Thursday, January 26, 2012

Patrick follows sober state-of-the-state address with focused $32 billion budget

Governor Deval Patrick yesterday proposed a state budget to back up the state-of-the-state address he delivered on Monday. That speech was competently, if not soaringly, delivered, and urged a modest, focused agenda, which the budget seems geared to implement. His list of state accomplishments was gratifying: students who lead the nation in test results; greatest percentage covered by health insurance; moving from 47th in job creation to 5th; greatest drop in automobile insurance costs. Other accomplishments in clean energy, pension reform, moving families out of shelters.

Some of those votes were uncomfortable for the legislature, he acknowledged. There’s a lot still to be done. MBTA indebtedness, wrong-doing in the probation system, the messy, possibly illegal relationship between his lieutenant governor and former Chelsea Housing Authority heavy Michael McLaughlin – all must be uncomfortable for the Governor. He did not mention them.

Even while he was congratulating legislators on their shared accomplishments, he was setting forth three areas most in need of work: dealing with the long-term unemployed, managing the costs of health insurance, and crime. He also wants to fill the jobs gap by closing the skills gap, working with community colleges and, in the process, controlling that system much more centrally and partnering with business in the process. In that, he’ll have to win over a group of community college presidents very comfortable with their current powers. Plus, it’s unclear whether more centralization will bring any benefits to a system that will rely on collaboration between community colleges and local businesses.

In the area of health costs, he wants nothing less than to end the fee-for-service system, reimbursing on the basis of quality care. Insurers and providers are already moving in this direction. It will be interesting to see where the state injects itself into the process. He also breathed words once unimaginable for an elected Democrat, “medical malpractice reform.”

His calls for reforming mandatory sentencing and punishment of habitual offenders have been around for years, as ways of reforming the reforms of yesteryear. These issues are cyclical, but it will be fascinating to see if he can make a dent in the challenge. And how big a dent will be meaningful? His previous “success” in replacing police details with civilian flaggers seems, unfortunately, to have yielded little more than tokenism.

The Governor’s budget would increase by three percent, which he justifies by citing the need to invest more in education. He would eliminate the sales tax exemption on candy and soda, while hiking certain tobacco taxes. All this is a way of investing in health, but will fall most heavily on those with the lowest incomes.

He proposes closing a state hospital and a prison, which would eliminate 400 state jobs. See the Mass. Budget and Policy Center for more details.  But can you really close a prison before you change the sentencing structure?

Typically, a Governor’s budget proposal is either dead on arrival in the legislature or, at most, the first step in a long conversation. This one will be no different.

Where the President’s state-of-the union speech was aspirational and occasionally inspiring, a campaign tract more than a blueprint for action, the Governor was modest, grounded and workmanlike, the voice of a politician rounding out his second term rather than reaching for one.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State-of-the-Union speech paints vision and ignores political realities

State-of-the-union speeches are supposed to be inspirational, and last night’s by President Obama achieved that goal. It certainly spoke to his Democratic base and evoked a vision of what those center and left-of-center want their country to be and do. The problem is that the President glided over the lessons of the 2011 annus horribilis and even 2010, when many of the ideas he floated last night were soundly rejected.

It’s fine that he portrayed his values, including a more active government role in job creation, supporting renewable energy and eliminating oil subsidies, growing the manufacturing sector, expanding the federal role in financing higher education. But he has to know that it’s likely that little will happen in a Presidential election year, that any of the larger items of his program won’t go through either branch of Congress now that it’s Republican-controlled, or at least dominated by Republican vetoes. Heck, he couldn’t get some of those same ideas through Congress when both branches were Democratic. On many issues, regional politics trumped partisan affiliation. Energy producers on both sides of the aisle are opposed to ending subsidies. And the Republicans see ending subsidies to oil companies as a tax increase, and everyone knows they reflexively refuse to support any tax increase.

Obama’s pitch to reform the tax code and the unfairness of the system will figure prominently as the Presidential campaign proceeds, and there are certainly many inequities that need to be addressed. But fairness for some means an increase for the wealthy, and, again, that’s not going to sail in the current political environment. It’s reassuring that the President is willing to take the criticisms of “class warfare” head on. (Who knew such inequities would also figure prominently in the GOP primaries?)

