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THE REAL CANDIDATE: Voters need to know the actual stand of their presidential candidates on various issues
NOW that it's clear the presidential election will be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, let's see how much you know of the candidates. Take my presidential quiz, and if you get them all right, I nominate you to be a White House aide.
In each case, identify whether it was Obama or Romney who made the statements:
No 1. On abortion: "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honouring my word in that regard."
No 2. "I am fighting for an overturning of Roe v. Wade."
No 3. On gay rights: "As we seek to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent."
No 4. On the 2009 economic stimulus: "No time, nowhere, no how."
No 5. "There is need for economic stimulus. Americans have lost about US$11 trillion (RM35 trillion) in net worth. That translates into about US$400 billion a year less spending that they'll be doing. ... Government can help make that up in a very difficult time. And that's one of the reasons why I think a stimulus programme is needed."
No 6. On climate science: "I believe climate change is occurring -- the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor."
No 7. "Do I think the world's getting hotter? Yeah, I don't know that, but I think that it is. I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans. What I'm not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don't know the answer to."
No 8. On healthcare: "It's critical to insure more people in this country. It doesn't make sense to have 45 million people without insurance. It's not good for them because they don't get good preventative care ... but it's not good for the rest of the citizens either, because if people aren't insured, they go to the emergency room for their care when they get very sick. That's expensive. They don't have any insurance to cover it. So guess who pays? Everybody else."
No 9. On financial bailouts: "The idea of trying to bail out an institution to protect the shareholders or to protect a certain interest group, that's a terrible idea. And that shouldn't happen."
No 10. "TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Programme) got paid back, and it kept the financial system from collapsing. ...Well, it was the right thing to do."
The answers? I'll tell you in a moment, but first let me say that, by now, we have a pretty good feel for how Obama governs. Democrats and Republicans may disagree about him, but they know what they're getting.
In contrast, Romney is an enigma. He was a moderate governor of Massachusetts, but he has tried very hard to prove to right-wing conservatives that he is one of them. So a crucial question for voters: Which is the real Romney?
Personally, my hunch is that the real Romney is the pragmatist, the nonideological problem-solver. I can imagine him as the political equivalent of a management consultant, where your job is to go in and fix messes without worrying too much about partisanship or ideology. Romney's friends and colleagues tell me that's the Romney they know -- and that the one in the Republican primaries was a fraud.
Further evidence for the moderate Romney: Before entering politics, he was a registered independent, and, in 2002 he declared, "People recognise that I am not a partisan Republican, that I'm someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive".
I'm also reassured by many of Romney's advisers. He mostly seeks advice from smart centre-rightists, such as Gregory Mankiw of Harvard or Glenn Hubbard of Columbia among economists.
Yet there are strong counter-arguments that worry me. The first is that the early Romney may have been the false one. He may have been a centrist only to be viable in a liberal state like Massachusetts. Or Romney may have evolved, with the Republican Party itself, to become more ideological. Or after all his time in the Republican primary echo chamber, he may have come to believe his own rhetoric.
A broader worry is that presidents inevitably empower their political parties, and, in Romney's case, that would be a Republican Party that today makes no pretense of moderation.
As Jeb Bush suggested recently, Republicans today would not provide a comfortable home even for former president Ronald Reagan -- and that will be even more true without centrists like Senators Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe in office.
So, Governor Romney, a simple question: Who are you? Which of these quotations above reflect the real you? If you're elected, will we get Moderate Romney or Hardliner Romney?
And the quiz? It illustrates the problem: every single statement was made by Romney. NYT