Now this is a thorough piece of journalism by William Saletan on Slate. It is a very detailed account of Romney’s standpoint on abortion throughout his political career. Abortion is the ultimate issue in the so-called “culture wars”, which, although some claim we live in a post-”culture war” era, still play a big role in American politics (for example shown in Andrew Sullivan’s coverpiece in last week’s Newsweek). Rick Santorum’s clear position on this issue has already won him a couple of Southern primaries and Romney’s ambivalent position can possibly do him (or is already doing) a lot of harm among social conservatives.
The main point of the article is summarized here:
When you see the story in its full context, three things become clear. First, this was no flip-flop. Romney is a man with many facets, groping his way through a series of fluid positions on an array of difficult issues. His journey isn’t complete. It never will be. Second, for Romney, abortion was never really a policy question. He didn’t want to change the law. What he wanted to change was his identity. And third, the malleability at Romney’s core is as much about his past as about his future. Again and again, he has struggled to make sense not just of what he should do, but of who he has been. The problem with Romney isn’t that he keeps changing his mind. The problem is that he keeps changing his story.
But I strongly recommend to read it in its entirety. It is not only gives a clear history of Romney’s position on abortion, but also shines light on his character. As the author puts it:
Romney believes in telling the truth and keeping his promises. But sometimes he wishes the truth or his promise had happened in a different way. He wishes he could change it. And in his mind, he does change it. He reinterprets his statements, positions, and pledges. He edits his motives and reasons. He compresses intervals. He inflates moments. He tightens the narrative. He rewrites his lines. Yet he always finds a thread of truth on which to hang his revised history. He’s a master of the technicality.
He’s also a gifted salesman. He learns your language and puts you at ease. He gives you the version of his record, position, or motive that will please you most. When he comes down on your side, it’s intentional. When he doesn’t, it’s inadvertent. He focuses not on communicating his beliefs but on formulating, framing, or withholding them for political effect. He tells moving stories of personal experience to show you his sincerity. Then, if necessary, he erases those stories from his playbook and his memory.
Although all media on the right vehemently refuse to discuss the possibility, it seems the extent to which Tea Party and Palin militant and violence-drenched rhetoric about socialist tyrannical government and the right of people to turn to ‘Second Amendment remedies’ has been a contextual influence on Loughner pulling the trigger is still an open question.
At the same time, it is true that some medical research lately seems to point towards marihuana use possibly exacerbating schizophrenic disorders in patients. That is: if you are somebody with a disposition for or history of schizophrenia, it might be the case that marihuana use is bad for you. Although this blog has consistently been in favour of marihuana legalization, this is a topic that needs to be addressed. One thing that should be clear is that marihuana does not cause schizophrenia. That idea should immediately be done away with. But it seems that people who have a disposition for schizophrenia are more prone to smoke marihuana, which may then trigger the disease earlier and exacerbate it. On the other hand, other research indicates that smoking marihuana actually may have beneficial effects on schizophrenic patients. So in addition to being a chicken-egg question, medical results are pretty unclear. But it’s probably not a good idea to recommend these people to smoke a lot of pot; nor drink a lot of alcohol; nor recommend this to anyone.
But what’s the most unfortunate thing about this whole affair is that arguments about the context and causes of a political murder attempt now become fodder in the political culture wars themselves. According to ‘the right’, Loughner was a Communist Manifesto reading left-wing anarchist pothead; according to ‘the left’, he was a Tea Party inspired violent gun-toting paramilitary. Although it’s absurd to leave the political context out of this issue – since this was a plot to murder a political figure – and portray this as a lone gunman situation, maybe every position shouldn’t be driven to the extremes.
Because one fact is that left and right wing paranoid anti-authoritarianism are lying close together, and Loughner seems to be someone who doesn’t necessarily lean towards either one, but picked up pieces from both strands. And another fact is that in the hyperbole of both sides in the debate about what caused this, some truth may reside. Yes, smoking a lot of marihuana is bad for people with a disposition for psychotic disorders. Yes, swamping the airwaves with talk about ‘aiming’ and ‘reloading’, and painting political disagreement as Armageddon, and delegitimizing the democratic process is reckless and irresponsible, as it might drive people who have difficulty separating rhetoric from reality to crazy deeds.
So maybe at a minimum, that can be admitted. And maybe then everybody can behave civil again and engage each other in normal debate about the future course of the country.