Just as Rick Santorum has pointedly and repeatedly reminded voters that Mitt Romney supported an individual health care mandate and the Wall Street bailouts, so Mitt Romney has sought to remind voters that Rick Santorum has been cozy with Big Labor in the past. In his attacks on Santorum, Romney has sounded unequivocally anti-labor, which no doubt has not helped him much in Michigan.
Today, though, the former Massachusetts governor displayed a nuanced perspective on labor unions, characterizing himself as pro-union-worker but anti-union-bosses. His first line — “Labor unions play an important role in our society” — might seem to make him a hypocrite, given his recent attacks on Santorum, but the rest of the clip clears up any confusion. Mitt Romney is a proponent of the right to work across the board — and has no Senate votes in his past that say otherwise.
On that note, though, Santorum has a voting record on labor issues beyond his misguided votes against Right to Work and in favor of Davis-Bacon wage rates. Byron York reports that, at times, Santorum’s record was more anti-union than the likes of Sens. Jim Talent and Jim DeMint, both famously opposed to Big Labor. That is, Santorum’s AFL-CIO rating (a measure of how often a politician votes with Big Labor) was actually lower than the ratings of Talent and DeMint some years.
Does that excuse Santorum’s sour votes against RTW or for Davis-Bacon? No. Incidentally, the excuse Santorum uses for those votes sounds an awful lot like the excuse Mitt Romney makes for his health care law. Santorum says the votes he cast were the right decision for Pennsylvania, just as Mitt Romney says Romneycare was the right decision for Massachusetts. Bottom line: At this point, Republican voters can either choose to be bitter about the flaws in our candidates’ past records or choose to be hopeful about the fact that Romney promises he would repeal Obamacare as president and Santorum says he would support Right to Work legislation as president.
I come back to Milton Friedman’s immortal words, which have given me more comfort in this primary cycle than anything else I’ve come across:
I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or, if they try, they will shortly be out of office.
Were more encouraging words for such a cycle as this ever spoken?
Update: A little O/T, but, in response to a number of commenters who earlier today suggested that I too willingly spin news in Santorum’s favor, I offer this personal mission statement. Please feel free to hold me accountable, as I know you’ll do no matter what.
What I will do as a chronicler of this election and as a voter myself:
- I will be hopeful that our candidates mean what they say when they express more conservative views now than their past records demonstrate.
- I will not excuse the mistakes in their past records or attempt to justify them. (Note, for example, that, in my earlier post today about Rick Santorum, I did not say he was justified to vote for a debt ceiling increase five times. Would that more pols would have woken up to the fiscal realities our nation faces sooner when Republicans did control the House, Senate and White House!)
- I will continue to promote conservative policies — like the repeal of Obamacare, Right to Work legislation, curtails to collective bargaining privileges for public employees, free trade and pro-life, pro-marriage legislation — no matter where the candidates stand on those policies.
What I will (try) not (to) do:
- Descend into cynicism about the GOP candidates.
- Automatically respond defensively to criticisms of Republicans or my eventual pick for the GOP nominee (i.e. no knee-jerk defensiveness!).
- Sit out the debate or forget the importance of the issues in the fun of covering the horse race.