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July 13, 2007

The Least-Bad

I tend to agree with the emergent sense that Mitt Romney is the least bad Republican contender, though for a slightly different reason. A Republican president is capable of exerting the most damage on foreign policy, where he has broad autonomy. Their domestic policies, while likely bad, are largely paralyzed by Congress and public opinion, neither of which is amenable to the gutting of Medicare. So part of the question in evaluating which Republican you'd prefer is asking where they're likely to focus.

McCain and Giuliani both appear to have, as their most emotional policy conviction, an unrelenting hawkishness and confidence in US expansionism. Romney seems something of a finance-oriented technocrat, a conservative Robert Rubin. I may or may not approve of the resulting trade policy, but I don't get the sense that he's aching to bomb Iran. His focus appears less dangerous than that of the two. Events are uncertain, of course, and Bush's reaction to 9/11 teaches the folly of assuming what you do and don't know about an inexperienced president's core convictions. But so long as we're playing this particular parlor game, put my least-bad vote behind Romney.

July 13, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Romney is on record as saying he wants to "double" Gitmo. He says he's against due process, against allowing detainees to have lawyers, against an independent judiciary, against showing detainees the evidence against them, against review in US courts. He believes that, as president, he will have the right to order the arbitrary arrests of American citizens and disappear them into secret prisons where they can be tortured or killed. He's a fascist. Why don't you believe him when he tells you so?

Posted by: Bloix | Jul 13, 2007 10:11:32 AM

To be fair, bloix, he did say "least bad," not "anything remotely resembling sane and acceptable."

Posted by: diddy | Jul 13, 2007 10:29:33 AM

Why don't you believe him when he tells you so?

To be fair, I think we have plenty of evidence to suggest that you shouldn't believe *anything* Mitt Romney tells you. A fake authoritarian is still less bad than a real authoritarian like Giuliani, though not much.

Posted by: Gabriel | Jul 13, 2007 10:53:56 AM

It's Romney's fantastic ability to lie on cue that ought to make you re-think that. Having watched him turn on a dime up here in MA, I'll tell you Romney's overwhelming passion is neither finance policy nor foreign policy, but the promotion of Mitt Romney. If that means bombing Iran or doubling Gitmo, so be it.

Posted by: AJ | Jul 13, 2007 10:56:19 AM

I'll tell you Romney's overwhelming passion is neither finance policy nor foreign policy, but the promotion of Mitt Romney

Which is the main qualification if you want to run for president. Policy wonks do not run for president. Wealthy, connected self-promoters do.

Posted by: mike | Jul 13, 2007 11:10:41 AM

"I don't get the sense that he's aching to bomb Iran. His focus appears less dangerous than that of the two."

Focus? What focus? He's an empty suit who will do whatever seems politically expedient. Another George W. Bush, in other words.

Posted by: rea | Jul 13, 2007 11:54:03 AM

Yup, I know none of us are planning to vote for any of these GOP clowns, nor minimizing their ability to further damage this country. But after George W. Bush, I'm not eager to believe that any of them won't actually do what they say, because we can divine that 'deep down inside' they are not eager to go bomb, invade, or torture someone (human or dog )... It hurts my head to try to figure out whether a "fake" authoritarian is better or worse than a "real" authoritarian, and which type of Pinochet each of these guys would be. Among this crew, "least bad," even if ascertainable, is damned horrific. Five minutes listening to one of the Republican debates is sufficient to know that none of these people should be let anywhere near the White House, even on a walking tour.

Posted by: Bill Camarda | Jul 13, 2007 12:02:52 PM

What about Supreme Court appointments? Next president may very well replace a liberal justice or two . . . I'm not sure that I would want Romney picking them as opposed to one of the other nutballs over in that party.

Posted by: Jason G. | Jul 13, 2007 12:16:02 PM

Well, given a choice between one guy who would double Gitmo and bomb iran if events meant that it was in his short term interest, or two others who seem the kind to double Gitmo and bomb Iran even if it was not in their interest, I know which I would pick, if forced to.

