Demon said

>> Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's been pointed out to me that everybody is demonizing Mitt Romney by focusing on what he says, and this is terribly unfair. Being a bleeding heart and all, and priding myself on the notion I have an open mind and critical judgement and whatnot, you know I do want to be fair. So when you have things like secret video from a Mitt Romney fundraiser posted here and here and the latest in what now seems to be a recurring series of press conferences to explain that he didn't say what he meant or mean what he said posted here... well....

So, okay, to be fair, maybe I could go back through and watch the clips again and read the transcripts and go with what Mr. Romney meant, and....


Nope, not helping.

It's possible that Mitt Romney's campaign has stumbled across a brilliant strategy for the final two months of the campaign: walk into every lamppost on the street until people start feeling sorry for their man, or at least stop looking. "Did you hear what Romney said today?" "No, probably something dumb and then he had a press conference." "Yep. What's for dinner." It's like talking about the weather, eventually.

We've gone beyond gaffes, anyway. It's one thing to be dog-tired and say you've visited fifty-seven states. Some people will think it's funny and some people will forgive you for it. And George W. Bush had a habit of inventing felicitous malapropisms ("food on your family," or my own personal fave, the "fool me once... can't get fooled again" word salad). Those were pretty generally situations where you could sort of unravel the words and figure out what the then-President meant to say when it started upriver and see how it went awry on the many miles between Bush's mind and the sea. But Romney isn't exactly committing gaffes, he's saying what's in his mind and then saying it was just badly phrased or he could have said it differently, as if it's a problem of style over substance. "I didn't mean to say what I said; I meant to say it differently." You can watch the Mother Jones footage yourself and tell me if Romney seems tired or underprepared to you; I see a guy who looks and sounds more comfortable than I've ever seen him, though maybe that's because it seems what I've mostly been seeing from him lately are all the awkward attempts at damage control.

Not to demonize him, or anything.

UPDATED TO ADD: Slate's William Saletan can be an irritating git, but I thought his perspective on how the Romney tape compared to Obama's long ago "guns and religion" comment was insightful:

Conservatives find Obama’s line about guns, religion, and immigration patronizing. They’re right. The recording exposes Obama’s assumption that blue-collar conservatism on these issues should be taken not at face value but as a psychological symptom or rationalization.

But notice what else the recording shows. Obama tells his audience not to write off any group. He recommends humility and openness. Even in the most unlikely neighborhoods, among "people of every background," he tells his volunteers they’ll find supporters.

He also advises the volunteers not to write off every voter who seems unreceptive. The tough reception, he suggests, might be just a "layer of skepticism," a "part of them that just doesn't buy it." Beneath that layer, the whole voter is more complicated.

In particular, Obama rejects the caricature of hostile white voters as racists. Instead of assuming that they just "don’t want to vote for the black guy," he asks his volunteers to focus on these voters’ economic concerns. He counsels empathy.
"They feel so betrayed," he says.

The whole thrust of Obama’s answer is persuasion....


...Romney, unlike Obama, writes off skeptical voters: "They will vote for this president no matter what." He simplifies and caricatures them: They "believe that they are victims... I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility." He counsels not empathy but indifference: "My job is not to worry about those people." And he speaks this way not about a fringe constituency, but about 47 to 49 percent of the country.

I think Saletan nails it. And what Romney's doing there isn't just bad leadership--which, ask yourself if you want that in a President--but also bad politics.

One other bit of irony that I should have also pointed out in the main post, and didn't get around to: one of the other problems with Romney's 47%/53% pitch is that it ignores the fact that not only are the 47% not all Democrats nor all Obama supporters, they're also mostly located in the red states, as Dashiell Bennett points out over at The Atlantic. Bennett includes this map from the Tax Foundation, which you may have already seen making the rounds:

Quite a lot of those "non-payers" are also old folks who collect Social Security, a demographic famous for skewing Republican. I don't think the Romney tapes are going to cause Alabama to suddenly flip for Obama, mind you; I do think, however, one of the worst things Romney could do for himself if he really wants to be President is piss off so many elderly and lower-income conservatives in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Colorado (say, for instance, and in that particular order) that a substantial number stay home rather than vote for either guy, tilting or even throwing those states to the President.

