The Wapo's Romney Drive-by

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THE PLANK AUGUST 24, 2007

The Wapo's Romney Drive-by

I realize I'm coming to this a little late, but it's egregious enough to weigh in on anyway: Like Marc Ambinder, I thought yesterday's Washington Post front-pager on Mitt Romney's continued abortion flip-flopping was pretty unfair.

The premise of the piece is that Romney has made contradictory statements about his abortion stance over the last few weeks. On August 6, Romney told George Stephanopoulos that he supports the so-called human life amendment to the Constitution. Then, a few days ago, Romney told Nevada political commentator Jon Ralston that he'd like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, which would let "states make their own decision in this regard." The Post's damning conclusion: "The two very different statements reflect the challenge for Romney, who has reinvented himself as a champion of the antiabortion movement in recent years and is seeking to become the conservative alternative to former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani ..."

First, note the weaselly "reflect the challenge" wording--code in newspaper-land for "I'm trying to bust this guy but don't want to make a direct accusation because I'm not entirely sure it's legit and anyway daily reporters don't do that kind of thing." The question, of course, is whether the two statements would reflect a "challenge" for Romney if the Post hadn't insisted they were at odds. (ABC ran a similar story on its web site the day before, though it's slightly more circumspect.) I don't think they would, at least not in and of themselves, for the simple reason that I don't find the statements very contradictory.

Romney's position, as Ambinder points out, is that he'd like to see Roe overturned in the short-run and the human life amendment passed in the long-run. Now, if your position is that Roe should be overturned, and someone asks you about an implication of that position, as Ralston did (click here for a fuller transcript of the exchange, and here to watch it), I don't see how you avoid the conclusion that states will then get to set their own abortion policies. But that doesn't have any implications for what happens if the country subsequently passes a human life amendment. I'm hardly an authority on the Constitution, but my understanding is that it supercedes any state law. I suspect that's Romney's understanding, too. So there's really no ambiguity here, much less a contradiction.

Don't get me wrong. Romney's recent conversion on the abortion issue--even he has conceded he was "effectively pro-choice" in his early days as Massachusetts governor--raises legitimate questions about where he really stands. But to make front-page news out of two completely compatible statements strikes me as absurd. I wasn't a fan of this sort of thing when mainstream journalists did it to John Kerry and Al Gore. And, as satisfying as it might be in a partisan way to see the GOP get some payback, I can't say I'm much of a fan of it now, either.

--Noam Scheiber

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