Guard, turn, parry …

dodge, spin, ha, thrust …. SPROING !

Politics sure can be convoluted sometimes.  What appears to be Wednesday’s headline provides a good example of just how complicated even simple stuff can be.

Headline “Romney promises no abortion legislation

Seems simple enough … unless you spend even a minute thinking about it.

The actual quote, from the candidate to the Des Moines Register, says

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

The qualifying phrase “that I’m familiar with” gives him an out right off the bat.  In a world where we’ve quibbled over “The meaning of ‘is'”, Romney leaves himself an opening big enough to drive a truck through.

I’m fine with that really, it’s just standard politician-speak, a form of legalese that comes in handy when you want to say one thing but leave yourself plenty of room to do something else later.  Nothing out of the ordinary as far as I’m concerned, and nothing that’s even unique to politicians.  If you’ve ever bought a house, gotten a doctor’s diagnosis, given or received a job recommendation, you’ve almost certainly seen or heard the same sort of thing.

So there’s twist number one.

Then there’s the AP headline I quoted to get things started here.  Headlines are meant to attract attention, and this one certainly seems to do that.  But I think there’s also a general belief in the public that they also convey either the largest or broadest sense of what the story contains.  In this case, the headline fails, because that’s not really what he said nor is it something he even has control over.

Presidents can certainly drive legislative agendas, they have various ways of making their desires and priorities known to Congress.  It’s common enough for a bill to originate in the Executive branch & wind up with a sponsor(s) to submit it in one or both chambers.  But what Presidents don’t have is sole control over what bills end up being considered.  Representatives and Senators can propose bills to their little heart’s content, no Presidential approval needed until after it’s passed.  In case a refresher might be helpful here …

So the headline grabs attention but fails to convey just how relatively empty this threat/promise (depending upon your point of view) actually is.  Another moving part added to the mix, incomplete information added to the public consciousness.

That brings us to the Obama campaign response to the quote, and it’s an interesting one.  They say, according to AP anyway, that

the Republican challenger is not telling the truth about his position. Obama campaign officials cite a remark from a 2007 GOP debate that he would “be delighted” to sign a bill banning all abortions.

Umm … anybody got a “well, duh” I can borrow?  For as little as I trust anything that comes out of Romney’s mouth about virtually anything, the one thing I’m pretty convinced he’s sincere about is his opposition to abortion.  Of COURSE he’d be delighted if such a bill happened across his desk … but he didn’t address that in his comment to the Register, he simply gave an indication that he probably wasn’t going to seek such a bill.  Then again, he really doesn’t have to, that’s a process that really doesn’t require Romney to be a catalyst.   So the Obama campaign responds to something that Romney didn’t actually say in the first place.  Moving part number three, slanting the issue in the direction you want it to go.

I’m pretty sure we see moving part number four in that response as well.  Look again at the angle of attack they chose to take, basically saying “he says he won’t, but we know he will”.  That’s an approach pretty clearly designed to promote fear, at least in those who find such a prospect something to fear.  That might very well be an indication that at least the incumbent’s own internal polling shows a significant portion of whatever post-debate gains Romney actually had came from the middle or possibly center-left, and were from primarily females in that segment.  The tactic would be to scare them back out of the Romney camp, if not to Obama then at least to the sidelines.  That’s a fair enough tactic as far as I’m concerned, nearly all is fair in both love & war after all, but it’s another moving part: controlling the spin is what matters, but watching who is targeted by that spin can be educational.

The next cog in the Rube Goldberg machine that this story seems to be is the question of whether sometimes you might be better off to leave well enough alone.  While the Obama camp seems to be concerned about center/center-lefts heading into the Romney camp, they also appear to be doing their opponent a considerable favor.  By insisting, of their own accord, that Romney will be active in legislative attempts to regulate abortion, they’re actually helping to keep voters for whom that’s the number one issue in his column rather than just sitting things out in November because of disappointment with his quote.   Another moving part: the law of unintended consequences can show up just about anywhere, not unheard of at all for them to be as unexpected as they are unintended.

As usual, I don’t know that I’ve just written anything particularly groundbreaking or had anything resembling an epiphany.  Just something I thought was interesting to break down into its little parts, maybe the effort was worth at least three cents to somebody.


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