Principles for Sale 

Mitt Romney's venture-capital politicss

Mitt Romney runs for president with the eye of a venture capitalist. He sees the profit in certain positions, discards those that are no longer profitable, and moves on. He was pro-choice when it did him some good, instituted a health insurance plan that he now denounces, and once supported amnesty for some illegal immigrants. Richard III offered his kingdom for a horse. Romney offers his principles for some votes in Iowa.

Amnesty for undocumented immigrants has become a GOP pariah and a matter of some passion among Iowa Republican caucus-goers — about 0.05 percent of the national electorate. Reasonable men — even unreasonable ones — have been hurt by the issue. John McCain spent much of the 2008 campaign backing away from an amnesty plan he had supported, and it is conceivable that he chose Sarah Palin for his ticket just so people would talk about something else. No other explanation comes to mind.

Bloomberg News unsurprisingly reports that Romney at one time held such an amnesty position himself: "We need to begin a process of registering those people, some being returned, and some beginning the process of applying for citizenship and establishing legal status," Romney said during a March 2006 interview. This is dangerously close to the position Newt Gingrich staked out in a Republican presidential debate last week.

Almost instantly, Gingrich got the word "amnesty" flung in his doughy puss. Michele Bachmann, still in the race for some unfathomable reason, uttered the vulgarity and so did Romney. "The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system," he said. This rare coupling of Romney and principle was not followed by what the 11 million undocumented immigrants might have been listening for: the promise that draconian measures would not be taken. Romney, presidential in voice but not in policy, never assured us that no one was going to round up these people, assemble them — grandparents and grandchildren alike — in schools, National Guard armories, and Wal-Marts, put them on buses to transit camps, and then shove them across the border to Mexico: done and done.

As sometimes happens in these debates, one or another of the candidates reveals a soft spot for their fellow human beings. The first to exhibit this fatal moderation was Rick Perry. He supported giving the children of illegal immigrants the same college tuition rates as other Texans. He was instantly attacked for his inexplicable humanity, plummeted in the polls and has yet to recover. It was, as they say, a teachable moment.

Next, it was Gingrich's turn. He showed himself to be familiar with the daunting complexities of illegal immigration (never a good thing), but even worse he exhibited a modicum of sympathy, empathy and — dare I say it? — Christian charity toward those illegal immigrants who had come here years ago, found jobs, established homes and families, and would, under various plans, be forced back to their native lands, usually Mexico.

"If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out," Gingrich said. The black heart of the GOP turned purple with rage.

Interestingly or maybe just ridiculously, Romney had earlier suggested the phrase "American exceptionalism," dropping it PowerPoint-style into his presentation. The term is supposed to suggest a nation favored by God and is adored by mushy conservatives. Romney put it this way: "I believe America is an exceptional and unique nation."

Possibly, yes. But if the term has any meaning at all, it has to refer to the country's tolerance of minorities. Unlike Europe, America has had no wars of religion. And with the thudding exception of racism and the settling of Native Americans on bantustans out West — no small matters, I grant you — we have avoided the harsh measures that have made Europe so peaceful and at such a frightful cost. Mass deportation will make us exceptional no more.

As a venture capitalist, Romney created jobs and he destroyed them. It was all the same to him. Only profit mattered — the end, not the means. But a shrinking middle class is going to exacerbate ethnic and racial tensions, and America is no exception to the ugly verities of human nature. Gingrich acknowledged this, saying that America would never give 11 million people the boot. Romney, provided the chance to agree, just looked the other way, his eye as always on the bottom line: In the short term, there's no profit in moderation.

Richard Cohen writes for the Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Take No Prisoners

      The Justice Department’s decision to stop using for-profit prisons is just the first step.
    • Russian Hands

      Trump’s tax returns could offer answers to the lingering Russia questions.

Blogs

Tiger Blue

Tigers 77, Bowling Green 3

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Eight Days A Week

News Blog

Film Row Gets MEMFixed Saturday

Fly On The Wall Blog

Mural Project Brings Hope to Affluent Neighborhood

Hungry Memphis

Huey's Downtown to Mark 20 Years, etc.

News Blog

City's Zoo Parking Plan Gets A 'Nope, Nope, Nope'

News Blog

Prosecution Dropped Against Lipscomb

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Richard Cohen

  • Coach Trump

    • Sep 23, 2016
  • Addicted to Trump

    His genius is in keeping us interested and outraged — day after day.
    • Aug 23, 2016
  • Hillary Mans Up

    If Hillary Clinton was a man, how different would this presidential race be?
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • A Letter to the Memphis City Council

    The council gets an “F” for its performance on the Greensward decision.
    • Mar 10, 2016
  • Pay the Band

    Why we should be supporting proposed national music initiatives in Congress.
    • Aug 10, 2015
  • Memphis’ Central Park

    The Memphis Zoo/Overton Park controversy is really about the right of Memphians to craft their environment.
    • Feb 4, 2016
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation