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Romney and Lawyers

The Republicans met yesterday in Dearborn, Michigan. (AP)

Lawyer jokes are dime-a-dozen. You've no doubt heard the one which asks the difference between a lawyer and a vulture?

Well apparently Mitt Romney hasn't.

At Tuesday's debate, the candidates were asked a hypothetical question about whether he would seek Congress's approval before taking action against Iran. Romney answered this way:

"You sit down with your attorneys and {have them} tell you what you
have to do," Romney said, adding quickly "but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat."

Given a second chance by moderator Chris Matthews, who asked whether President Bush needed the Congressional approval he received for the Iraq invasion, Romney again offered a legalistic answer.

"You know, we're going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn't need to do," Romney said.

It's the kind of answer that is revealing, because it shows how careful Romney was trying to be. Careful can be good, especially when making a mistake during a debate has a bigger downside than simply showing up.

But turning to a legalistic or overly bureaucratic answer can also be problematic for a candidate, as several of Romney's rivals have already found out during the last several months.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama was criticized for his response to a question about a hypothetical al-qaeda attack by offering a legalistic answer about needing an effective emergency response. Critics said he ought to have shown more passion.

And former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani tied himself up in knots during the first Republican debate by answering a question about abortion with a rambling answer about judicial precedent, saying it would be "OK" for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.

"Or it would be O.K. also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as a precedent, and I think a judge has to make that decision," he said.

Aides later said Giuliani was thinking too much about the legal intricacies of the abortion cases and not enough about his own position. In the weeks that followed, he eventually clarified his position as pro-choice but willing to appoint "strict constructionist" judges who would overturn Roe.

In Tuesday's debate, Romney was immediately taken to task for suggesting that he would hand over important decisions to a bunch of lawyers. Long-shot candidate Ron Paul blasted Romney, saying "This idea of going and talking to attorneys totally baffles me. Why don't we just open up the Constitution and read it? You're not allowed to go to war without a declaration of war."

And the post-debate reaction wasn't much kinder. Politico columnist Roger Simon declared that Romney "fell on his face" because of the comment. "Yeah, because you can never go wrong letting lawyers make your decisions for you, right?" Simon wrote sarcastically.

Of course, the most famous legalistic debate answer is still the one given in 1988 by former Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, who was asked whether he would support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered. His legalistic explanation of his death penalty decision struck many voters as bloodless.

Was Romney's comment as dramatic and meaningful? Probably not. But that will depend in part on whether his rivals in the GOP seize on it in the days to come.

The punchline to the aforementioned joke? Lawyers accumulate frequent-flyer points.

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  October 10, 2007; 8:21 AM ET
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danielhancock says;

"Do we want to continue with this process or go the Ron Paul route where only a formal declaration of war makes it constitutionally legitimate? In this fast paced world, declarations of war may be an obsolete artifact of the past."

This is the kind of talk you would expect from the neo-cons. Their disregard for the document that formed our government is and should be disturbing to every American who cares about democracy and the rule of law. There are 3 branches of government for a very good reason. We are in a Constitutional crisis in this country because the current occupants of the white house have such a disregard for the other 2 co-equal branches. No government should be allowed to wage perpetual war. Without congressional approval, that is exactly what this administration will do. First I suppose the congress needs to get a spine and start standing up to these despots. Dictators are not just for third world countries. We need oversight and accountability.

Posted by: groovey411 | October 12, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Romney's response reminds me of his performance as Governor of Massachusetts. He was AWOL for most of his administration, delegating responsibilities and decisions to unelected staff members. So, kicking an important leadership and policy question to "the attorneys" (whoever they may be) is typical big corporation CEO style.

Posted by: lenstewart | October 11, 2007 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Ain't freedom of speech grand! Here, in but a few comments we've wallpapered the subject. But, then the subject is appropriate, not the type which asks, "How did the rocks get there?" Or, "How high is up." Matter of fact when a heckler asked Honest Abe a question no one could answer, he replied, "Long enough to touch the ground."

mpshannon: you got it wrong. You seem to perceive that we have "Too many...ruling the country and not politicians." This time it's not the economy, but your perception. The whole mess is that politicians, elected or not, are "running" everything: government, bureaucracies, government departments. In the sex-money-power triangle, as ususal power is primary. Candidates may know in their hearts what's right, but they dare not, because they are professional (their source of money) politicians, allow their electorate or their sources of money to perceive them as, supposedly, "weak."
hancock declares by inference the Constitution to me an "artifact of the past." Riding my only form of VEHICULAR transportation throughout UlsterCountyUSA, my bicycle, I'm reminded several times a day: so, also, are stop signs.

