A Conservative Problem

Via STFU, Conservatives, below is a video (with transcript) of Mitt Romney on the campaign trail during the last election, being confronted by a man with muscular dystrophy about his rigid position on medical marijuana. And not just rigid: It's a bullshit position, because Romney, like lots of people, asserts that synthetic marijuana or some other medication can be substituted for weed, which is not actually true for many patients whose bodies reject synthetics, much like how different antibiotics work differently in different bodies. Of course, Mitt Romney doesn't go around insisting that everyone should be able to use penicillin, but no one uses penicillin to (gasp!) recreationally get high, so it's not a naughty drug about which rigid, bullshit positions must be drawn.

Anyway! The point of this post isn't really Mitt Romney's position on legalizing weed, for medical purposes or full-stop. The point of this post is that the video is such a perfect example of what is required of people to maintain a conservative ideology: You must turn your back on every person whose individual experience and circumstance proves wrong your inflexible certitude about any issue.

Now, this is not to say that there do not exist in the world progressives who do a similar thing on certain issues (fat acceptance is a perfect example of endemic progressive fail in this very way), but the difference is in the ideology: Conservative ideology broadly asserts: "This is the one right way for all people," while progressive ideology broadly asserts: "Let us give people a choice." Which means it's easier for progressives not to pretend that people with different opinions, ideas, and, most importantly, needs do not exist.

When we are confronted with a person whose needs are not encompassed by a policy or position, we generally don't need to abandon that policy or position in toto; we can expand it to be more inclusive. And, when we can't, the habit of inclusion makes us better able to abandon an oppressively restrictive policy or position—to the point where we are the butt of sneering conservative jokes about bending over backwards to include everybody, as if that's a bad thing.

But here, Mitt Romney is confronted, literally, by a person whose needs are not encompassed by his policy, and he just reiterates his unworkable policy. When the man challenges Romney to answer for the practical realities of enforcing such a policy, Romney simply walks away as if this person doesn't even exist. The man is not a provocative cause for reconsideration of a bad policy; he is instead just an inconvenience, best quickly forgotten.

Thus can Romney keep on pretending that his policies exist in a void, just a collection of rhetorical devices that win him the most votes, without any real-world consequences.

This is the difference between people-centered politics, and policy-centered politics:

Mitt Romney, surrounded by media, at what looks to be backstage after a campaign appearance in October 2007, leans over to speak to a young white man in a wheelchair.

Young Man: I suffer from an extremely rare type of muscular dystrophy—

Romney: Uh-huh.

Young Man: —and I have to take medication or I'll die. Right now, I weigh less than 80 pounds, and I have all my life. Um, I have some [?] from my doctor saying that I am living proof that medical marijuana works. I am completely against legalizing it for everyone, but there is medical purpose for it.

Romney: And, and you have synthetic marijuana that's available? And other pain medications.

Young Man: It makes me sick. I've tried it and it makes me throw up. I have tried all the medications there are—

Romney: [nodding, beginning to look uncomfortable] Mm-hmm.

Young Man: —and all the forms that come in, appetite stimulators or steroids. I have muscular dystrophy; that's completely against my DNA.

Romney: [interrupting; standing up] I'm sorry to hear that. [He tries to walk away, but leans partly back down as the Young Man continues to speak.]

Young Man: My question for you is: Will you arrest me and my doctors if I get medical marijuana [Romney begins to shake his head in protest] prescribed to me?

Romney: [interrupting; tersely] I'm not in favor of medical marijuana being legal… [he drifts off as he stands up]

Young Man: So you would have me arrested? [Romney turns his back and reaches his hand out to someone else with a big grin and says, "Hi. How are you?"] Excuse me! {Romney, still with smile, tosses, "I'm sorry" back over his shoulder to the young man.] Will you please answer my question?

Cameraman, from behind camera: Will you—hey, you're not gonna answer his question, Governor?

Romney: I think I have. I'm not in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. [Romney continues to walk on and gladhand people standing around.]

Cameraman: No, he asked you if you were gonna arrest him. He asked if you were gonna arrest patients like him, Governor. [Romney keeps walking, shaking hands, saying, "Hi, nice to see you."] You're gonna just ignore a person in a wheelchair?

Romney: No, I spoke with him.

Cameraman: Yeah, but you didn't answer his question! [Romney keeps walking away.] All right, well— [video ends]

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