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    The art of the pandergrovel

    Let’s face it, Mitt Romney’s Friday pandergrovel to the NRA could’ve been a lot more shameless. He could’ve said, “I love the smell of gun smoke in the morning, it smells like victory,” or he could’ve driven up to the convention site with dead varmints roped to the roof of his limo. But instead, he merely did what he always does – he spoke with the artifice of total conviction about stuff that he didn’t believe in before.The NRA folks will let him get away with it, of course – they hate Barack Obama so much that they’ll take any Republican who arrives on bended knee – but you have to wonder whether swing voters in November will sign on with somebody whose core beliefs are as ephemeral as a sand castle at high tide.Romney said Friday, “The right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous” that we should never try “to restrict it,” never enact any laws that would “burden lawful gun owners.” This, from a guy who (in his gubernatorial incarnation) denounced assault weapons as “instruments of mass destruction” and signed into law a statewide ban on such weapons. The same guy who hiked state fees on gun owners by 400 percent. The same guy who (in his senatorial candidate incarnation) supported a five-day waiting period on gun sales and boasted, “That’s not going to make me the hero of the NRA.”And the same guy who (in his initial presidential candidate incarnation) decided that it would be a good idea to become a member of the NRA. He was running for president, for Pete’s sake. How could he hope to pander successfully to the Republican right unless he began professing his (fictituous) love for shooting live birds and animals? So he became a “lifetime” NRA member, claimed that he like to target “small varmints,” and declared “I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.”That avowal proved awkward when his ’08 campaign aides were forced to admit that Mitt had only hunted two times in his lifetime – once at age 15 (shooting at rabbits), and again some 45 years later, when he joined some political donors for a day of Second Amendment exercise (shooting at quails). This was around the same time that Romney boasted about owning a gun, and when a reporter pointed out that it was actually his son’s gun, Romney replied, “Um, well, yes, but so what?” Which prompted Boston Glove columnist Joan Vennochi to write a line that I wish had thought of: “Leave it to Mitt Romney to shoot himself in the foot with a gun he doesn’t own.”Anyway, Romney has since financed his pandergrovel; last month, he announced that he had finally purchased his very own shotguns. Two, in fact. He also emphasized his love of hunting in a recent Republican debate, at least in his own inimitable way: “I must admit I guess I enjoy the sport.”But enough about guns. Since the NRA is very concerned about a broad range of American values, such as the right of religious employers to deny contraceptive coverage to women, Romney made sure that he echoed those values. Including the right of religious employers to deny contraceptive coverage to women.From his NRA speech: “In all of America, there is no larger private provider of health care for women and their babies than the Catholic Church. But that’s not enough for the Obamacare bureaucrats. No, they want Catholics to fall in line and violate the tenets of their faith. As President, I will follow a very different path than President Obama. I will be a staunch defender of religious freedom. The Obamacare regulation (mandating contraceptive coverage) is not a threat and insult to only one religious group – it is a threat and insult to every religious group. As President, I will abolish it.”So take a guess what Romney did during his gubernatorial incarnation:He enforced a new Massachusetts law that required all religiously affiliated hospitals to provide contraceptive coverage to their women workers – basically, the same provision that Obama’s “bureaucrats” have come up with. As governor, he never called it a threat to religious liberty and he never vowed to abolish it. Moreover, when he signed Romneycare, he made it mandatory that all hospitals, regardless of religious affiliation, offer emergency contraception to rape victims.But Mitt’s ’06 compassion for women has now been trumped by the pandering imperative. And so ended another session with Etch a Sketch; presumably, he no longer believes what he believed during his senatorial candidate incarnation, when he defended gun control and said: “I don’t line up with the NRA.”——-Romney’s serial recalibrations have helped make him the weakest Republican nominee in contemporary polling history. I listed some of his weaknesses in my Sunday newspaper column – but alas, for space reasons, I had to leave the polling item on the cutting room floor. According to CNN’s survey team, Romney finished the competitive primary season in horrific shape: only 37 percent of Americans view him favorably, while 49 percent view him unfavorably.No other recent Republican nominee, at the close of the competitive primary season, posted net-negative numbers. In 1996, Bob Dole was 57 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable. In 2000, George W. Bush was 53-34. In 2008, John McCain was 55-36. If Romney aspires to enter net-positive territory, he’ll need to do a lot more than pander to the NRA.——-I did another Live Chat today. Stop by, here.——-

    I’m so happy for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Winning a Pulitzer today for a great local series is vivid proof, yet again, of the vital role this newspaper plays in the life of its community. Long may it live.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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