By R.B. Scott
Boston, MA - Should Mitt Romney’s once disciplined assault on President Barack Obama fall short, as now seems likely, historians and political analysts will note that he sowed the seeds of self-destruction months, perhaps even years ago. His chronic Bain panderbabble and haughty presumption that he is accountable only to Ann are dragging him down, down, down. Again!
He chose the aftermath of a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya to launch a broadside on President Obama’s Middle East strategy. A few days later a videotaped record surfaced of his off-the-cuff spiel at a private gathering of fat cat donors. His condescension toward the hoi polloi supporters of President Obama offended at least half of the nation and caused the other half to wonder if there was ever an empathetic sinew in Mitt’s body, let alone a bone. He didn’t mean to put it quite the way it tumbled out of his mouth, which is how he rudely upstaged the Olympic Games in London earlier in the summer, challenging security readiness and the city’s paucity of community spirit.
Then in the walkup to a meeting with Latinos where he intended to mend fences over an ill-considered wisecrack that he would be better off in this election had he been born Mexican -- a novelist would get panned if he made-up this stuff -- he dyed his face brown, but missed his ears. Really!
It’s beginning to feel a lot like 1994 all over again. Recall that September was the month Romney fully squandered his surprising lead over Senator Edward Kennedy. He had refused to define himself then and, when the tough got going, his responses to attacks on his character and religion were late an impotent. And, he’s doing it again. At this point in the ’94 campaign Ann Romney was calling out critics of her beleaguered man like she was last week. “Stop it” she whimpered in a Radio Iowa interview. “This is hard. You want to try it? “
It is 2012. Your husband wants us make him the most powerful man on Planet Earth, a job he has pursued since he was a teenager. I get Team Romney’s mailings. They seem to arrive hourly. They are not very nice to Michelle’s husband. Barry is a nice fellow, an American success story too. Their daughters are adorable. Has your husband no respect for the office of the president or for family values?
Long before the New Hampshire primary Team Obama recognized that Romney was the man to beat. So did savvy journalists. One of the savvier, a senior political correspondent for a major national news organization asked if I thought Romney was steeled for a year of relentless “getting to know all about you” scrutiny.
“They think they can control it, but you and I know they can’t,” I said. My response was based on observations of him and his operatives over twenty years. From the outset, Mitt, the man accountable to no one but Ann and possibly God, believed he could limit access to information about himself, his family, his business dealings, and his religion.
With the exception of 2002, when he was elected governor almost by acclamation, his failures to preemptively define himself and share information have led to gotchas that undercut his chances for the Senate in 1994, and his party’s nomination for president in 2008. Romney’s need to control everything and his failure to do it are undoing him again in 2012.
Kasie Hunt, the Associated Press reporter on the Romney jet, observed that he runs the campaign like a consultant: “He reviews TV ads and polling data on an iPad. He writes many of his speeches. He’s often talking like a consultant… The nominee simply is taking on too many duties.”
These are egocentric attributes he honed as a church leader, a Bain executive, Olympic rescuer, governor and political candidate. While he is quick to assign responsibility for key decisions to Ann, or an unnamed political advisor, or his son (when illegal immigrant gardeners were discovered working for him in Massachusetts), it has become clear that they are but useful props, like the wooden Charlie McCarthy was for the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen.
When his nephew Tim Robinson set-out to write a somewhat objective “third person” account about his uncle’s “rescue” of the Salt Lake Olympics (Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and The Olympic Games), Mitt took over the project himself, relegating his worshipful young relative to an inside the cover “as told to” byline. The autobiography was so loaded with the “I” and “me” pronouns and podgy self-absorbed recollections that Robert Garff, the unassuming chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee and former president of the Utah Senate to whom Romney reported, refused to read it because of what he learned from others: “Mitt remembers it [The Games] differently than I did,” Garff said. “He was running for president from the beginning. He did not like reporting to the board. People like Mitt don’t like being accountable to anyone.” It is a pattern he would follow when it came time to produce his second book, No Apology: hire the writer, fire the writer, take over the project.
He seems to have bought into a cynical adman strategy that repetition makes truth, no matter how absurd the claim. When he learned that he could not possibly have seen his father marching side-by-side with Martin Luther King because it never happened, he went out of his way to insist that it might have happened or could have happened and stuck to the line for weeks until the controversy just faded away.
He was aggressively adamant that he hadn’t used the F-word on a young traffic warden at the Salt Lake Olympics even though a State Highway Patrolman had witnessed Mitt’s roadside temper tantrum and F-slinging. And for nearly two decades he has coyly refused to admit that he indeed was the young, eager Mormon bishop who gave a troubled, sick and pregnant mother bum advice about abortion. When the damning video tape emerged last week, he accused the taper of violating Florida law, as if that was a credible defense against his haughty attacks on Obama supporters.
Instead of his father’s passionate honesty – his stormy departure from the co-opted Republican Convention of 1964 and his famous “I was given a real brainwashing about Viet Nam” broadside in 1967— Mitt has given Americans an unchained medley of double speak, flip-flops, and pandering. Late in the ’94 campaign to unseat Senator Kennedy, when all hope was lost, he gratuitously endorsed the Wampanoag tribe’s quest to build a gambling casino in New Bedford (Massachusetts). Is there a former Mormon stake president anywhere in America who endorses gambling, let alone casinos? Was the endorsement sincere or a blatant suck-up?
Routinely Romney cavalierly dismissed thoughtful counsel that character, sincerity and accomplishment matter more than slick promises tailored to appeal to the audience of the hour. His advisors think otherwise, he argues, which, of course, means he thinks otherwise.
Instead of choosing a moderate running mate known for building coalitions with Democrats, he and Beth Myers, the acutely acquiescent aide who provided cover for vice presidential search, put their heads together and came up with a choice they knew would mollify the demanding far right wing of his party.
Were Romney running for Panderer-in-Chief he might win in a landslide, were it not for the fact that his pledges have proven to be as dishonesta salesman’s at“Kleen Kars.”
Has Romney proven himself to be the strongest ally the gay community could find, as he promised in 1994 and again in 2002? Does he or does he not think all citizens should have health care protection as he argued in 2003? Was his support for Roe v. Wade and “Choice” in 1994 and again 2002 and opposition now sincere or just politically expedient? Would he really dismantle Obamacare on day one of his administration, as promised? Or, was that pledge just more hot air?
Yet, despite his well-established pattern of pandering, ill-timed statements about Libya, a dismissive ramble about commoners, and a bad “Dye-and-Shine” face job, recent daily polling data give President Obama an unsteady lead (within the margin-of-error) nationally. Why? Other data indicates that upwards of 65 percent of the nation believes the Federal government must dramatically reduce entitlements and services. President Obama owns that problem.
There are no easy fixes to the nation’s ills. Tough times are with us and lie ahead. Meanness is running chin deep and rising. In unsettling times like these people turn to empathetic leaders who seem to “have their backs,” a senior Bain colleague of Romney’s observed not long ago. “Mitt was able to manage the Salt Lake Olympic crisis with more competence than empathy, but Rudy Giuliani is the model for how to develop trust in times of crisis.”
Apart from the fact that he has been married only once, Mitt Romney has not yet become the latter-day incarnation of the buoyant and indomitable former mayor of the nation’s most ungovernable metropolis. Don’t expect miracles between now and November 6th.