Last weekend I reported on the flap between the Susan B. Anthony list and Mitt Romney on the former Massachusetts governor’s decision not to sign SBA’s pledge. This reaction from a reader was typical of the reaction I received: “ While I am a supporter (and advisor) to the Romney campaign, I am also a past donor to SBA List. . . . and I would not sign this pledge, for reasons you and others have cited.”
This does not mean, of course, that candidates should escape scrutiny for their stance on issues. Far from it. The problem with pledges is that they are both unreasonably demanding (is someone not pro-life if, like Herman Cain, he thinks the pledge language runs afoul of the separation of powers?) and not demanding enough (sign a pledge, get a free pass?).
Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America suggests a different tact: look at the records and positions of the candidates. Revolutionary, I know. She, too, has qualms about Romney, and thinks as a strategic matter he could have helped himself by signing the pledge. (“I understand pledges may not mean much when it comes right down to it, but Mitt Romney especially stood to gain a lot with a show of support for basic pro-life principles.”) But her methodology, I would suggest, is far more effective. She writes:
Many social conservatives view his candidacy with skepticism because he was against pro-life freedom before he was for it. Not to sign the pledge is a strategic error on his part if he means to solidify his support among pro-life Americans, a number that is growing.
Another sticking point is RomneyCare. Mitt Romney says the state Supreme Court forced him to cover abortions and pay for it with taxpayer money. But, a principled pro-life governor would not have surrendered to pragmatism. He would have found a way around the problem. This is exactly what tripped up the not-pro-life-after-all former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) when he caved on ObamaCare on exactly the same pro-life issue. He chose universal coverage over the lives of the unborn.
Romney can engage (or not) on these and other criticisms. Social conservatives can decide for themselves whether he’s shown sufficient devotion to their cause for the last six or seven years or not.
The measure of a candidate, I would suggest, is not whether he or she is willing to hop through whatever hoop is thrust in his or her face, but what comes out of his or her mouth and, more important, what record that candidate has established.
Groups like CWA seem willing to trust voters to decide for themselves once presented with a full accounting of a candidate’s record. That puts the voters and the candidates, not the advocacy group, front and center . That, I would suggest, demonstrates a certain political confidence (the group doesn’t need to be the ringmaster to be relevant) and political sophistication (voters these days don’t want to be told who passes muster).