Governor Romney has been roundly attacked for the supposed “lateness” of his pro-life conversion. But according to today’s Los Angeles Times, Ronald Reagan’s conversion came in 1975–a mere year before he ran for president. (His first run was not in 1980, when he was elected, but in 1976.) Isn’t that interesting? ~Charles Mitchell, Evangelicals for Mitt
Not really, unless you think that President Reagan never did anything out of political opportunism when he was a candidate. That seems fairly unrealistic. It isn’t interesting, unless you take President Reagan as someone who became an impeccable champion of the pro-life cause. That would be, to put it mildly, a little too generous. (It would also mean, if we followed the comparison all the way, that Romney should lose in the primaries next year and would have to return in the next cycle to defeat the discredited President Obama.) Unlike Reagan’s change of position, however, Romney’s claims don’t even come across as credible. People don’t change their views about abortion after talking to doctors about stem-cell research. Really, they don’t. People may change their views about stem-cell research because of their views on abortion, but it doesn’t typically work the other way around. Perhaps Romney is counting on the sheer oddness of his story to make it sound like the truth, but it isn’t working.
It isn’t simply the “lateness” of the conversion that troubles so many people, but the obvious political calculation and timing of the move to coincide with his early primary maneuvers that scream that Romney is a fraud. (Perhaps Reagan was–gasp!–initially also being opportunistic in his adoption of the pro-life mantle in 1975-76 when he was running against the socially liberal, Rockefeller wing of the party–such a position aided his image as the anti-establishment candidate.) Romney’s explanation compounds the problem by insulting our intelligence with one of the more lame conversion stories on record.
In his defense the Romneyites cite Reagan, whose pro-life accomplishments while in office were negligible at best. Perhaps they are thinking of his Court appointments? Yes, he appointed Scalia, but he also appointed Anthony “Right to Existential Self-Definition” Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor–so, in fact, his choices for the Court ultimately represented a setback for pro-life voters when it came time for the Court to revisit Roe in Casey. Is that the kind of precedent Romneyites want to invoke as an example of what their candidate would do in office?
Reagan would phone in his support to the March for Life, but he would never address it personally, much less did he ever march with the demonstrators as Brownback and Hunter did as candidates this year. (Romney was too busy threatening Ahmadinejad with prosecution on “genocide” charges while in Israel to be able to attend.) By all means, let’s stress the similarities between Romney and this “mostly talk, little action” approach to life issues. I can think of nothing that would better suit the real pro-life candidates in the race. There are a great many of them, and pro-life voters do not have to throw their support away on a man who is almost certainly playing them for fools. Let’s hope that they are not easily swayed by vague, nostalgic memories of President Reagan, who did not actually make many policy decisions or appointments that advanced the pro-life cause very far and who made two appointments to the Court that turned out to be very bad for that cause.