process.
Social Issues: Romney responded to several questions on his shift in social positions and on the Youtube video, which he admitted to watching. He criticized the video for misrepresenting his position on affirmative action and other issues and explained again his shift on abortion. As to what he hopes to see happen with abortion law:
[M]y hope is that the Supreme Court will give to the states over time or give to the states soon or give to the states their own ability to make their own decisions with regard to their own abortion law. . . . My view is not to impose a single federal rule on the entire nation -- a one-size-fits-all approach -- but instead allow states to make their own decisions in this regard.
He also spoke at length on gay rights and said that he had not discriminated in his appointments in Massachusetts, pointing out that he had even appointed gay judges. He declined, however, to speculate on whether homosexuality was a choice:
[I]n my administration, I didn't discriminate against someone on the basis of their being homosexual. And I think that it is appropriate for private citizens and government entities to take their personal care to ensure that we do not discriminate in housing or in employment against people who are gay. . . . I'm not proposing a law. I am not proposing a federal mandate, or I'm not proposing that there is an act of Congress of this nature. I'm saying that as a society, I think it is appropriate for us to avoid discrimination and denial of equality to people who make different choices and decisions including gay people. I do not support creating a special law or a special status. I've learned through my experience over the last decade that when you single out a particular population group for special status, it opens the door to a whole series of lawsuits, many of them frivolous and very burdensome to our employment community, and so I do not favor a specific law of that nature. . . . I am not a person who is anti-gay or anti-equal rights. I favor the treatment of all our citizens with respect and dignity. I do not favor creating a new legal special class for gay people. And I do not favor same-sex marriage, but as I've demonstrated through my own record, I have endeavored not to discriminate in hiring... one, in my administration, and second, in my appointment of judges.
CO2 Emissions and Global Warming: I hadn't heard Romney talk about global warming before, so I found this interesting:
I'm not a sufficient scientist to decide exactly how much human intervention or human emissions have caused global warming, but I believe they have contributed to it, and so there is a very good reason to help reduce global emission of carbon dioxide. A no-regrets policy allows us to also find ourselves using far less oil and buying less oil from people who are not our friends.
China: Romney didn't discuss China at length, but had a few thoughts he shared, including:
There is no reason to think of China as we did of the Soviet Union that wishes to bury us. China wants to see us be a successful thriving economy, and they're of course building their military might. They will continue to build their military strength; they want to protect the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca to protect their oil flow. But obviously, any nation that has a military is a nation we're going to have to watch very carefully.

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