Next Tuesday will mark six years since the normally mild-mannered Dennis Green famously lost his temper at a press conference following a crushing loss his Arizona Cardinals suffered at the hands of the Chicago Bears. Green, then Arizona's head coach, saw his team blow what seemed to be an insurmountable lead late in the game, and lose at home on Monday Night Football. I'll spare all the specifics that NFL Films covers well in this video -- one which you should watch in order to see Green spit hot fire:
The Bears are what we thought they were. They're what we thought they were. We played them in preseason — who the hell takes a third game of the preseason like it's bullsh*t? Bullsh*t! We played them in the third game — everybody played three quarters — the Bears are who we thought they were! That's why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their *ss! But they are who we thought they were! And we let 'em off the hook!
Over those nearly six years, I've been reminded of the punchiest line in Green's rant -- "they are who we thought they were!" -- often as I've watched Mitt Romney run for President. Considering the address he gave yesterday at the Virginia Military Institute, it seems that this actually be the moment at which it is most poignant. How so?
Despite Romney's newly launched, media-driven campaign "reset," it is important to remember that he has always been the same person. I'll explain what I mean.
There's no doubt that Romney's efforts at re-invention are the stuff of legend, even under their current moniker of "etch-a-sketching." Last week's debate was a sign that we're in a new phase of it, a (perceived) Romney shift back to the political center under the cover of vagaries and lies. Yesterday, he continued in that vein with a frightening foreign policy speech.
First, the biggest etch-a-sketch:
“I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.”
This two-state solution, of course, is the exact opposite what he remarked to a private, high-priced fundraiser back in April. Yes, the same one at which Romney spoke derisively about the "47%" and said that he believed Palestinians aren't interested in peace and that as President, he planned to "kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
In a substantive, surgical breakdown, Fred Kaplan of Slate called the speech "the most dishonest" Romney has delivered yet. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic wasn't happy, either, going even further by calling it a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" speech:
The speech that Mitt Romney gave Monday ought to make every American nervous about what he and his ideological team would do if permitted to direct U.S. foreign policy. What a debacle...Romney's foreign policy sure does seem as if it's the terrible consequence of the Republican Party's attempt to treat spending as if it was the only failure of the Bush Administration, rather than acknowledging the various ways in which the Bush foreign policy made the United States worse off.
Yeah, but was it loud? Given that near-universal praise greeted Romney for his bullying, loud debate performance full of lies last Wednesday and the wacky polls we've seen both ways since, it's clear that that this is a volcanic electorate in many senses -- molten, fiery, volatile. As long as Romney feeds the heat with his rhetoric, all while re-jiggering himself to the left of his extreme party positions for those voters who -- like casual sports fans at playoff time -- are just starting to pay attention, it's a recipe for success. Right?
In his analysis of Romney's speech yesterday, Adam Serwer of Mother Jones opted not to focus on the substance Kaplan and Friedersdorf analyzed, noting that this speech was less policy address than public service announcement (in the vein of Jay-Z, naturally). Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic ponders the timing of this "reset," wondering if Romney has been espousing the extreme for a little too long:
Historically, those commitments have told us something about the plans candidates pursue in office. Those commitments have also told us something about the resistance candidates will put up in the face of political pressure. With Romney, the latter may be more important, because if he’s elected he'd almost certainly be working with a Republican Congress. The plans he endorsed are very much like the ones House Republicans have already passed. If Romney is not willing to stand up his party’s base now, why should we expect he'd stand up to them as president? ...Romney had more than a year of campaigning to position himself as a moderate. He chose not to do so. That tells us a lot—more, surely, than anything he says now.
That brings me back to "they are who we thought they were," and a must-read New York Times piece on Romney from last week. In a lengthy examination of Romney's past as Massachusetts governor, it was clear that through all of his varied policy machinations and switches, the guy really wanted one thing more than anything: to be President. I've wondered aloud why a man of his wealth and business influence would even bother with the revealing, arduous process of becoming President, but one thing that has been clear over the course of time is that Romney is a politician of almost limitless ambition, to the point where lying has become a campaign staple (and alternatively, punchline).
Yesterday's speech gave some substantive, frightening indication of what he'd do if elected. But Mitt Romney hasn't changed. If we'd been paying enough attention, it would be clear that we've always known. So enough about "etch-a-sketching," and the like. It's clear that Romney not only doesn't expect America to care -- he's counting on it.