Thursday, December 14, 2006

1 Good Hoist On A Petard Deserves Another

[Posted by reader_iam]

Here's Andrew Sullivan today, writing again about Mitt Romney:
Everything he said in the 1990s is now to be dismissed. He was once for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; now he's against it. He was once for domestic partnerships for gays; now he's against them. He was once for ending the ban on gays in the military; now he's for keeping it. In the same interview with theocon Kathryn-Jean Lopez, he says that he opposes "unjust discrimination against anyone, for racial or religious reasons, or for sexual preference," while he favors allowing gay people to be fired from their jobs for being gay without any sanction. He was once spoke clearly of sexual orientation; now he calls it sexual "preference."

I certainly dislike some of the means and rhetoric Sullivan has used against Romney (and others, but that's not my current topic), but I largely agree with his analysis here. I think it's fair to criticize Romney as changing--and rather conveniently in line with his ambitions--a few too many of his positions for it to be merely a result of the natural evolution of opinion which I'd expect from almost anyone who's not a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue, left or right. Frankly, "flip-flops" fit Mitt.

I also think that Sullivan is onto something when he points out Romney's use of "unjust discrimination" and the switch to sexual "preference" from "orientation." That's not nitpicking: It's pointing out a deliberate, nontrivial change in political rhetoric, signalling a significant shift in political intent and target audience.

But Sullivan needs to watch his own consistency, particularly when it comes to so-called core principles he so loudly espoused back in the same '90s to which he pointedly harks back with regard to Romney. In particular, he might want to back off a bit on self-righteously using support for employment non-discrimination law as some sort of litmus test, since he's not always been such an enthusiastic supporter of that concept himself, as anyone who's followed his work for many years knows.

David Frum saved me the work of hunting down an example of that, by providing an excerpt from an article published in The Advocate back in 1998:
Are gay people generally victims in employment? Have we historically been systematically barred from jobs in the same way that, say, women, blacks, and the disabled have? And is a remedy therefore necessary? My own view is that, while there are some particular cases of discrimination against homosexuals, for the most part getting and keeping jobs is hardly the most pressing issue we face. ...

Even in those states where job-protection laws have been enacted, sexual orientation cases have made up a minuscule proportion of the whole caseload.

Most people—gay and straight—know this to be true; and so they sense that the push for gay employment rights is unconvincing and whiny. I think they're right. ...

Instead of continually whining that we need job protection, we should be touting our economic achievements [and] defending the free market that makes them possible ....

Of course, we're told that until we're protected from discrimination in employment, we'll never be able to come out of the closet and effect the deeper changes we all want. But this is more victim-mongering. ...

As it happens, I didn't share Sullivan's views on the issues he discussed in that excerpt; in fact, I would have been considered more liberal than Sullivan on these issues back in the '90s. But that's neither here nor there.

Frum says Sullivan "savagely attacks" Romney in his post. Well, obviously I don't agree with that characterization, since I think Sullivan's criticisms here are fair. Just as I think it's fair for people to point out to Sullivan when he starts getting a little too self-righteous in tone for someone who's diverged from certain principles that he used to tout as loudly as the positions he's touting now.

By the way, take a look at that interview, which Sullivan links, of Romney by Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online. I'd skipped it because, frankly, I generally ignore anything written by Lopez (speaking of shoes that fit, the term "theocon" was custom-made for her, and that's among the least of my objections). But Romney's answers provide a concise thumbnail of his current positions on several topics and where and why (he says) they've changed. Read them, and you'll basically have his pitch down to the contituencies he sees as most key, saving you lots of time better spent elsewhere.