Why I Refuse to Vote for Mitt Romney

He supports policies that are an affront to the Constitution, can't possibly make good on his domestic agenda, and has terrible foreign-policy judgment.

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On the eve of the Republican primary, before the field of candidates was established, I found myself hoping that the eventual nominee would be someone whose bid for higher office I could support. President Obama's transgressions against civil liberties and expansion of executive power were dealbreakers. I wouldn't back him as I had in 2008. Nor would I vote for a Fox News Republican like Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, or Michele Bachmann. But a deficit hawk with a steady hand on foreign policy, like George H.W. Bush? An efficiency-loving fiscal conservative willing to call a temporary truce on social issues like Mitch Daniels? A Chris Christie candidacy that critiqued the Obama Administration's transgressions against due process, calling out War on Terror fear-mongering in the same way that he's called out bigotry against Muslim Americans? Or a fiscally responsible former governor with vaunted China expertise?

Some scenarios were more likely than others. But I could imagine a Republican possessed of qualities I liked and without any flaws I couldn't overlook, even if my ideal candidate -- a non-interventionist civil libertarian -- wasn't on offer. An incumbent who orders Americans extra-judicially assassinated sets a low bar. A half-hearted critique of his worst excesses could have swayed me.

Mitt Romney failed even that test.

For months, he has attacked the incumbent. He would have us believe that he is more attuned to American values and prudent enough to understand the importance of limiting federal power. He speaks as if he holds the values of the founders in high esteem, extolling the Constitution and portraying himself as a principled champion of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

What a joke.

Romney and Ryan are perfectly comfortable with all of the most sweeping attacks on Madisonian checks and balances that Presidents Bush and Obama have presided over. The Republican nominee hasn't just defended detaining people indefinitely without charges or trial. He's called for doubling the main facility where it is done! Romney avows that he is alarmed by an advisory board that would decide which treatments Medicare and Medicaid should cover; yet he is comfortable with the literal death panel Obama runs from the White House, where he and his minions add names (including American citizens denied due process) to a secret kill list.

Did Romney defend the Fifth Amendment? ("No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") No. Rather, he defends actions that plainly violate it. 

During the war in Libya, waged in violation of Obama's own articulated understanding of the War Powers Resolution, Romney didn't point out that the Constitution gave Congress the power the declare war. And no surprise. Romney subsequently said that if elected, he wouldn't need to consult Congress before launching a war against Iran. Is that the position of someone who grasps the wisdom of the Constitution and champions an original understanding of it? In fact, it shows disregard for the plain text of the document, and ignorance of the reasoning for vesting war-making power in the legislature rather than a single man empowered like a bygone British king.

Other things Romney favors: a secretive federal agency that conducts warrantless spying on millions of innocent Americans; strapping terrorism suspects to boards and forcing water into their lungs right to the edge of drowning them; and constant invocations of the state secrets privilege to shield federal officials from being held accountable for past illegal acts they perpetrated. In short, Romney is a friend to neither liberty nor the rule of law nor a federal government limited by the Constitution. He should feel the ire of all limited government conservatives. 

And his failures go beyond disregard for Madisonian principles, civil liberties, and the rule of law. He has no foreign-policy experience. He became a minor laughingstock during his campaign trip abroad, and failed to persuasively demonstrate depth of knowledge on foreign affairs in a debate. His position on Afghanistan is incoherent -- he vows he'll be out of the country by 2014, and simultaneously says it's reckless to announce a date by which we'll leave. Even in hindsight, he doesn't understand that George W. Bush's War in Iraq was a mistake, and has argued that the U.S. should've kept troops there longer. The team of neoconservative foreign policy advisers he has assembled made numerous costly errors of judgment during the Bush years. There is circumstantial though not conclusive evidence that a Romney Administration would be more likely than Obama to involve the U.S. in yet another imprudent war of choice. Plus Romney's VP pick is totally unqualified to step in as commander in chief.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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