Obama didn’t just glide over the hugely negative political realities in Washington. He indulged in a kind of magical thinking worthy of Latin American authors. A major part of his approach to financing his programs was to take the money we will no longer be spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, use half to reduce the deficit and the other half to do “nation building here at home.” The fallacy here is that we have been deficit-financing the two wars. Not making the huge expenditures there doesn’t translate into money in the bank. The money was never there in the first place. Those wars plus the Bush tax cuts and an underfunded Medicare Part D together account for the expansion of the federal debt. So in the real world, rhetoric aside, there’s no net savings here to be achieved.

In the end, however, the State-of-the-Union address was an opportunity to paint a vision of values, if not a portrait of political possibilities. And, if the President had watered down that vision, cravenly bending to the negative atmosphere in Washington, he would have unacceptably moved the needle on where potential compromise might start and sold out the dreams of his most ardent supporters before the 2012 game had even begun.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"God of Carnage" gets at dirty little secrets

The Huntington Theatre’s God of Carnage is a hilarious deconstruction of sophisticated social interaction and marital relationships. Two urbane and successful New York couples get together in the wake of a playground incident in which one couple’s son has hit the other couple’s son with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth. Their discussion of how best to help their sons work through their differences and learn from the experience devolves into an expletive-laced, vicious attack by one couple on the other, then husband against wife, women against each other, men too. As their refined veneer is stripped away, their repressed rage boils to the surface and overflows, with stinging verbal attacks and physical outbursts, leaving the audience howling in uncomfortable laughter.

We saw the play the same day as the Republican primary process was continuing deeper into anger, savagery, marital accusations, challenges to financial success, charges of hypocrisy, and more. Art imitating life? So far, we have had 17 debates among the GOP contenders, a process that has led to the winnowing of the field, and we’ve learned a lot. But the intensity of the scrapping – and the distortions and obfuscations – have a playground quality to them, while the stakes are much higher.

The candidates are all twisting the truth, not quite at a so’s-your-mother level, but we’re getting there. Certainly, the over the-top rhetoric appeals to long festering resentments among the electorate, which helps to explain why Newt Gingrich’s piercing attacks on the media (Juan Williams on Monday, John King on Thursday) resonate so well with the crowd. Each of the candidates, in his turn, had said something biting enough to elicit cheers from the audience.

So, too, with God of Carnage. On its surface, it is a comedy, but playwright Yasmina Reza views her plays (including the brilliant send-up “Art”) as tragedy. “They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy,” she says in the program notes. She also calls her genre “theatre of nerves.” So, too, with the political drama playing out again this week.

The "funny tragedy" and "theatre of nerves" is on display in South Carolina. Mitt Romney tries to be cute about when he’ll make his tax returns public, how many he’ll provide and which years. But his nervous laugh reveals underlying discomfort talking about his significant wealth and how he earned it. How he handles this matters, not just for how voters will react but what it says about his values, his policies, perspectives on societal divisions, the "politics of envy" and the appropriate boundaries of “creative destruction.”

Newt Gingrich’s well-planned attack on the media for looking at his personal life reveals a streak of overweening hypocrisy (remember his leadership on the Clinton impeachment). His calling Obama the “food stamp President” suggests if not the vicious racism that some have charged, then most definitely a willingness to play to lingering racism in South Carolina. For a self styled historian and scholar, his serial distortions of the truth are mind-boggling and laughable. ... and tragic when considering he could be a major party nominee. [Thank goodness for the fact checkers .]

The oft rehearsed, canned answers and policy sound bites have already begun to sound like elevator music. We yearn for unguarded moments, or revealed truths, when insights into character can be gleaned. Does Romney’s having strapped his dog, (in a crate with a hand-made windshield ) on the roof of his car on a long-distance trip to Canada, tell us more about him than the evolution of his policy positions? The image might be good for a laugh line in a sitcom, but it carries with it an uncomfortable touch of horror.

It’s easy to complain about our long drawn out Presidential campaign process. Still, it seems a year well spent as we peel the onion, getting to know the core of these characters, as they can’t help revealing themselves and their fitness to become the leader of the free world.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The state of Menino’s city is a cut above

Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s 19th state-of-the-city speech last night was a welcome relief from the nasty partisanship and overheated rhetoric of the national political scene.
Locally, Boston’s unemployment rate is 5.7 percent, two points lower than last year. Menino noted that the Innovation District he created in the Seaport area is bringing jobs to the area. He wants to upgrade Madison Park Technical High School to do a better job on vocational education, especially by creating work-study opportunities with businesses.