Smart post from Ezra, therefore

Posted by: JohnTh | Jul 13, 2007 12:25:53 PM

I object! The basis of the analysis is clearly biased towards economic policy develepment. The idea that the President primarily effects Foreign Policy, and then only contrasting that with domestic economic issues leaves out a whole spread of issues, including the wide variety of civil rights problems mentioned by a couple of posters, and the Supreme Court nomination mentioned by Jason G. Now, Mitt may still be the least bad if you take these other issues into account, but it seems that you have just waived them away in favor of discussing your area of expertise. John McCain is better on civil rights including Habeus Corpus and torture than most of the candidates, including Mitt, and he's probably not even lieing. I know Ron Pauls libertarian streak probably scares the willies out of you Ezra, but he is way better than Mitt on pretty much all of the above-mentioned civil liberties AND on Iraq.
I still understand and appreciate your point, but I would have liked to see you expand the analysis.

Posted by: Misanthrope | Jul 13, 2007 12:51:03 PM

One more note about why Romney is marginally less bad than Giuliani et al. As governor of Massachusetts, he got used to having his worst impulses restrained somewhat by having to work with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. I think he'd be less averse than most of the others to signing legislation that came out of said legislature, especially if it's politically expedient for him to look like a moderate, fair-minded manager, which is his schtick outside of the hyperconservative GOP primary base (I think he'd be much more concerned with winning re-election than re-nomination). He believes in doubling Gitmo about as much as he believed in better oversight of state agencies in Massachusetts, which is to say, negligibly.

Giuliani, who prizes belligerence as an outright good in and of itself, would be much more likely to stoke inter-branch conflict and veto shit just because he can. Most of the excesses of the Bush administration - the replacement of policy enforcement with political warfare, the exaggerated notions of executive power, the general idea that you show strength at home and abroad by being a dick - are hallmarks of Giuliani's personality much more so than Romney's.

On the Supreme Court, well, the Dems will still have the Senate, and Romney will have less to prove to the conservative base than Giuliani, who will have to make judicial nominations a big pissing match to prove his bona fides. Not that I think Romney would appoint the next Ginsburg, but he has less to lose by nominating a moderate.

Neither Giuliani nor Romney is anybody here's idea of an awesome president, and I'm going to work hard to make sure neither of them gets there, but I think Ezra is right that Romney would just be a bad president, not a dangerously scary authoritarian. Preference for the former over the latter isn't tantamount to preference for the former over a decent president.

All Ezra's saying here is "if I have to choose between getting shot in the heart and getting eaten alive by hundreds of rats, I'll take the bullet."

Posted by: SDM | Jul 13, 2007 1:06:58 PM

I disagree with this. Romney is the closest Republican to the cabal of crazies who surround Cheney. His campaign chair is Mel Sembler, who headed up Libby's defense fund and was the Ambassador to Italy when that mysterious fraud document emanated from Rome claiming that Saddam was buying uranium from Niger.

These guys like Romney's disinterest in the Middle East for the same reason they liked W's.

Posted by: thehim | Jul 13, 2007 1:36:19 PM

All Ezra's saying here is "if I have to choose between getting shot in the heart and getting eaten alive by hundreds of rats, I'll take the bullet."

I don't see any point in making getting shot in the heart sound any better than it does. Don't do these people any favors by promoting them, Ezra. There is no "least-bad."

Posted by: Christmas | Jul 13, 2007 2:22:07 PM

I'm inclined to agree with that emerging conventional wisdom. It's a tough proposition, since it essentially means I am assuming the guy is slimy, opportunistic, and full of crap and FOR THAT REASON he is better than the other options.

Posted by: Mark | Jul 13, 2007 2:38:13 PM

Yeah, I'm with Ezra on this. Romney has even less in the way of core convictions than almost any other politician, and is much more likely to flip-flop away from his idiotic foreign policy positions than the others.

Christmas, I think the right way for us to approach this is to say -- "Romney is the least bad, because he's a flip-flopper with no convictions of any kind!" I think it's (1) true and (2) completely unhelpful to Romney if he's trying to create an appealing persona that'll win him the general election.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jul 13, 2007 7:01:24 PM

He's an empty suit who will do whatever seems politically expedient. Another George W. Bush, in other words.

Well, Romney is not dumb, while Bush is a moron. Romney's probably the smartest of the GOP field. If a Republican wins, I would prefer it to be one who can at least process new information rather than blindly voicing platitudes.

Posted by: asdf | Jul 13, 2007 11:25:42 PM

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