To bayonet_06 I suggest your claim of lawyers to be "best and brightest," best!

Thanks, vicsoir. You remind me that my best friend, dead 300 years, continues to speak for me. Right on Will!

Take, for example, our Ulster County (NY) government. At least one of four present and former officials now under examination by a grand jury, of whose decade-long activities in connection with what we endearingly call, "the jail fiasco," is the former County Attorney. Completion was an obscene three years behind schedule; ultimate cost will exceed 200 percent of the original budget. That's likely why today's political party's in power. Nor, so far as I know, did anyone January 1, 2006, abjure his replacement, so long as the attory is certified by the majority.
How times have changed since my 20 years with several multi-national corporations. There was no question who ruled the roost; and, that power decended from the CEO to whomever he tapped. We told our lawyers what we wanted to do; they told us how to do it.

In fairness to the bar, the situation here may be our antiquated county laws. NO ONE is supreme. Department heads report to NO particular INDIVIDUAL. I suppose many of the 50 plus, run fiefdoms. It's tantamount to corporate life on lower levels: no one's responsible...for failure nor success. It's all committees.

Fourteen or so months from now we have the potential to wipe the slate clean via a Charter form of government. Aided by brand new, county-wide-elected positions of comptroller with subpoena power; and County Executive.

I see this as a largely-unrecognized, yet sadly the final opportunity, in abundant, tangible ways for taxpayers to take back their county government from political parties, power brokers, special interest groups, lobbyists, large donors.

To observe and or participate in what promises to be one of the most exciting, hard-fought, local political battles with intended, national implications, contact CAMPAIGN TO ELECT ALLAN WIKMAN, independent candidate for County Executive.

One of the candidate's major platform planks is that he vows to accept not a penny more than ONE DOLLAR from contributors. The catch: nationwide fund raising.

Send ALLAN a dollar now. And tell your friends. "Put a buck in my bucket," he asks. Send your dollar bill, check, money order or credit card to CAMPAIGN TO ELECT ALLAN WIKMAN, PO Box 4145, Kingston, NY 12402. Be sure to include your name, mail and email address so Allan may include you on his million person "Wall of Fame."

Posted by: Fingerprince | October 11, 2007 2:00 AM | Report abuse

To my mind, it is no different for matters related to war or peace!

Ron Paul's wonderfully consistent plea to "read the Constitution" notwithstanding, all of this opportunistic posturing, from both the media and candidates alike, about what a given candidate might, or might not do, in the future about Iran is both morally and practically irrelevant in the extreme.

Frankly, I, for one, could not care less!

What I want to know is what these individuals running for public office stand for in real SpaceTime, here, at this moment, and now, where the body is. That's when and where all creative living takes place, not in the future, nor in the past, for that matter.

Unfortunately, like most Americans, our presidential candidates of today haven't the first clue as to when and where they really are, who and what they really are, nor even how or why they truly are.

Unfortunately, reality and truth seem to hold no interest for any of them.

What a pathetic attempt at actual being, if not to say a suicidal charade, it has all become!

And come 2008 (if the Supreme Court doesn't beat us to it), we are going to put one of these woeful, opportunistic souls in the White House?

Of course! Having no moral or practical idea of where, when, who, what, how and why we are ourselves as Americans, that is the way we want it to be!

Rightly or wrongly, as it is consciously, or unconsciously, desired so shall it be!

It always is!

Posted by: robfob | October 10, 2007 6:47 PM | Report abuse



Then, THEY turned around and cut the Funding for the Mission they ORDERED the Commander in Chief to Execute!

Stop trying to rewrite History!

What could be aurgued, is we were not attacked first!

But then, that applies to Bosnia, Afghanistan, Panama and other places as well!

I STILL think Dr. NO would be another valuable cog in Mitt and Fred's Cabinet!

They'd just have to keep a Muzzle available! LOL!