Due to his focus on lowering health costs for municipal workers by joining the state’s Group Insurance Commission, the city will now save some $70 million. More police are walking beats, and the incidence of crime is down, including homicide. (Which is especially good since the rate of bringing the murderers to justice is lower than other cities nationally.) The idea that a leading politician, albeit a municipal one, can walk the walk when it comes to neighborhood and community, to knowing each other and working together, is a breath of fresh air.

There are several reasons why his stated recommitment to changing the student assignment process and having more children attending schools closer to home makes sense. Those reasons include the byzantine assignment process itself, the $70 million spent on buses that could be spent on books and teaching, and the learning time lost when the buses are chronically late. But last night Hizzonah also reminded us, without using the race-loaded name “neighborhood school,” that even more is at stake in the effect of the student assignment process on the texture of the community.

You can pick any street, he said. Of 12 kids, they probably go to 12 different schools. He asked, “Have you met more than half the people on your street? More than half of the folks in your church? More than half the parents in your kids’ classrooms?” He continued, “The more we know each other, the more we’ll trust each other, and the more we’ll accomplish.”

Yes, Tom Menino is not a polished orator. Yes, he still often mangles the language, even when working off a teleprompter. [And I know the rap on him for micro-managing, especially when it comes to matters of real estate.] But there are times when something authentic about this politician comes through in a very compelling way. Last night was one of those times.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Warren, Brown seek the impossible in the ad game

Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown are adopting a statesman-like posture in calling for the elimination of campaign ads paid for by outside groups. Each candidate, in doing so, can boast of support for a better, less distorted political process, one from which we would all benefit. But their recent exchange of letters and a voice mail message seems more like game playing….on both sides.

Brown wrote to Warren, urging that she denounce such outside ads.  (There have been two anti-Brown ads by the League of Conservation Voters blasting him for his environmental stands.) Warren was the target of an ad run by a Carl Rove-backed group, picturing her as a radical professor claiming to have been the founding mother of the Occupy Movement and, at the same time, supporting bank bailouts. Warren agreed to Brown’s call to denounce outside ads and called for an “enforceable agreement,” according to the Boston Globe.

And that’s the point. The Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in the Citizens United case banned limits on independent spending on behalf of candidates by individuals, corporations and unions. The First Amendment, the Court said in its expansive ruling, bars such constraints on political speech. This has opened the floodgates to spending “independent of the candidates.” So how can any agreement be enforceable? Remember the Weld-Kerry race and the voluntary spending limits which each accused the other of violating? Both did. There’s no price to be paid for denouncing such ads, and candidates who do so may be viewed more favorably than those who do not. In fact, we probably feel good that our Senate candidates are taking the right position.

Enforceable how and by whom? Other than a reversal of the Court’s decision, how can anyone stop independent groups from using the airwaves on behalf of one candidate or the other. Both the candidates should be honest about the futility of trying to do so.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chest thumping on China gives insight into GOP candidates

Mitt Romney should “get a grip” in considering how punitive the United States should be in responding to China’s often unfair (but enormously successful) industrial policy. So said former US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky after speaking to a crowd of more than 700 executives and professionals at The Boston Club’s Corporate Salute on Thursday.

Barshefsky, Ambassador in the Clinton Administration, had been asked about a debate discussion between Jon Huntsman and Romney about how the United States should deal with the powerful and growing Chinese economic threat. Romney had been defiant, wanting, in effect, to slap them around, and Huntsman took a more nuanced position born of information and experience as U. S. Ambassador to China

Barshefy said Romney should take a lesson from our experience with Cuba. She noted that, despite a harsh embargo against Cuba, Fidel Castro has outlasted 11 U.S. Presidents, none of whom was able to bend Cuba to our free-market brand of democracy. “Who does he (Romney) think he is,” she posed, adding that Huntsman’s approach to working with China was the better way to go. The other GOP candidates are closer to Romney and it appears Huntsman is now a dead man walking.

The Boston Club, which identifies a pool of top female talent for corporate leadership positions, holds the annual event was to honor Massachusetts-based corporations with two or more women directors. There are still 41 of the largest 100 companies in the Commonwealth with no women on their boards. Twenty-nine companies have neither a woman director nor a woman executive officer, despite growing evidence that board diversity adds measurably to a company’s bottom line and shareholder value. [ Full disclosure: I’ve been a longtime member of the Club’s Corporate Board Committee.]

