I'm not sure Mitt Romney gets what "spit hot fire" means.
By now, I was expecting a series of Serious Policy Speeches™ in the vein of then-candidate Barack Obama's famed Philadelphia address on race, or his speech in Berlin during the 2008 campaign. Rhetorical torches meant to lead, and inspire. Even if they disagreed with his arguments, many would certainly would welcome Romney offering serious thoughts about serious issues. What we've gotten now instead is unserious thoughts of an unserious candidate, uttered in (what he thought was) private.
David Corn of Mother Jones has released several lengthy, secretly-videotaped portions of remarks Romney made at a $50,000/plate fundraiser at the home of private-equity manager and sex-party enthusiast Marc Leder on May 17. Yesterday, there was this Shocking Just Shocking!™ Romney dis of just about half of the country. On the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, a new type of percenter was given a name:
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax."
As Matt Welch of Reason notes, this is "economic determinism at its worst, going against the very message the Republican Party was trying to see to the world during its quadrennial national convention last month." As such, damage control was in order. In the hastily-called presser (staged after 10pm Eastern last night, when likely a lot of those 47-percenters were sleeping), Romney offered a semi-apology-not-really for the remarks, saying that his sentiments weren't "elegantly stated." (Perhaps not as much so as he'd done before, at least.)
He also demanded the full release of the video, which was rich, considering. This morning, Corn and Mother Jones obliged to a point, releasing more video from the fundraiser. This second report featured comments about Israel and Palestine that might disqualify a man running for President in a sane world:
Romney was indicating he did not believe in the peace process and, as president, would aim to postpone significant action: "[S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
The Romney campaign is a seven-alarm fire right now, thanks to their own candidate the arsonist, spewing hot fire all over himself like a drunken dragon. The ejaculatory condemnation he made of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for a statement made in an attempt to head off a violent protest -- and the immediate appearance of political opportunism in the wake of four American diplomats in Libya -- is still fresh in the minds of an American public increasingly tuned into politics. Now, less than 50 days before the election, we get these Mother Jones scoops.
You certainly can't blame Seven of Nine for this, but perhaps President Obama himself is to blame. I'll elaborate.
The President has a talent, if you can call it that, for running against candidates who self-immolate. As Melissa referenced on Saturday morning, this was detailed well in theGrio last week by my friend Zerlina Maxwell. In the midst of Romney comparisons to eventual losers Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, her column brought back to mind a name which I hadn't considered: Jack Ryan. Remember him?
In the 2004 Illinois race for U.S. Senate, Ryan was the Republican opponent who Obama was supposed to face. That is, until it was revealed that he once frequented sex clubs with his wife, actress Jeri Ryan, asking her to perform sex acts amongst the patronage. Jeri Ryan, who gained fame portraying the liberated Borg drone Seven of Nine on television's "Star Trek: Voyager" in the late nineties, had since liberated herself from her politician husband -- and as such, put his activities through a media megaphone. Her ex dropped out of the race against Obama, and that was that. Flame, on.
Ryan was replaced by the irascible Alan Keyes, who poured rhetorical gasoline upon himself during his joke of a campaign, making Obama's win an easy one. While he wouldn't necessarily coast against Senator John McCain in 2008, there's no doubt McCain set his campaign on fire by nominating Sarah Palin as his running mate and later, by suspending his campaign to go back to Washington for bailout negotiations. What he thought would be seen as heroic adherence to his elected duties came across as petty grandstanding, an attempt to position himself as a man of action.
What folks may not recall is that it was also pure avoidance. McCain pulled that stunt right about this point in the campaign; the four-year anniversary of it is next week. It was right before he was scheduled to debate President Obama for the first time, a debate which he insisted upon canceling in light of his sudden need to be needed in Washington. In the exact moment McCain sought to look superhuman, he was revealed as a political coward.
The debate I note all these instances to draw attention to what this new Romney crisis is really all about: character.
A while back, I had a spirited conversation on Twitter with one of the journalists whom I most respect: Spencer Ackerman of Wired. Our rare disagreement centered around a significantly less important remark, that of Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, about his mythical marathon time. Spencer didn't think it was a story worth discussing, but I defended sending a tweet with a story about Ryan's fabrication because, particularly in the wake of his Republican National Convention speech, it pointed to a character issue, and this was about why character matters in presidential elections. I'd say the same now of Romney's fundraiser remarks.
To think of Romney’s leaked discourse as a “gaffe” grossly misdescribes its importance. Indeed the comments’ direct impact on the outcome of the election will probably be small ... it won’t strike many voters as an insult: Most people who don’t pay income taxes do pay other taxes, and fail to distinguish between them, and thus don’t consider themselves among the 47% scorned by Romney.Instead the video exposes an authentic Romney as a far more sinister character than I had imagined. Here is the sneering plutocrat, fully in thrall to a series of pernicious myths that are at the heart of the mania that has seized his party. He believes that market incomes in the United States are a perfect reflection of merit. Far from seeing his own privileged upbringing as the private-school educated son of an auto executive-turned-governor as an obvious refutation of that belief, Romney cites his own life, preposterously, as a confirmation of it. (“I have inherited nothing. Everything I earned I earned the old fashioned way.”)
That brings me to a bigger issue for Romney than whether or not he offended poor people on government assistance, or implied he'd pass the buck on Israel and Palestine. Give folks a day or two of good, old-fashioned false equivalence, and that'll dampen. The issue is that we can't really know if Romney even meant what he said.
Chait argues that this exposes a side of the GOP candidate which he hadn't seen, but who is to say this is the "real Romney"? Jamelle Bouie pointed out last night that this could have been a message tailor-made for a ton of really wealthy guys who favor Israel in a "quiet room," in Romney's parlance. As Welch noted in his piece, this 53/47 stuff is not uncommon scapegoating on the Right (remember the "I am the 53%" folks?), so perhaps Romney wasn't revealing he was a True Conservative™, but doing what he's been doing for virtually the entire campaign: merely playing to the crowd.
This is a talent more befitting a comedian, or a wedding MC, than a President. Considering Romney is asking America to send him to the White House in less than eight weeks, his real problem is that these videos shine a brighter light on Romney's penchat for saying anything to be liked to the people he thinks can carry him to his goal, and withholding anything he thinks may make him unlikeable to everyone else (i.e., these exact comments to a larger audience; tax returns). As any fifth-grader can tell you, that is a recipe for becoming unpopular to everyone. (Even David Brooks.)
The question of whether or not men are "over" was asked over the weekend on "MHP," and this all has some questioning whether the same can be said of Mitt Romney. This controversy may not end the election, as Bloomberg's Josh Barro predicted -- especially in the age of Citizens United and voter-ID laws. Romney's chances at the Presidency may not have gone away for good, but all this has helped us get to know Mitt Romney just a little bit better. The more we get to know about his character, the less there is to like.
At best, this is a bad look. Not only did he make disqualifying, unserious remarks about the Israel-Palestine conflict, Romney blew off 47% of the nation, clowning the 47-percenters as self-victimizing leeches of the American promise. That must have seemed a better option than actually examining the valid reasons many of them have for not voting for him.
Below is "The Rachel Maddow Show" coverage last night of the video. Two videos featuring Romney's fundraiser comments are embedded below the jump, courtesy of Mother Jones . The rest can be found at their YouTube page.
Update: Politico reported moments ago that Mother Jones plans to release the full video later today. "We have the whole tape, which we're releasing later today," said co-editor-in-chief Clara Jeffrey.