The Problem With Mitt Romney Is Mitt Romney…And His Message

So, it’s not as funny as the Hunger Games Bad Lip Readingbut it’s exactly the sort of thing I need this election season. Fight nonsense with nonsense.

The singing part gets me every time….

In all seriousness, I am looking forward to the debates. They should be good indicators of which way the election is going. I strongly suspect Obama has this one in the bag, but we shall see.

I don’t think Romney is anything close to a strong candidate. Partly this is his message, and partly this is Romney himself.

David Frum argues that it’s mostly the message, one that’s been dictated by the hard-right of the Republican Party. This is true to some degree.

But Romney, even as a pragmatic moderate, is a very difficult person to like. At best I can see him managing to be not-unlikable; more often than not he comes across as aloof and two-dimensional. He lacks warmth, passion, and any semblance of True Belief, making his hard-right turn all the more puzzling and, like so much else about the candidate, insincere.

“Over course of campaign, Romney has changed from a pragmatic, capable manager into a dog-whistling culture warrior,” Frum said on Twitter. But this is only half the story.

Dog-whistling culture warriors can be quite likable after all. Lots of people describe Santorum as a nice guy, in spite of the fact that he’s a dog-whistling culture warrior. Plenty of people found George W. Bush to be personable, an affable enough guy who they could picture themselves having a beer with.

Romney as a pragmatic, capable manager would still be a lackluster candidate. He’d appeal to more in the middle, true, but he’d lose whatever shaky ground he’s managed to cover with the base. With such a tenuous grip over that segment of the voting GOP, Romney is stuck in-between a rock and a frying pan. Perhaps if he were more charismatic, more human, this would be a position he could extricate himself from. But he’s not.

So the problem, really, isn’t the message nearly so much as it is Mitt himself. And no matter how many times he changes his beliefs on big important issues, he can’t change who he is.

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41 thoughts on “The Problem With Mitt Romney Is Mitt Romney…And His Message

  1. I’m not sure it’s just warmth or charisma or even human-ness. Data from Star Trek: TNG lacked all of those things, but was still somehow likeable. He certainly would make a more appealing candidate.

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  2. Erik, I think Romney’s been blowing the dog whistle, too. He just spread a big net. After all, 47% of Americans are moochers, dependent on government for housing and food. In his secret movie, this is immediately followed by a discussion of China, a factory where people surrounded by walls and armed guard to keep the peasants (presumably wanting food and shelter) from sneaking in to work on the off chance they might get paid. This is his vision of an anti-moocher society.

    It’s actually disturbed me that the context of juxtaposition on these two segments hasn’t been made clearer; that the thoughts expressed in the first sets up the audience to receive the second.

    Either we 47-percenters need to be hungry and homeless enough to work in serf-like conditions or Romney was whistling the canine avant garde; abstracted to include half the population. We are all welfare queens now.

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    • I think that the right should start using the “dog whistle” smear, too.

      You know, Democrats don’t say they want to implement a top marginal tax rate of 98%, nationalize the entire economy, send the top 1% to work in the salt mines, and put everyone on welfare*, but you know that that’s what they really mean, and their followers understand that.

      *Whoops. Single-payer health care.

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            • They aren’t racists.

              On what evidence? Attribution of good faith? Why think that the party that consistently dog-whistles racial resentment to white voters are acting in good faith?

              I’d say that insofar as we attribute rationality to GOP politicians (which conservatives ought to be down with!) then racist dog-whistling is harder to explain away.

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                • You start out by saying, “racist, racist, racist.” A decade later you can’t say “racist” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like colorblind society, equal opportunity and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about equal rights, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is racists get hurt worse than non-racists. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the “racist” problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want everybody to apply,” is much more abstract than even the colorblind thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “racist, racist.”

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          • BB-

            I don’t think most, or even a critical mass, of Democrats wants to see the top marginal tax rate raised to 98%. I DO think most would like to see the top marginal tax rate raised. Do Democratic politicians openly tout raising the taxes on the rich? Not really. They tend to use phrases like “paying their fair share”. Is that a dog whistle? I suppose so. It just doesn’t signal anything particularly nefarious.