Barshefsky’s focus was on the accelerated pace of global growth and the tenfold increase in global companies over the last 50 years, with large developed nations and poor, small ones “playing in the same sandbox.” Twelve rounds of trade talks have brought down many barriers to access, and all are feeling the pressures of intense competition. But, as I watch the candidates, I keep seeing posturing and cliches from the candidates, not a clear-eyed facing up to the today’s global economic realities.

China has become increasingly muscular. Japan now trades more with China than with the United States. So, too, do the other Asian nations and even Brazil. China, which has amassed $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and is aggressive in natural resource acquisition around the world, is virtually setting the global agenda.

At the same time, the economies of the United States, Europe and Japan have declined, are less able to withstand financial shocks, and are burdened with high unemployment, slow growth and the need for austerity measures. Just look to what’s happening with the Euro and Eurozone countries. There’s also a slow movement afoot to move away from the dollar to a basketful of currencies in international trade. The change may not happen in our lifetime, but it’s unsettlingly to those who assert American exceptionalism .

Barshevsky criticized leaders here and abroad who are limited by a win-lose mentality, and, troubled by domestic political strains, tend to blame China.

“It’s not too late to get our act together, to reassert our pre-eminence” she said. The answer, she later explained, lies not in a Romney-like bullying approach to China but in strengthening ourselves on the home front, ending the paralysis in Washington, grappling with our deficit and investing in things like education, to make ourselves stronger and reinforce our ability to compete.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can S.C. trash talk stop Romney's big mo?

By the numbers, Mitt Romney can’t have the GOP Presidential nomination wrapped up until late April. By then he could have aggregated enough of the 1144 delegates needed to win next summer’s convention to take off some time and go boating on Lake Winnipesauke. To date, only 40 delegates have been chosen, two percent of the total. Romney has 20 of them. And he still has to show he can win in the South, which, before the anticipated negative ad barrage in South Carolina, he is poised to do.

He certainly has what George H. W. Bush called “the big mo.” Romney is two for two (omitting that there may have been a 20-vote typo in his favor in the Iowa results) and garnered more than 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire (better than he, or winner John McCain, did last time). Even more significantly, he won most of the constituencies identified by the pollsters and pundits. Even some Tea Party types (who are not numerous in the Granite State) found him acceptable. New Hampshire also lacks evangelicals, but they will be out in force in South Carolina, where former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum should do better. And Gingrich’s SuperPAC should test the power of negative advertising. Lee Atwater would have really enjoyed this campaign. Romney will still benefit, however, from a fragmented field of primary opponents.

Romney’s teleprompter-delivered speech last night was perfectly packaged and timed to maximize his audience. It had all the rhythm, alliteration, and parallel structures to qualify as an acceptance speech at the Tampa convention. It focused on President Obama rather than on any of the other GOP candidates, and had all the platitudes befitting a promise of “an America that is a land of opportunity and a beacon for freedom”. It was a window into the rest of the 2012 campaign, which, from Romney’s perspective, will be a choice between two destinies: Obama’s “European Socialist welfare state” careening toward bankruptcy and Mitt’s promise of a federal government that is “simpler, smaller and smarter.”

Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and 3rd place finisher Jon Huntsman have all pledged to go on to South Carolina. It will be very surprising if they all continue beyond that to Florida January 31, given the costs of campaigning there. Florida, by the way, starts the traditional GOP winner- take- all delegate computation, so, if Romney comes in first even with a low plurality, the locomotive sound you hear will be the Romney train steaming toward inevitability. February is mostly a caucus month, with two of the three primaries to be held in Michigan (home state to George Romney and Mitt as a child) and Arizona, a state with a sizable Mormon population, also home state to John McCain, who has endorsed Romney.

Romney has the money and the organization to surmount the bumps he may hit in less hospitable states, especially in the South, but those bumps should at a minimum make the trip a little more interesting for us political junkies, for whom an early decision would be a bit of a disappointment.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kennedys return, this time to 4th congressional district

So, Joe Kennedy III appears poised to return his famous family to political office. His father, Joe, was a Congressman from the 8th congressional district, that seat famously held by his uncle Jack before he became President. Young Joe has resigned from his post in the Middlesex District Attorney’s office and set up an exploratory committee. But, is he a shoo-in simply because of his name?