Go Dr. Rudy McRomsonedo!

Posted by: rat-the | October 10, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

This law student will be voting for Romney.

Posted by: Normscoffee | October 10, 2007 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Shakespeare was right. "First we kill all the lawyers" (Henry VI, part III.)

Posted by: vicsoir | October 10, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Although at first sounding a bit puzzling, for those who take a moment to think about it Romney's has the right answer. Enforcing our national interests through violence is VERY COMPLICATED under the best of circumstances. Ron Paul's vision of foreign policy decision making is too simplistic and unrealistic --especially considering that our domestic politics has grown so polarized that our head of state has to keep one eye on foreign dangers, while worrying about his domestic rivals who quietly wait for a political/military mis-step, so they can get out their knives. Yes, seeking council from our best & brightest --even if just for a moment-- might be a good idea before issuing marching orders...

Posted by: bayonet_06 | October 10, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse


While agree with you in principle you are wrong and here's why. The Congress declares wars against countries. If we are attacked by Iran today, we will not have a response and hour or 2 later. We will defend ourselves in the meantime. However if you will note history, Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec.7, war was declared on Japan by THE CONGRESS AND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES on Dec. 8. If thats not quick enough turnover for you, then you're as gung ho and the Bush administration.

In an attack by a Terrorist organization, which we have already declared war on, its not needed. So your point is invalid at this stage.

Posted by: mpshannon | October 10, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Mitty's answer is reminiscent of another failed candidacy by a Massachusetts governor: Mike Dukasis's weak answer to Bernie Shaw's question about a guy raping and murdering his wife.

Mitty is a dead candidate walking, just like Ducarcass was.

Posted by: Spectator2 | October 10, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Romney, maybe inadvertently, does bring up an interesting constitutional question.

For better or worse, it is generally conceded that the president has the power to react to immediate threats without congressional approval under the assumption that he or she will seek congressional approval later if the conflict is extended.

An example might be an attack on a U.S. embassy or U.S. ships. Remember the Mayaguez incident under President Ford?

Since World War II ended the U.S. has been involved in various conflicts where the president has sought congressional approval but never a formal declaration of war.

Do we want to continue with this process or go the Ron Paul route where only a formal declaration of war makes it constitutionally legitimate? In this fast paced world, declarations of war may be an obsolete artifact of the past.

Posted by: danielhancock | October 10, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Mitt Romney just showed us whats wrong with America in general. Too many lawyers, businessmen, and corporations are running a country and not the politicians, who by the way the people vote for. While I believe he was trying straddle a fence, its still beyond belief that a President would look to someone that has no legal business making decisions in the interest of the U.S. Completely ignoring Congress and going to war is illegal and has dire consequences, consulting a lawyer may prove to be even more disastrous. Can you imagine Alberto Gonzalez being the reason we went to war in Iraq? Shameful.

Posted by: mpshannon | October 10, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Romney's answer ("I'd talk to the lawyers") was a poor response to the question of attacking Iran without Congressional approval, but keep in mind it was BETTER than 7 of the 9 candidates on stage. They all said YES!!

ONLY THE CONGRESS HAS THE POWER TO DECLARE WAR. This is spelled out very plainly in the Constitution. In case you haven't read the Constitution, Ron Paul explained the situation accurately. Un-declared military actions are unconstitutional, destructive, and never turn out the way they were planned.

You can bash Mitt over his stupid answer if you want, but waffling and dodging the question is at least better than being entirely wrong.

Posted by: philwfu | October 10, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Romney's answer about a huddle of lawyers making decisions in the White House had all of the spine of Peewee Herman. What a joke.

Bravo for Ron Paul for slapping the punk outta Mitt for such a brainfart.

Posted by: tomdawg | October 10, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Romney is toast. His surges in Iowa and New Hampshire have peaked. The Saturday Night Live and Daily Show writers, at this moment, are devising devasting satirical sketches that will reinforce the growing impression of Romney as a empty suit- which he is. Governers may have experience running a large organization- it also helps to know a few things such as what the constitution has to say about the process involved in going to war. Making a lot of dough makes one a good baker. Strap the apron on Romney and send him to the showers. Maybe he will grow a brain!

Posted by: kolp999 | October 10, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

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