            I think the difference is that what Democrats tend to “dog whistle” about isn’t nearly as socially unacceptable as the types of dog whistles that SOME Republican leaders use with a CERTAIN SEGMENT of Republican voters.

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          • It’s really frightening that they use the language of racism but don’t think it racist. That Akin can say McCaskill came out fighting, not ladylike, and not think it misogynist. And I could, of course, go on and on and on like the energizer bunny.

            I mean really, for the party that claims it’s all about responsibility and civility, this racist and misogynistic dog whistling is really irresponsible if it’s not what’s meant.

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            • CBS news:

              Additionally, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Thursday in an interview with CBS News that he was backing off from the heavy criticism he had leveled at Akin when he, too, was encouraging the nominee to drop out of the race.

              Priebus’ prior vow that the RNC would not send Akin “a penny” apparently still applies in the technical sense, since the committee does not give money directly to candidates, but Priebus said the RNC was dedicated to doing everything it could to promote “the entire ticket” of Republicans running in Missouri.

              Asked directly if he considered Akin to be a better option for Missouri voters than McCaskill, Priebus did not hesitate.

              “Well, absolutely,” he said in the interview. “That’s a given, and as chairman of the party, I have an obligation to make sure we win as many seats in the Senate as possible.”

              The Senate Conservatives Fund — a nationally active political action committee founded by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint — also jumped to Akin’s defense on Thursday with an endorsement and financial pledge of $290,000 to his campaign.

              The new commitments to Akin came as the congressman told reporters that McCaskill’s demeanor during last week’s debate was not as “ladylike” as it was in her 2006 debates against Jim Talent.

              Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57522102/kit-bond-to-endorse-akin-priebus-hints-at-rnc-support/

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      • I like this take on it from the GOP primaries:
        http://blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/7910/2012-01-20.html

        But in truth, this is progress. Because we can’t out and out say things, now, we have to speak in tongues.

        And you notice that we didn’t adopt a single-payer health care system, excluding seniors and veterans. We adopted an insurance-market based health care system. Like the one Romney set up in MA.

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      • We do use dog whistles. Chairman Soros may send the black helicopters for me for spilling the beans, but…

        When a liberal politician says they want to create a single payer health care plan just like Canada, what they really mean by this clever code is that they want to create a single payer health care plan just like Canada.

        Likwise, when they say they want to let the Bush tax cuts lapse and return to Clinton era levels of taxation, they secretly want to let the Bush tax cuts lapse and return to Clinton era tax rates.

        Oh sure, if you want to go nutpicking, you can get a bunch of liberals around a table and ply them with a few drinks, and eventually one of them will let slip that he favors returning to a Nixon era, or even Eisenhower era level of taxation, but we generally disavow that level of madness.

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      • Brandon, if you truly think that the left and the right operate in the same fashion, at least in terms of language (which dog-whistling is a part of) then we will have to simply disagree. It’s not that the left doesn’t have its own parlor tricks, antics, etc. But the way language is used in the big-tent Democratic Party and the lockstep conservative movement is fundamentally different.

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        • Part of the reason we don’t use dog whistles is that we don’t need to.

          I said once that both Tea Partiers and Occupiers use similar language about wanting to “Take Our Country Back”.
          Except that you can easily separate the two groups by asking them who they want to take it back FROM.

          Liberals want to take “their” country back from Wall Street Banks, the 1%, and the various lackeys and toadeys that service them. There isn’t any social stigma to hating on those groups. So we just plainly say “JUMP, YOU FUCKERS!”;
          Our language is blunt, clear, and concise.

          Conservatives want to take “their” country back from…?

          Um, well, finish that sentence and see how oddly contorted and eliptical the language gets.

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      • The right has been using the “dog whistle” smear in enormous amount. Read any of the books or watch any of their infomercials talking about Obama’s secret socialist plans which can be gleaned not from any analysis of his actual acts, promises or policies in office but rather on very careful deconstruction of his past associations and careful interpretations of what he really means when he says what he says.

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  3. ‘Memba John Kerry? Or Al Gore? How wooden they were?

    Think about it: do you know anyone in your life in the workaday world most of us inhabit who’s so wooden? Quite a few, probably. Maybe even yourself, if you’ve been called on to give a public address. Very few people, good people too, can fake enthusiasm.

