I first came across the term "gimlet eye" when William F. Buckley used it as the title for an anthology of his columns back in the 1970s. It means to observe an issue with "a critical and penetrating stare" and an unwillingness to accept posturing and pretense. I suggest the time has come for Catholic voters concerned about legal abortion and the homosexual agenda to do exactly that. We can't read minds. So it is hard to tell who is conning us. But there are some who are. There is no virtue in being naïve.
Am I saying that I suspect some pro-life politicians of being insincere? Yes. It is no coincidence that the members of Congress with the most uncompromising pro-life records come from states and electoral districts with a large pro-life voting bloc. More to the point, there is a clear record of pro-life politicians from conservative states switching to a "pro-choice" position once when they decided to run for national office. Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and Bill Clinton come to mind. I would be willing to bet the mortgage that there are a good number of politicians who are currently considered solidly pro-life who would do the same thing today.
Jackson once denounced legal abortion as "a policy of killing infants." Gore voted for a measure stipulating that "life begins at conception." Clinton, when governor of Arkansas, said, "I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortion." Pretty uncompromising language. Yet everything changed when they began to target pro-choice Democratic primary voters.
It also works the other way round. Ronald Reagan signed a liberal abortion law in California, before reversing himself. George Bush the elder was firmly pro-choice until he became Reagan's running mate. The current president's position on abortion could be described as liberal when he ran for Congress in 1978.
Am I accusing all these politicians are being dishonest with us? No. I repeat: We can't read their minds. Their conversions may have resulted from some serious soul-searching. But we would be childish to not at least ponder the possibility that their flip-flopping took place when some political advisor showed them a pie chart demonstrating that they could not win the election without the support of those favoring legal abortions, in the case of the Democrats, or the pro-life voters, in the case of the Republicans.
True, if we were to be coldly calculating about all this, we might conclude that it makes very little difference. If pro-life voters are able to demonstrate to a politician that he needs their support to win elections, they should also be able to pressure him into voting the right way once he is in office. For example, a senator who knows his re-election depends on the pro-life vote will be likely to vote to confirm strict-constructionist judges. Even if he used us to get into office, we can also "use" him to promote the pro-life agenda.
On the other hand, there are times when the flip-flopping is so blatant that we have to question whether we will be able to count on the politician in question at crunch time. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney may be a case in point. He is deserving of a gimlet eye.
I was ready to jump on the Romney bandwagon. The man is extremely telegenic and articulate. He shines when he appears on the talk shows. He is also electable, with the ability to win the votes of independents and Democrats. His victories as a Republican in Massachusetts, the bluest of the blue states, show us that. Moreover, he opposes homosexual marriage, and, in an interview on the conservative web site National Review Online, stated flatly that he sees Roe v. Wade as "another example of judges making the law instead of interpreting the Constitution." Sounds pretty good, no?
The only problem is that when Romney ran against Ted Kennedy for the US Senate in 1994, he stated flatly, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal" and professed his support for Roe v. Wade. In his campaign for governor of Massachusetts, he endorsed public funding of abortions for poor women. Romney admits he has changed his position on abortion, by depicts it as a conversion brought on while contemplating the implications of stem-cell research.
Some pro-lifers are willing to accept this explanation. Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told reporters, "He is changing. It's not just rhetoric." Fair enough. But you can't blame other pro-lifers from holding back, especially in light of his concurrent flip-flop on the homosexual agenda. He has had a conversion there, too.
Romney is now on record as supporting a federal ban on same-sex marriage. Yet in his campaign against Ted Kennedy in 1994, he wrote to the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club, the organization of gay and lesbian Republicans, that as "we seek to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent." He told a local Boston newspaper at the time that the definition of marriage should be left up to the states.
Supporters of Romney contend that what he meant in 1994 by "full equality" for gays and lesbians did not include marriage; that he was referring only to things such as employment, housing and hospital visitation rights, and that he did not expect activist state judges to promote same-sex marriage, as they have in Massachusetts. But it is easy to see why many will find themselves squirming in their seats and feeling conned, convinced that it is no coincidence that these changes of heart came about precisely as Romney was testing the waters for his run for the presidency.
The bottom line: electing a candidate who is a "defender" of traditional marriage and the rights of the unborn, but who intends to never think about these issues again until the next election campaign, when he very well may flip-flop again, is no victory for our side. It is hard to see how backing such a candidate makes any more sense than backing someone like Rudy Giuliani, who makes specific his support for homosexual marriage and abortion on demand. At least Giuliani is not trying to con us on these issues. You know the line: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.