Not that I'd mind if that happened, or anything.


timb111 Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 3:06:00 PM EDT  

The timing of the release is interesting. Happened in May, released less than two months before the election.

Is it really any surprise that Romney holds the views that most Republicans seem to have? Are we surprised that a politician would tailor his words to whatever will get him elected? His sin was getting caught which I guess speaks to his ineptness.

Eric Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 4:07:00 PM EDT  

Why isn't his sin being inconsistent in how he speaks to donors versus how he speaks to the press versus what he says at whistle stops? (N.b. that this is a separate issue from whether what he says in any of those venues reflects his actual beliefs.)

And yeah, another sin was the ineptitude or stupidity in being inconsistent and assuming you can still get away with that kind of thing in an era of small, cheap videocameras; smartphones that double as video/audio recorders worthy of James Bond's Q-Branch; and social media that makes audio and video recordings easily and readily accessible. Candor isn't a crime if you're consistent about it, but candor on Monday and lies on Tuesday is, and if it all gets outed on Wednesday and you're even on camera with it, well it's nobody's fault but your own.

If you think any surprise is over his views--well, I guess that depends on which quarter you're hearing it from, actually. I do think there are some undecideds or marginal (or poorly informed) Romney supporters who will find the videos surprising and distressing. But the bigger surprise for many folks on the left and right, I think, is that Romney let himself get caught out like this.

It doesn't help that the video reinforces perceptions of Romney as lacking in compassion, empathy, constancy and other virtues we might look for in a leader. Or perceptions that his campaign is scattered in message or out of control.

As for timing, two points. The first is that I am seeing--though I haven't confirmed this timeline--claims that the videos in fact have been out since May, it's only now that Mother Jones (an unashamedly very-left-wing magazine, as you might guess from the name) felt ready to run them on their website; how much of that goes to time spent verifying the videos' authenticity and how much of that comes from MJ wanting to maximize impact, I couldn't say. But it also goes to the second issue, and the one that a lot of Republicans really don't understand: the timing doesn't matter.

If the video is authentic (and it seems to be), does it matter whether it's released five months, two months, five weeks or two weeks before the election is held? If the problematic statements are things the candidate really said, does the fact a liberal magazine (or a liberal magazine's source) waited to unload really do anything to change the fact the candidate said whatever he said? There may be a hint of rough politics about the timing, but that doesn't change the fact of the matter. (Here's how the timing does matter, though: forgive the apple-orangey comparison, but wouldn't it have been better if the media had grokked the significance of the June, 1972 Watergate Hotel break-in before Richard Nixon was re-elected, rather than figuring out the White House was involved almost a year after the crime, despite significant evidence of the burglars' connections to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP)? No, saying stupid things at a fundraiser doesn't remotely compare to covering up a felony, I'm not drawing a false equivalency; what I am pointing out is that if the media had dived into Watergate a year earlier, accusations that it was a politically-motivated witch hunt, even if true, wouldn't have changed the fact there was, indeed, a witch; similarly, if MJ (or their source) is looking to sandbag Romney, they aren't the ones who put words in Romney's mouth, now are they?)

timb111 Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 4:59:00 PM EDT  

I knew Mother Jones was left wing, but I never new about the Mary Harris Jones connection, thanks.

"Why isn't his sin being inconsistent in how he speaks to donors versus...". Well, it should be, but I guess I'm cynical enough that it's what I expect whether I see any direct evidence or not.

As far as timing goes, of course he's responsible for what he said whenever he said it. The timing means that the issues the video raises will be fresh in the electorate's mind at the polls. I guess I can't prove that was the motivation for MJ's release date, but I suspect it is, or at least was part of the consideration. Does it matter if MJ takes that into consideration? Does this violate some journalistic ethic (I really don't know)? Obviously they are not unbiased, nor is any other media outlet that I'm aware of.

Will of The People Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 2:16:00 PM EDT  

"Not that I'd mind if that happened, or anything"

You and me both, brother, you and me both

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