Not necessarily. Only need look only at his uncle Max Kennedy who, for a nanosecond in 2001, was a candidate for the late Joe Moakley’s seat in Congress. In his first political speech, he lost his place, got confused, and unaccountably giggled. Onlookers speculated he was caught off guard by the media hordes. In later presentations, he got some facts wrong and was perceived as stumbling and inept. In presentation coaching, I’ve often used that particular Kennedy oops as an example of someone who thought he could just go out there and not have to prepare for it. His candidacy was short-lived, as was that of the normally poised Caroline Kennedy, who briefly ran for U.S. Senate from New York, with similar results.

But, while not being a shoo-in, Joe Kennedy III could shape the race for the retiring Barney Frank’s district. As the Boston Globe noted this morning, people may not know Joe specifically, but they sure do know his family. Some voters will reject him due to lingering antipathy to the Kennedy family; others (including some blue-collar Democrats who voted for Scott Brown and want to atone for that) want to restore the dynasty.

We all, of course, have to find out much more about him: what his policy prescriptions are, how he responds to tough questions, what makes him tick. He is largely a blank slate, with a broad smile and engaging manner. The couple of times I’ve met him, he has demonstrated he has “the touch.” He's friendly and down to earth, looks you straight in the eye, seems to value the connection, however brief. Well pedigreed, he is said to be very bright. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and my initial impression of Joe Kennedy III is very positive.

That said, he’ll have to prove that he should win rather than other candidates, such as Boston City Councilor Mike Ross. Ross has a solid track record, served as the Council President for two terms. and grew up in the 4th district. Ross’ father, Stephan Ross, is a well known Holocaust survivor, who worked with Kitty Dukakis to get the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston built. In a multicandidate primary, if ethnic identity plays a role, there is a significant Jewish vote in Newton, Brookline, and Sharon, which could figure measurably in the outcome.

But the new redistricting lines make the district far less liberal than that which sent Bob Drinan and Barney Frank to Congress for decades. Republican Sean Beilat, who ran last time, would be a credible opponent should he decide to run. Brookline School Committee member Elizabeth Childs, a psychiatrist, is already campaigning and will make Bielat work for the Republican nomination.

This all makes for a very interesting contest, one about which there are no foregone conclusions, Kennedy or not.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Voting with polls is the tail wagging the dog

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary is supposed to be retail politics at its most pure. The idea is that the candidates meet people from all walks of life, in every conceivable kind of setting, and the people make up their minds based on personal, elemental information gathering. At least, that’s the history and the theory.

Which is why a story on WBUR radio this morning was so disturbing. Reporter Fred Thys quotes N.H. primary voter Karen Eckilson at a Romney rally in Petersborough. She tells Thys “I was actually thinking of Huntsman, but I don’t think he can make it,” Eckilson said. “I don’t think he’s electable — poll numbers.”

If people vote based on polls, that diminishes the primary as a way to breathe life into a solid candidate with real potential for making a contribution, who may not have the money or ground organization to come fast out of the gate. Carry that to a logical conclusion, for that matter, and why have people vote at all? Just declare the winner to be the candidate with the greatest percentage of public opinion survey support on the first Tuesday after the first Monday or some other fixed point in time.

Polling is an inexact science, with wide variations in methodologies and margins of error.  Polls often reflect undeveloped opinions and fail to reflect soft and changeable support for the candidates. Even in the entrance polls in Iowa, more than half those who voted for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum said they hadn’t made up their minds until a day or less before the caucuses. Rick Santorum was ignored by the press because his poll numbers were so low. It's a vicious cycle, meaningless polls that often reflect name recognition.

Karen Eckilson is not alone in this wag-the-dog scenario. WBUR quotes a Suffolk University report that “Voters seem to be moving away from the former Utah governor [Jon Huntsman]and Texas Rep. Ron Paul toward being undecided again, as they reconsider their choices after the Iowa caucuses.”

If voters went by polls, Hillary Clinton would have been coronated before the first caucus in 2008. I keep thinking about how the late Minnesota Senator Gene McCarthy took his anti-Vietnam War message to every nook and cranny of New Hampshire. Opinion polls showed him at as little as 10 percent support, but he stuck with it. And many voters stuck with him, despite the polling numbers. When he garnered more than 42 percent, Lyndon Johnson announced his intention not to seek reelection as President.

