The biggest disappointment for me this year wasn’t that Barack Obama is a “socialist” (we knew that, sort of), or that Mr. Obama plays viscous, hard-ball politics (we knew that too) or that he can be devious (also known.) No, the biggest disspointment was how easy it was for the Obama team to make Mitt Romney look like a jackass.
By all accounts Mr. Romney is very smart, hardworking, and an exceptionally gifted manager. He has a family to which has he has maintained an exemplary level of faith and fidelity. Everything I’ve read indicates that people who know him admire him, and the people who work for him or with him are loyal to him. And yet for all that he has utterly failed to keep his head above water as a presidential candidate.
First, when the press ran the story about how he raced down the highway on a road trip with his dog on top of his car, he offered up that the dog enjoyed it, and it wasn’t so bad. OK fine, it was dumb thing to do but I think giving him the benefit of the doubt here would have sufficed.
But next, when confronted with the story about how he led a gang of his high school buddies to track down some unsuspecting kid, terrorize him and cut off his hair, Mr. Romney seemed not to remember the incident (and yet the people who were there remembered it, and were troubled by it.) Instead of being contrite, apologizing and admitting it was not his best moment and he wished it hadn’t happened, he offers a very weak, defensive explanation.
When the press ran stories about his relationship with Bain, he gets mad. The facts don’t seem to be in dispute: Mr. Romney was president, C.E.O., chairman of the board and 100 percent owner of Bain Capital until 2002. He filed SEC documents affirming this. But he says he had nothing to do with Bain after 1999, and offered up the explanation that it took a long time to figure out how to transfer ownership.
I find the explanation a bit confusing — if he wasn’t in charge, who was? Apparently a “management team.” But that begs the question. What is the reason for filling out SEC forms attesting to ownership and executive management at Bain in the first place? Is it not to ascertain who is actually responsible for the company? Is it not misleading to claim to be the executive in charge on the one hand and on the other claim not to be? The explanation that the business relationships were tricky to sort out has some credibility, but the way it’s been handled robs it of honesty, and it leaves me thinking there is way more to the story.
In any case the correct strategy ought to have been to calmly explain that the situation was complicated, and showcase Mr. Romney’s ability to manage sensitive, complicated endeavors. And it doesn’t matter how many times the Obama team raises the question — each time it’s an opportunity for Mr. Romney to showcase his talent, and at the same time accuse Mr. Obama of attempting to misdirect the public’s attention.
Next, it appears that his IRA is valued at millions of dollars (20-100 million.) The limit for IRA contributions is $5000 per year. The only way to get to $20 million is to pack your IRA with investments that have a really low value and hope the return is huge. But let’s assume what Mr. Romney did was completely legal. Then why doesn’t he want to release is tax records? It’s another instance where Mr. Romney looks like he has something to hide.
It’s not only aggravating to see this kind of behavior in a candidate, it raises some real doubts about his credibility and his conscience. It’s not at all about Mr. Romney being rich, or whether “vulture capitalism” is the source of the money, or how many horse’s his wife has. It’s about whether Mr. Romney is really who he says he is.
To put this in perspective, I think that had Mitt Romney run as a ultra conservative Democrat in 2008, he would probably be President today. He could be the next President had he run as a moderate, pragmatic Republican (as he apparently was as Governor of Massachusetts.) My sense of American politics right now is that the only way we can pull the electorate together is for a moderate Republican to create a really bi-partisan majority. I don’t think a Democrat can do it.
Instead, we have Mitt Romney going against a man who took on the two best politicians in the US — Hilary and Bill Clinton — and beat them. No small feat. And the Romney team’s response? Petulance, clumsiness, a lack of focus, defensiveness, and a lack of transparency. Oh well. Maybe 2016 will be better.