The problem with this chapter is its treatment of the local politician who has treated the abortion issue perhaps most outrageously: Mitt Romney. Keller does, thank goodness, occasionally acknowledge Romney’s “flagrantly expedient conversion” (p. 77) on the issue, but he mutes it with gems this one, in talking about Romney’s 2002 run for Governor.
Even Mitt Romney, wary of the gender gap, put a conveniently moderate spin on his longtime pro-life convictions. (p. 77)
Right, his “longtime pro-life convictions” like the ones he touted in his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy, when he declared
I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law, and the right of a woman to make that choice….
Many many years ago, I had a dear close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that or being multiple choice, thank you very much.
And herein lies one of the great myths of the right — that “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion” are the same thing. Pro-choice means just that — you’re in favor of women being allowed to make the choice for themselves. What Romney said in 1994 is, without question, a pro-choice position. It’s not a “moderate spin” on “pro-life convictions.” It’s pro-choice. Let’s call it what it is, for God’s sake.
Here’s another one.
When abortion came up during the campaign, Romney would lower his voice and shake his head ruefully, visibly saddened by the very thought of abortion and the crass politicization of the issue by his opponent. (pp. 80-81)
Comment is hardly necessary on that one, but I’ll offer a comment anyway. The notion that Shannon O’Brien is the one who “crass[ly] politicized” abortion is hilarious, since it’s Mitt Romney who was either outright lying to the electorate or, at least, being so vague and misleading that no one really knew what to think about his beliefs, so they defaulted to the last time they’d heard from him, which of course was 1994 when he was pro-choice. (Recall that, as Keller notes, Republican pro-choice outfits had endorsed Romney.) And as for the “visibly saddened” nonsense, honest to God, it’s called “theatre.” Politicians have been making good use of it for years. Look into it.
Keller also makes a great deal of Shannon O’Brien’s statement in the last 2002 debate that she would support lowering the age of consent for an abortion from 18 to 16, and that, when moderator Tim Russert noted that 16-year-olds needed parental consent for a tattoo, she asked if he wanted to see her tattoo (that was perhaps not her best moment). To hear Keller tell it (p. 75), that’s pretty much what won Romney the election.
O’Brien’s dismissal of parental consent rights and her flip tattoo comment caused a sensation, and her remarks dominated talk-radio chatter in the campaign’s final days. On Election Day, Romney romped.
I doubt it was just the abortion comment. O’Brien’s performance in that debate was widely panned across the board. Still, other observers also recall the age-of-consent issue hurting O’Brien, so I’ll give Keller the benefit of the doubt on that one. What’s funny, though, is that Kerry Healey almost came out with exactly the same position in the primary for that very same election. Remember the mini-scandal that erupted in May of 2006 when a practice debate tape from 2002 (yes, it’s still up, and still worth watching, especially for the dog) between Healey and a stand-in for her then-opponent Jim Rappaport found its way onto the Herald’s website? In that debate, Healey advocated for lowering the age of consent to 16 (she never took that position publicly, AFAIK).
There are a couple of other Kellerisms in the chapter that are worthy of note. In the course of bemoaning the “[Democratic] political culture that might as well be a treehouse with a handmade sign on it saying, No Gurlz Allowd” (p. 70), Keller notes that two of the three women to hold MA congressional seats were Republicans, and the third the “archconservative” Louise Day Hicks — a Democrat. How does that fit in with Keller’s central narrative — which I’ve already talked about quite a bit — of “liberal Democrats” being the ones running the state? If Louise Day Hicks can be elected to Congress as a Democrat, doesn’t that suggest that, perhaps, the party isn’t quite as liberal as Keller would have us believe? For that matter, Keller talks a lot in this chapter about Tom Finneran, whom he even acknowledges to be “conservative,” without ever coming to terms with (or, really, even acknowledging) the disconnect between Finneran’s powerful position for many years and Keller’s “liberal Dems run the show here” narrative.
More important, I think, is that I found the overall picture Keller paints of the 2002 election to be misleading. He glosses over how very hard Romney tried to appear to be a moderate on social issues, and how important it was for Romney to do so. If Romney had been perceived as anti-choice, I don’t believe he would have won. Simple as that. By pretending to be, if not out-and-out pro-choice, at least not interested in changing the status quo, he neutralized the issue, thereby making it possible for voters who would otherwise never have considered voting for him to give him a chance. After all, the Republican pro-choice groups backed him, which gave him a certain degree of social moderate “cred,” and pro-choice Kerry Healey saying that there wasn’t “a dime of difference” between Romney and O’Brien didn’t hurt either. So yes, Keller may be right that the abortion issue hurt O’Brien in the end. But the only reason it could do so is because Romney wasn’t honest about where he really stood on it.
All of that said, Keller does have a point on this one. IMHO, most voters are not single-issue absolutists on any issue, including abortion. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are well-served by being too rigid in their approach to issues like these. Keller quotes Democratic pundit Mary Anne Marsh as saying that “[i]f you really care about something, you have to be willing to accept less than a complete victory” (p. 84), and I’d say there’s some truth to that.