Last year, as part of his "Republicans like some of you older folks might remember, back before the entire party lost its mind" character, Mitt Romney had the following to say about climate change:
I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.
About six months later – this time in Campaigning Romney mode – he sounded a different note:
My view is that we don't know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.
And now with Election Day slowly creeping into view, the campaign is taking pains to clarify that Romney is "certainly not a denier" of climate change. Well, that should clear things up.
First, I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that giving different answers to a question at different points in time is a sign of inherent character flaws or a lack of honesty. People can change their minds about things. Ideally candidates DO change their stances as issues evolve.
Second, I am not naive enough to believe that candidates or elected officials do not play to audiences. The same question answered in different settings (and before different groups of voters/donors/etc) are going to sound different. It has been claimed that one of FDR's greatest gifts was to give a single speech that would lead opposing sides on the same issue to conclude that he agreed with their viewpoint. This is inherent to politics.
With those caveats, there is something difficult to define that feeds the perception among both Republican primary voters and the electorate in general that Romney is completely insincere. I don't think he is a bad person, and other candidates have gotten passes in the past on issue positions that, um, "evolve" over time. Why can't he get a pass on anything?
It's subjective and difficult to define, but something about this guy just screams "I will say anything to get elected." It's the same label Kerry had to wear in 2004 (nb: we'll talk more about the similarities between these two campaigns as the election progresses) and it is often fatal in elections. Eight years ago, Rove & Co. exploited this weakness, real or perceived, to devastating effect. We may be in for a repeat of that in 2012. The truth is that even when Romney answers a question directly and completely, we still walk away feeling like we have no idea where he stands because everything about him, his career, and his self-presentation screams "I will tell you whatever you want to hear if you'll please just love me."
Maybe I'm projecting that onto Mittens just as Obama's detractors see lies, hate, and manipulation behind every word he speaks. The perception does not appear to be limited to raging liberals, though. Why? Is it the hair? The obvious daddy issues? The slick, upper class glibness? The used car salesman tone of voice? Or is it merely the frequency with which he changes issue positions, the cumulative impact of which is to lead us to assume that nothing he says is to be taken seriously? If Romney can't find a way to prevent potential voters from visualizing an "All statements subject to change" subtitle under everything he says, even the billions of corporate dollars being poured into the campaign won't make it dramatic or interesting.