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Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.

Bagley: My Star Wars cartoon allowed me to indulge in science fiction, which Mitt Romney seems to enjoy as well, given his explanation of how his tax plan would work. But it poses a larger question: Just who is Mitt Romney and what does he really believe? He has been on both sides of every question imaginable, from abortion to guns to climate change The only constant seems to be that he really, really wants to be president.

Lambson: Politicians are often chameleons when running for office, but these two (and indeed these four) have records. It is not hard to figure out what they are probably going to do if elected. That's the good news. The bad news is that it is not hard to figure out what they are probably going to do if elected.

Bagley: Let's say Romney's shape-shifting works and he gets elected. What then? He has no natural base outside of Utah, southern Idaho and pockets of Arizona. Republicans nationally don't really trust him and Democrats see in him the Wall Street plutocrats who drove the country into a ditch. He won't have the personal popularity or clear policy agenda to address the country's real problems. Being all things to all people may carry him into the White House, but it's a lousy governing strategy.

Lambson: Unless you believe, with Jefferson, that government is best which governs least. Knowing you, I suspect that by inability "to address the country's real problems" you mean, among other things, that Romney would be less able to throw massive amounts of stimulus money down special interest rat holes. I prefer clear policy agendas that preclude throwing massive amounts of stimulus money down special interest rat holes. But, always the perky optimist, I can imagine that lacking a clear policy agenda could be better than implementing a wrong-headed one.

Bagley: Oh, I think Romney has made clear he intends to shovel tons of money to the rats. He's vague on the details, but his promise to boost defense spending warms the cockles of defense contractors' tiny, withered hearts. And his plan to cut business and capital gains taxes have made him the sweetheart of Wall Street hedge funders. I was wrong when I said Romney had no natural constituency; I just named two.

Lambson: It's enough to make one a libertarian. I know. I know. You are going to write a book about how you lost your libertarian faith. Does that mean you won't be going to see "Atlas Shrugged Part 2," opening today at a theater near you?

Bagley: I prefer my fantasy movies to have orcs.

Lambson: Or, as reflected in your cartoon, storm troopers.

Lambson: The top comment this week is from utecougar, who reminds us of the value of a sense of humor:

As Fernando would say, "It's better to look presidential than to be presidential, and Mitt looks mahvelous." Looks can be deceiving, but we Americans are so shallow and easily distrac.... Squirrel!!

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