    Now consider who does well at this sort of thing: the salesmen, the grifters and the hard luck stories they tell. Preachers. Actors.

    Mitt Romney’s a fascinating figure, probably as competent and agile a business executive as has ever run for the presidency. As governor of Massachusetts he adapted to that situation and got a lot done. Now I might be projecting here, but Mitt Romney’s woodenness is an artifact of the same crap which got both Kerry and Gore and half a dozen other men in trouble in similar circumstances: he’s become the creature of his handlers. He’s not in control of his own campaign.

    From my experience with business executives of many sorts, Romney is the sort of guy who will send out specialists then operate on the information they gather, making decisions on that basis. Big Desk Leadership. This sort of guy needs a big desk to hold great masses of paperwork. He doesn’t make decisions lightly. He doesn’t shoot from the hip. He seems ruthlessly pragmatic, perhaps even more so than Barack Obama, who’s not a Big Desk Guy.

    Barack Obama is a Coach Guy, he leads with a handful of summaries, sending out people with mandate to make decisions on their own, armed with mandate. Very different style of management. Look at how he deals with Hillary and Tim Geithner: he empowers them to do what they think is needful. All he needs to give such hyper-competent types is an objective and the letters of marque to do the needful. That’s why Obama is so hard to measure. He knows the camera’s watching: he covers his mouth when he talks to his offensive and defensive coordinators. He’s good at it, too.

    It’s probably too late for Romney, at this point. Big Desk Guys only report to investors and the board of directors. They’ve never Played Black well. They’re better at offence than defence. Romney’s never been particularly good at delegating to people who could sing his praises with any sincerity and manoeuvred himself into a position where he’s going to join the ranks of Gore and Kerry, who never learned to develop the chessboard.

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    • Very few people, good people too, can fake enthusiasm.

      19 years ago, I had to record a batch of 30-60 second spots for a streaming video demonstration. By the fourth or fifth take on some of them, it was getting pretty hard to sound spontaneous or even interested in the material. By the end of the day, I had a much greater respect for the actor’s craft. I’m sure politicians have the same problem — how many times can you give what is basically the same stump speech and still look/sound like you care?

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      • The GOP got Barack Obama completely wrong when they went after the Rev. Wright angle. Barack Obama was studying a popular preacher at work. Obama’s good on the stump, even better when he’s under pressure.

        It’s sorta interesting, because Romney’s sat in a church pew all his life, too. I’ve never heard LDS preaching. Maybe someone else around here has but it must be pretty weak tea, homiletically. If any of it’s rubbed off on Mitt Romney, I can’t see it. He’s no orator.

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        • I’ve never heard LDS preaching. Maybe someone else around here has but it must be pretty weak tea, homiletically.

          I haven’t either, but if it’s anything like the preaching I grew up with (Christian Reformed Church of America — a Dutch denomination split off the Reformed Church of America) it will bore you to tears. Like an uninspired chemistry lecture.

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          • My old man and I were sermon aficionados. My old man’s theology ran toward Calvinism but he took a far more sensible approach to the problem than the Calvinists. Calvin College, which produces a good many (if not all) CRC preachers, is an interesting establishment and I’ve heard some fairly good preaching from its alumni, but my old man used to say listening to a bad Calvinist preaching was like being rubbed down with very fine grit sandpaper.

            If I were organising Romney’s communications, and I did this in a very small way for a mayoral campaign (which won), I’d have Romney sit down with some leaders, so they could ask him questions. Have them sit down in a semi-circle, with as many facts in front of them as they wanted, to work through some large issue blocs.

            Remember when Clinton had those endless conferences and talkfests? That’s where Romney could shine. If Romney’s a Big Desk Guy, it would be fascinating to watch him think through a problem.

            Here’s the deal: despite all these fine notions about Leadership and Issues and Stuff, most of a president’s job is Responding. A week’s a long time in Washington. Every day bringeth fresh hell. What sort of experiment could we the voters conduct on these guys to see how they’d respond to pressure? That’s an open question. I don’t have an answer.

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  4. His eyes are dead. He smiles, and his eyes don’t change. He frowns, and his eyes don’t change. He’s my top candidate for the Pull-Fake-Head-Off-and-Reveal-Alien-Lifeform award.

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