What are we to think of Governor Romney?
Apologists, including Romney himself, are defending his easy dismissal of "the other half" as unreachable. He was, they say, merely providing to his audience the political analysis of the difficulties a conservative faces in these times. Romney does admit the presentation of his assessment was "not elegantly stated."
The Romney campaign has issued an appendix of sorts to the candidate's punditry:
Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney's plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs.
Ah yes. An election analysis delivered inelegantly but intended to express concern about those struggling in poverty, struggling to find work.
Or as he described them on video: dependent upon government, believing that they are victims, insisting they are entitled to ...well... you-name-it. Those who cannot be convinced to take personal responsibility and to care for their lives.
I dunno. I can't quite get how that is an expression of concern, a sincere desire to help. In fact, he made poverty a moral issue. Those who are not well off are not unfortunate. They are moral inferiors, having a value system that is deeply flawed. In some country clubs, getting tough with the servant class is viewed as a demonstration of virtue. It's for their own good, you know.
Governor Romney challenged Mother Jones, the magazine that had put portions of the video online, to release the entire hour. They did, and the rest of the Boca Raton speech did not get any better. There turned out to be no mitigating context. He had not been breitbarted. This was the real deal, the actual Mitt Romney free and himself.
Why did Mitt Romney do it, this impression of Thurston Howell, laughing at his inferiors? My speculation is simply a best guess, a combination of intuition and observation.
Candidates for election, particularly those running for higher office for the first time, sometimes get self-destructive after primaries are over and general elections are in the offing. Policy positions that might prove popular, or at least salable with some explanation, get lost amid verbal offenses. Candidates get used to sure fire applause lines that had worked every time with partisan audiences, but now turn off a wider electorate. Habits become their own prison, hard to escape.
In 2000, Hillary Clinton was running as a first time candidate for the US Senate. She was asked during a debate about marital problems with Bill Clinton. She gave a heartfelt answer that seemed to touch the audience. When it was her opponent's turn, he offered a cold, harsh, judgment. "What's so troubling is that somehow it only matters what you say when you get caught." He turned to the cameras. "Unfortunately, that's become a pattern, I think, for my opponent." It was a line that had, just a few weeks before, generated appreciative hoots and loud applause from partisan Republican Clinton haters. But the debate with the target of that hostility became a turning point as the more general audience was stunned.
Six years later, running for reelection, she was confronted by an opponent who made his case on the basis of insult. He wondered why Bill Clinton had married someone so ugly. Perhaps she had had cosmetic surgery since then. Hillary haters may have loved it. Nobody else did. She won in a landslide that became legend in its proportions.
Candidates become, over time, a lot like their audiences. They receive feedback. They learn what is appreciated and what leaves folks a little cold. During primaries, their audiences are party voters and are unrepresentative of a larger public. The lessons learned can be false and self-destructive.
Mitt Romney grew to adulthood in an environment most of us cannot imagine. Wealthy country club dwellers may chuckle appreciatively about liking to fire someone. When, in an attempt to illustrate a point about insurance and the marketplace, Mitt Romney utters those words, it becomes emblematic. Quoted out of context, it reinforces an image no candidate wants.
With Mitt Romney, it seems to go a little deeper.
Devoting himself for years to contract minutia, rewarded beyond the hopes of most of humanity, he brings an unfortunate sensibility to the world outside.
In the corporate universe, employees have a legal status with which key executives are often familiar. While performing their duties, while acting in the role of employee, each one is a legal agent of the company. Corporations are legally liable for their actions, even if those actions are not condoned.
When an embassy employee in the Middle East in some potential physical danger tweets a message criticizing an inflammatory video while defending free speech, a connection clicks in, and the candidate recognizes a business career's basic lesson. He condemns the President for what the employee has done. After all, liability doesn't depend on the preexisting knowledge of higher ups. In fact, a responsible executive would not accept the exposure of a corporation to the liability of unauthorized statements. An employee would not only have been fired, but an executive might have felt justified in taking some glee in administering the dismissal. "I like firing people, especially when they don't perform."
The President is to be blamed for sympathizing with those terrorists who killed Americans.
It is all so logical, so businesslike, so contractual. The simple prediction, the easily foreseen fact that the non-corporate world, which is to say the voting world, would take it as a calculated and dishonest attempt to manipulate a group of deaths for political advantage would have occurred to anyone thinking in human terms. Death is not a typical risk in most boardrooms.
Much of his presentation to audiences has been that of hidden clauses and sub-paragraphs. Many of what we see as bald lies can make more sense if we prepend to every Romney sentence the world "Technically." As in "technically, corporations are people, my friend." As indeed they are. Corporations are, by legal definition, entities that function as fictitious people. The clauses and paragraphs say so.
By all accounts, Romney behaved fairly toward associates. It was in negotiations that contractual craftiness became the dwelling place of the mind. A hidden loophole here, an obscure tax benefit there, artful language hiding intent.
Mitt Romney may view his campaign contributors as associates. He regards voters, at least the responsible non-leeches who can be convinced to support him, as seated on the other side of the table, to be bested in the grand negotiation called a national election. Those who do not know to watch out for hidden clauses, who have not learned to beware of flexible meanings, may find later what it means to under-perform.
It is only speculation, but it is the best explanation I can devise as to why he seems so unfeeling, so cold, so contractual. He is a modern corporate miracle, a modern marvel.
His movements are so real. Unless you pay attention for a while, he seems almost human.
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