- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

MANCHESTER, N.H. | Just when the Republicans thought it was safe to run from the social issues that drive Election Day enthusiasm in their front-line troops, here come the glum and cheerless ghosts of gaiety past.

The high-profile Republicans, who either intend to run for president next year or to find a place where lightning might strike, are beginning to drift into New Hampshire to take the temperature of a landscape buried under dreary drifts of three feet (and more) of snow. Mitt Romney skied in over the weekend to speak to 300 Republicans in the tiny resort village of Bartlett, far upstate (as distances are measured in the quaint New England states the size of postage stamps), to introduce his latest self.

He tried to avoid the contentious issues that make politics meaningful, particularly the social issues, in his first public appearance of the New Hampshire season, scene of the first presidential primary of 2012. He has a considerable number of subjects to avoid. He gave the social issues shortest shrift, but tried hardest not to talk about the health care plan he devised when he was the governor of Massachusetts. Romneycare was eerily similar to Obamacare. The Romney plan included the mandate that everybody had to buy insurance — or else. He didn’t say he was “brainwashed,” exactly, but he called his 2008 campaign, a disaster after his several primary opponents forced him to talk about his health care scheme, “a humbling experience.”

He tried to stick close to the template the Republican establishment has prescribed for 2012, a focus on creating jobs and not talking about the agenda that brought the party to its new prominence. He sneered at Mr. Obama’s pursuit of the European model of big and intrusive governments, leading to the swamp where he parked the economy. “The president points out that he inherited an economic crisis,” he told the diners. “He did, actually, and promptly made it worse.

“The consequence is soaring numbers of Americans enduring unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. This is the Obama Misery Index, and we’re not going to let the American people be fooled.” The president’s ideology, fashioned in his early career of stirring up the masses in the company of radicals, some of them violent, makes it foolish to expect good results now. “I like President Obama,” Mr. Romney said, “but he doesn’t have a clue how jobs are created.”

But Mitt Romney does have the clues, as he is wont to remind everyone every time a snowflake falls. He was the man who saved the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah when no one else could have.

It’s the squeamish social issues that make Mr. Romney’s teeth itch. Who can blame him?

Last month, when President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder labeled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and announced they won’t any longer defend it, Mr. Romney couldn’t bring himself to say anything beyond civics-class boilerplate that the president has a constitutional duty to enforce the nation’s laws. Not so long ago, when he was asked by a television interviewer whether he supported repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” Mr. Romney fell back to a vague endorsement of John McCain’s opposition to repeal.

He’s trying now to get lost in the ranks of the usual Republican retreat from the sound of the guns. Haley Barbour, the mushmouth cornbread-and-butterbeans governor of Mississippi, and Newt Gingrich, the professorial motormouth former speaker of the House, fell unaccountably silent during the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” except for a tweet (or was that a squeak?) mildly criticizing the president for dereliction of duty. Other clues abound. The chairmen of both the Republican Senate and House campaign committees are helping to raise money to finance a more prominent role for gay activists in the party.

But Messrs Romney, Barbour, Gingrich and the other players will likely find New Hampshire a place where they can’t hide. Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in the New Hampshire legislature to repeal the state law permitting same-sex marriage. One bill would prevent such state-sanctioned ceremonies, the other would prevent the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Votes would be required in the opening weeks of the presidential primary campaign, smoking out candidates cowering behind aides and euphemisms. A final vote could even be taken on St. Valentine’s Day, an ironic date for Mitt Romney and fickle Republican lovers to inscribe on their dance cards.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.