A lot of us have pondered out loud and in the blogosphere about how Mitt Romney can be a "severe conservative" a year ago, but suddenly and inexplicably claim moderate leanings in the past three weeks. We've all joked about the Etch-a-Sketch meme birthed by Romney's own campaign manager, and it seems plausible enough. But one thing has bugged me: when you see Romney on the debate stage or on the stump or in interviews now sounding every bit the moderate Republican he claimed to be 10 years ago as Massachusetts governor, he seems utterly comfortable now inhabiting the skin that the GOP base routinely calls RINO.
"Etch-a-Sketch" offers a pretty solid analogy for this ideological shift, as well as for Mitt's seeming comfort with the new persona. But it doesn't explain what makes him tick. I wanted something deeper.
Today, along comes my favorite conservative, Andrew Sullivan, who yesterday posted a scathing piece about the LDS Church's racism based in scripture and the writings of the religion's founders. His point in that piece was that the LDS Church until 1978 declared that African Americans were "cursed with the sin of blackness" and excluded then suddenly and inexplicably reverse course without apology or explanation. Why, when asked if the previous policy was wrong, does Romney fail to answer the question?
In most people carrying that level of cognitive dissonance, the moment someone exposes it, it shows up on the face, in the voice, in the body language, or in the temperament. I don't see it on his face or body, don't hear it in his voice, and don't feel it in his temperament. In other words, he's either a liar of superhuman dimensions, or he simply doesn't experience the dissonance for some psychological reason.
In a post highlighting reader dissents, a reader takes Sullivan to task for not having "fully grasped just how the continuing revelation thing works for Mormons: what is said today by Church leadership takes precedent over what went before. And to claim that this is done 'casually' is to betray ... ignorance on the question." Indeed, the church believes that once the church leadership has ruled on an issue, nothing anyone ever said in the past which contradicts that ruling "make[s] a particle of difference." What this tells me is that, once Mitt Romney has changed course on an issue, nothing contradictory he said or did before announcing the new position matters. A year ago he was a "severe conservative," but on October 3 at the first debate, he was a moderate. It was like the severe conservative never existed, and nothing he said on the stump during the primary campaign had any bearing on what he's been saying today. Therefore, the church offers a much more concrete pathology than Etch-a-Sketch, at least for me.
I don't hold any particular opinion on the LDS Church, but feel particularly uneasy about a person who can, with the precision of an automaton or, perhaps, the Inner Party of Orwell's 1984, suddenly say, "I'm a moderate, and I've always been a moderate."