By Ellen Goodman
BOSTON—Last spring when the tender shoots of John Kerry’s ambition were rising again like a hardy perennial, I uttered a “cri de coeur” or, as we say in English, a shriek: “Stop Him Before He Kills (The Democrats’ Chances) Again.”
Kerry is a good, honorable, thoughtful man but a God-awful presidential candidate. And so the only person who choked up at last week’s announcement that he wasn’t going to run again was, well, John Kerry.
But no sooner do we celebrate the demise of one Massachusetts candidate then up pops the next one. The unlamented former Gov. Mitt Romney is becoming a true contender, harvesting endorsements and attention in pursuit of the Republican nomination for president.
I realize that Bay State politicians—-from John Adams to Mike Dukakis—have long suffered from Potomac Fever. But my friend Steve Crosby, dean of the McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a chief honcho for two previous Republican governors, says Romney suffers from “Potomac Ebola Virus.”
A particularly virulent strain has infected the man running from Massachusetts. Or should I say, running away from Massachusetts. Or against Massachusetts.
Our man Mitt is positioning himself to the right of every Republican candidate with the exception of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. He has famously told audiences that “being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention.” He’s repeatedly described himself as a lonely figure fighting the values fight against “the Kennedy-apologist, knee-jerk Clinton supporters” and ... you get the idea.
Even Evangelicals for Mitt—yes, there is such a website—says, “He shares our values, and he’s fought for those values in hostile territory.”
The idea, the pitch, the shtick is that if Romney can make it as a conservative Republican here, he can make it anywhere. There’s only one small problem: He didn’t make it here as a conservative. Romney ran and won as the fourth in a direct line of moderate Republican governors.
Romney is the author of a book called “Turnaround,” a proud reference to his career as a venture capitalist and to his star turn in salvaging the scandal-plagued Salt Lake City Olympics. But I assure you there is no turnaround as impressive as the one he’s done on himself.
You can go to the Internet for the Compleat YouTubing of Mitt’s miraculous transformation. But here’s a short reprise:
The old Mitt said, “I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose.” The new Mitt says, “I’m committed to promoting the culture of life.”
The old Mitt wanted emergency contraception to be more readily available. The new Mitt vetoed a bill to have it sold over the counter.
The old Mitt promised “more effective leadership” toward “full equality” for gays and lesbians. The new Mitt is dining out on his opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption.
The old Mitt was in favor of embryonic stem cell research. The new Mitt is boasting of his leadership in the fight against “human cloning.”
That’s just the beginning. In any flip-flop contest, Romney makes Kerry look like he wears Timberlands.
I am delighted to see a politician evolve, although evolution is not high on the dance card of the religious right. Romney prefers saying he was just wrong in the past.
The old Mitt story line for supporting abortion rights was that a member of his family died of an illegal abortion. His support for stem cell research came partly from his wife’s expressed hope that it would cure her disease, multiple sclerosis.
The new Mitt story line is that after talking to a stem cell researcher, he had an epiphany. He saw “where the harsh logic of abortion can lead—to the view of innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited.”
If you have trouble believing that he suddenly found stem cells more sympathetic than a dead relative or a sick wife, you are left with two options now facing spurned Bay Staters: Did he lie to us then or is he lying to you now?
But you can also regard Romney as the veritable model of the Venture Capitalist as Politician, doing and saying whatever it takes. Indeed, Crosby describes Romney’s governorship as being like “a corporate takeover. ... He took over the asset, stripped it of what it was worth to leverage him into another asset, the presidency. There’s no way to think he has any core beliefs other than leveraging to the next acquisition.”
What is the difference between a leveraged buyout and a sellout? Memo from this citizen of Massachusetts: Our Turnaround Master is now Your Spinmeister. Best of luck. No returns.
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at symbol)globe.com.