Quote of the day--"What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?" edition

>> Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I think the best explanation for [Mitt Romney's] seeming disinterest is actual disinterest. I don't get the impression that Romney himself is particularly eager to be President. We all know he wants to avenge his dad's failed run at the office but you would think for that he'd work harder than he is. I believe Romney's laziness is due to his knowledge of who he is and why he was chosen as the candidate.

Romney's rich, as I said. That’s what he brings to the table.... Romney, like George W. Bush before him, assumes that, being rich, being President is something he's owed. He doesn’t necessarily want the office, but it should be his for the taking. For all he cares, he could walk off the job on January 22 and hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner. To him, the office is like another mansion or a car elevator: he wanted it, he got it, he can do whatever he likes with it, and nobody can tell him otherwise because he's rich.

Friends may notice I already linked to Lartigue's post on Facebook, because I think Lartigue is right about just about everything he says there, though I'm less sanguine about Romney having no chance of getting elected; listening to American idiots telling NPR what's on their minds this week has depressed me near to death (this morning's version featured a prospective voter saying he doesn't trust Obama not to expand ACA employer insurance requirements to include more small businesses--because that's how our form of government works, the President can just do stuff like that if he wants and it doesn't have to start in the House and pass the Senate or anything like that at all).

Lartugue's not the only person to notice this disturbing angle to Mitt Romney, by the way. His comments reminded me of Charles Pierce's hypothesis for Romney's refusal to release his tax forms: Pierce suggests Romney isn't making with the tax papers because there's something godawfully illegal in there, he isn't coughing them up because we proles ain't worthy. I suspect Pierce is probably right, or mostly right; there's some chance that Romney's tax returns show he's paid hardly any taxes at all, but whatever Romney's last twenty-three years of returns show apparently wasn't enough for John McCain's 2008 campaign to disqualify him as a possible Vice-Presidential nominee (anticipated rebuttal: the McCain campaign also thought Sarah Palin was smart enough to be President if John McCain ever choked on a hot dog; touché). I think it's safe, though, to say that even if Romney has availed himself of every tax dodge in the book, they were all in the book. I.e. they were all legal tax shelters you or I could have taken advantage of if we'd been filthy stinking rich, and there are some people (and not just rich ones) who'd admire Romney's craftiness if he'd actually managed to pay nothing in taxes for a decade or more. No, I think the main thing keeping Romney from sharing his tax returns with the public while he'll happily hand them over to a wealthy Congressman from Arizona is pride, pure and simple, and a corresponding sense of entitlement. If you're the right kinds of people, Romney'll probably not only show you his tax returns, he'll invite you over to sit on his couch and lovingly go through the documents while he explains how prettily this account or that investment was set up; not the right kind of people, and he doesn't want you smearing dirt on anything with your grubby little fingers.

But I'm sort of digressing again in my typical rambling way. I posted a link to Lartigue and was going to leave it at that until Steve Buchheit posted a link to an interesting contradiction that recently popped out of Romney.

That probably sounds like an oxymoron. Or several. Mitt Romney and "interesting" hardly go together to start with, and the man contradicts and reverses himself so much his entire political career is like a sequence of Crazy Ivans. Romney doesn't just waffle, he creates whole new species of topologically improbable breakfast foods that require degrees in higher mathematics just to know which sides the syrup should be poured from. So talking about another Romney inversion is like talking about how lemonade is wet and lemony.

But here's what happened: about a week ago, while traveling in the Middle East, Romney claimed that Israel is more prosperous than Palestine because of "culture". Which is a claim that has all sorts of factual problems and logical fallacies undermining it, but that's a whole 'nother topic. No, what's interesting is that this week, Romney decided to thoughtlessly and pointlessly criticize Israeli culture and history the same way he was insulting the Palestinians a week ago. Last week: Israel is economically healthier than Palestine because of "culture" (I keep using the scare quotes because I'm not sure I know--I'm not sure Romney knows--what Romney means by it); this week: the kibbutzim, arguably the signature features of Israeli culture during Israel's early decades as a modern state, are bad.

Now, this kind of cognitive dissonance from Romney, to the extent it can even be called "cognitive", is unsurprising: one suspects, as was recently suggested during a Slate podcast, that Romney sees Israel's story of diaspora, nationhood and triumph as resonating with his own Mormon heritage (indeed, replace "nationhood" with "statehood" and the resemblance isn't at all vague). As a bonus, talking up the awesomeness of Israel never hurt a Republican trying to win the votes of elderly Floridian Jews. On the other hand, people like Romney have all those issues with socialism, and the fact is kibbutzim were essentially socialist enterprises. So unfavorably comparing kibbutzim to some mythical notion of entrepreneurship is obviously right up Romney's lane into the 1-3 pin pocket.

Except, see, a thoughtful person might notice the discrepancy and ponder how the contradiction ought to be resolved. Maybe a kibbutz demonstrates that socialism isn't all that bad all the time, or maybe Israel isn't so wonderful as one thought before he noticed all the socialists going around farming and making crafts and stuff. Or maybe there's something else, but there's something. Right?

And that's why I qualified the word "cognitive" the way I did two paragraphs ago. I'm not saying Romney is stupid; I doubt he is. I'm saying I just don't think he cares. The reason there's no dissonance in his competing claims is because he could give a rat's ass what he's saying or what you heard. He doesn't care if he gets it right and he doesn't care to correct himself. There are people you can hire to worry about that crap if that's what you really want.

I'm not even sure you can properly call these "gaffes", you know? Everybody does, of course. But "gaffe" means "mistake" and the whole concept of a mistake sort of implies, doesn't it, that there's not only a correct alternative, but you care at least enough that you'd have preferred it if you could have chosen it instead of what you actually picked? I contradict myself, I worry about it and try to reconcile or reevaluate my position; I make a mistake of fact, it bothers me (sometimes for years); I commit a logical fallacy, it rattles me to the core and leaves me questioning whether or not I'm allowed to call myself "rational". But, you know, my credibility and intelligence and reasoning faculties (to whatever extent I'm entitled to say I have any of it) are all I have; I don't have a hundred quadrillion doubloons stashed in a magical Cayman Island cave to fall back upon if I'm stripped of my ability to be taken seriously. Mitt Romney, on the other hand? He'd give a shit what you or I thought about him if he wasn't going to flush it down a toilet worth more than our combined net worth, but since....

Integrity is a virtue of poor and middle-class people. The wealthy (who, as Fitzgerald observed in a line so famous it's become a cliché, are different from you and me)--the wealthy can dispense with it as a superfluous and cheap vanity, as a kind of affectation of the petite bourgeoisie and the proletariat; a form of campy role-playing, like wearing blue jeans or recreational brush-clearing.

Romney doesn't know if he's right. He doesn't care if he's right. And he's just a little stressed and confused that you keep making a big deal about him not being right and not knowing and not caring, but not as stressed out and confused as he'd be if you mattered to him even one damned bit.


Nick from the O.C.,  Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:26:00 PM EDT  

Non-concur with your analysis of the Romney psyche. The analysis elides the effect of mormonism and the importance of the spiritual life (and the Church's "calling") when compared to the secular aspects of earthly life. I.e., being President of the USA is nice, but not as important (in the scheme of things) as being President of the Church of the LDS.

Eric, you are not usually this superficial in your analyses.

But you're still a cool guy and I would buy you a drink if you ever visited the Left Coast.

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