Learning the party building benefits that accrued to the Democrats in 2008 from a drawn-out primary fight, Republicans this year for the first time have scrapped their winner-take-all balloting for the early stage of the process. The goal was to keep more candidates alive longer and kindle voter interest in the race.

If voters succumb to the polls and fail to vote their hearts and minds this early in the campaign, what else are we losing?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Eight-vote landslide boosts Romney’s front-runner status

Thank goodness for the Presidential race filling the vacuum created by a New England Patriots bye week. Waiting until 2:30 in the morning for Romney’s 8 point Iowa caucus margin of victory was a bit much however.

Iowa starts the winnowing process. Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, despite having won last summer’s Iowa GOP fundraiser/straw poll and yesterday’s Iowa Coffee Bean Caucus (reported on by Fox), garnered just six percent of Tuesday’s real votes (half what Perry got) and, mercifully, has dropped out. [Please spare us these synthetic campaign gimmicks as well as pollsters who fail to measure the softness of candidate support] Following suit may be Texas Governor Rick Perry, who, despite deep pockets, failed to make it into the top tier. He has gone home to think things over. So where does that leave us?

Romney has a commanding lead (support, in recent polls, approaching 50%, more than double that of his closest rivals) in New Hampshire and seems poised to win the first-in-the-nation primary. That level of support has held since December, as has the support for former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman, all well behind Romney. At the bottom, former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum has doubled his N.H. support in the last month (from 5 percent), and it will be interesting to see what further traction he gets there in the wake of his running in a virtual dead heat with Romney in the Iowa caucuses. This will likely be Huntsman’s best shot, assuming non-Republicans, with no action on the Democratic side, decide to take GOP primary ballots.

Romney won in Iowa with the same result he received in his devastating loss there four years ago. However well he does in New Hampshire, there will be those who will be unimpressed, noting that he should do well due to his vacation home there, his 2008 campaigning there, and from his term governing nearby Massachusetts. The next real test may be South Carolina at the end of this month, a place where social conservatives hold sway and Romney may also have to deal with issues he has so far largely avoided. Santorum should do particularly well there.

Romney was largely spared the negative advertising launched against Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich (primarily by a super-PAC led by Romney friends and former staff that Romney claims he has no connection to, which may be legally and technically correct, but… ---heh, heh). That honeymoon is now over, and Romney will be the target of negative ads in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Romney may not look so pretty to the Republican primary audience from here on. But with a divided opposition and proportional voting in the early contests , he should pick up chunks of delegates, even if bloodied. Ironically, savaging Romney as a “moderate” in Republican primaries, should, if he is the nominee, make him more attractive to Independents and disaffected Democrats in the general election.

The most reassuring line I’ve heard about Romney, probably the candidate Barack Obama least wants to run against, is from a Romney fundraiser who said , “Don’t worry about Romney; he doesn’t believe what he is saying.” But he will have to move more to the right in South Carolina, and we’ll be hearing more right-wing fealty from him. Given Romney’s history, It doesn’t take much to imagine the Obama team preparing the 2012 version of the 2004 anti-Kerry windsailing ads.

Like the Globe’s Brian McGrory,  I, too, have dealt with Romney personally. Between his failed run against Ted Kennedy and his departure to save the Olympics, Mitt was part of my stable of panelists for my Sunday morning talk show, Five on Five. I always found him, as did McGrory, amiable, charming and even “moderate to the point of being nonpartisan.”

In his policy pronouncements, Romney was thoughtfully conservative, evidence-driven and generally quite reasonable. After quirky and self-indulgent Bill Weld, Romney took the role of governor and responsible government seriously. Those who remembered his parents and their commitment to public service, and how both were important role models for their son, had reason to be optimistic. That all started to change halfway into his gubernatorial term when he started running for President and faced having to court and win support among more hard right constituencies, nationally.

If he becomes the nominee, I still hold out hope for a thoughtful, rational and even-tempered discussion with Obama about the role of government and how to provide services, including health care, foster job creation and economic development, while attending to short and long term implications of the federal deficit. Yet, given the way money will be used in the general election, and the preference of both the news media and voters for campaigns as entertainment not enlightenment, that hope is probably na├»ve. Is Landslide Mitt really on his way? We’ll know more as the GOP process unfolds in the next few months.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.