The Smiths, "Bigmouth Strikes Again"

>> Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Naturally, this one's for Mitt.

Over at Stonekettle Station, Jim Wright says something else I wish I'd added yesterday. He phrases it as "a sure test of a man’s character is how he treats the waiter"; a similar sentiment that was running through my own mind while I was yammering away yesterday is, "character is how you act when nobody's looking". Or, in Romney's case, how you behave when you think your only witnesses are a crowd of your best friends donors. Commenter timb111 asked if Romney's sin was getting caught; well, that's a big part of it, as I (hopefully) covered in my response in the comments, but there is a character angle, whether it's "this is what Romney believes in (relative) private" or "this is just how two-faced this cat is, above and beyond the usual political pale" or whatever else you want to say; the two I just mentioned, by the way, aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

One of the other things that I sideslipped the other day is merely the observation that so many Republicans have hungered for the debates, I think because they've swallowed the GOPTV meme promoted by intellectual heavyweights like Limbaugh and Beck that Barack Obama can't function without a teleprompter. If Mitt Romney debates the same way he holds press conferences, I don't think the debates are going to be the rout they're expecting. I dunno: on the one hand, the debates are basically kabuki at this point, and what I would have expected a couple of months ago would be both sides coming away thinking their guy won, regardless of how he really did by any objective standard; on the other hand, Romney has shown himself so incapable of handling even simple questions like, "So, how do you like our Olympics?" much less hard ones like, "What's the best way to deal with a minor international crisis like an American consulate being overrun by a local mob?" that one starts wondering what he's liable to blurt out in the middle of a debate. "Thank you for asking that question, Jim; I believe that as long as this country feels the power of Moloch in all our hearts and provides Him with the blood of innocent children He hungers for, as I did when I murdered an orphan before coming here tonight, there is no limit to what American exceptionalism can achieve... I'm sorry, I didn't phrase that as elegantly as I could have, what I meant to say was, my opponent promised to keep the unemployment rate below eight percent, and has failed to do so, it's time to elect somebody with business experience. Thank you."

Hrm. I may have overreached for that joke. Oh well.

I have to admit, the first thing I think when someone wants to suggest the President can't think on his feet and articulate a powerful response, is that the people saying that clearly know nothing about law school in general and Harvard Law in particular. A big part of law school, maybe the biggest part, especially first year, isn't sitting around doing anything as useless as learning the law. Nor do I mean that ironically (or not very ironically, anyway): when you consider that the students at any fairly big, well-regarded law school are going to scatter, after graduation, to various states and even countries with their own distinct laws and legal practices and to a variety of legal careers and specializations, getting them all to memorize some arbitrary local statutes and cases really would be almost totally pointless. No, what some place like Harvard does is "teach you how to think like a lawyer," and that includes the whole quasi-pseudo-"Socratic" method particularly associated with Harvard, where the professor has the class read some old case from somewhere that perhaps illustrates some common (or at least frequent) principle and then singles out individual students to stand or sit and suffer a cross-examination about the case, sometimes an abusive one, in which the professor commonly adopts the mantle of devil's advocate and disagrees with much or all of what the student says about the case, calling upon his (the professor's) superior knowledge and experience to poke, poke, poke variously-sized holes in the student's hastily-cobbled arguments. I'm not being wholly fair: they've softened the whole business up quite a lot since the Paper Chase era, perhaps because they've decided traumatizing mostly-twenty-somethings isn't "nice", but the general shape remains. It's boot camp for legal academics, is what it really is.

Getting back to the debates--and to Romney's big mouth, for that matter: the funny thing here is that Mitt Romney, of course, went to the exact same boot camp the President did. And so why is it he isn't responding as brightly as one might expect someone who's been through the wringer to respond? And I suppose one answer is to confess that, yes, some people who make it through law school--even some people who made it through Harvard Law School--aren't that bright. But a better answer, I think (though the "some-lawyers-are-dumb" answer is perfectly true), is to go back and watch those Mother Jones videos of Romney amongst his own again, when he's supposedly (per his response earlier this week) not saying things "elegantly" or "clearly and effectively"; well, no, actually, he seems pretty elegant and clear and effective to me--it's the most comfortable and right-at-home I think I've ever heard him sound.

So I don't think the problem the GOP may end up having at the debates is that Obama's a bright and eloquent Harvard-educated lawyer and Romney's a not-bright and not-eloquent Harvard educated lawyer. I think the problem the GOP may find itself with is that Obama is a bright and eloquent Harvard-educated lawyer who is discussing policies and positions that come naturally to him and reflect who he is or at least what he can agree to whereas Romney is a bright and educated Harvard lawyer who is trying to think about what his loose coalition of religious fanatics, businessmen and libertarians want him to possibly say and whether he can phrase it in a way that isn't wholly inconsistent with the many other things he's said at various times. Or, in short, Romney has to decide which lie he's going to tell.

Though, you know, I realize I say in the above paragraph that Romney's "bright" and then I think I've said in the past he doesn't know what he's talking about and doesn't care. I don't know if I'm being inconsistent (very possible) or if it's merely that there are different kinds of "brightness". Or it may even just be that Romney's dumb in a very self-inflicted way: i.e. he'd be a smart man if he were honest, but as a two-faced opportunist he's in way over his head. You know, it may be that there's a particular kind of stupidity (stupidity comes in flavors, you know) where somebody hasn't given any thought to what he is saying because he doesn't understand what he's saying because he's just repeating what somebody told him it would be a good idea to say; so what you have as a final product is an inarticulate something that the declarant can't explain or elaborate on because it's coming from someplace external to him--he's as incapable of explaining "his" neocon-scripted foreign policy as a radio is of discussing the rhythm and dynamics of the song it just played.

Well, I guess we'll see.


vince Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 11:28:00 AM EDT  

AS F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand."

That is Romney to a T.

The far right Christian wing doesn't like Mormons, doesn't consider them Christian, and doesn't really like Romney as a person. For some of these, there is no person they can or will vote for. For some, they hold their nose and vote for him simply because he's willing to at least mouth what they want to hear, and anything is better than that Kenyan-born Marxist Muslim currently holding office.

And Romney, bless his heart, will abandon or reinvent any position and ignore any slight or insult to him or the beliefs he claims to have to cater to these same people.

Romney has principal, but no principle.

John Healy Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 2:46:00 PM EDT  

Cogent arguement, counselor. When I watched the soon-to-be-President debate Hilary Clinton here in Ohio, was surprised to realize he was smarter than her. I regarded Ms. Clinton as the brains of that partnership. So, I think that Obama will tear a strip off Romney. That was before I'd read your point about the tangled web Mitt's woven. Now I'm starting to look forward to it. I was already looking to the Biden vs. Ryan bloodfest.

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