Friday, November 16, 2012

Bye-bye, Willard! Don't let the door slam behind you!

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I grabbed this snippet off of washingtonpost.com's afternoon update yesterday. It's one of those cases where I didn't feel any great need to read the actual story but surely did enjoy the image conjured -- of Republicans of all stripes waving into the distance and wishing their decommissioned standard-bearer a heartfelt "good riddance" as he fades off toward the horizon borne by the Five Mini-Willards, all of them intoning the famous Romney Savage War-Wimp Chant, "Heck, no, we won't go!" -- to war, that is. -- Ken

"Romney seems to think that newsletters and meetings and money can solve the Republican Party's problems, that it can win the White House when it doesn’t have to run against a President who's bribing voters. He doesn't see that he's the problem: what he believes, what he says. . . .

"[P]art of his problem throughout this campaign, and the one before it, is that he's never been good at disguising his lack of respect for the American electorate. His changing positions, his evasions about them, his misrepresentations -- they all, ultimately, came off as a challenge: I think you're too stupid not to fall for this. And there are very few people who appreciate being told they're dumb, or the person who said it."

-- Alex Koppelman, in a newyorker.com News Desk
post yesterday,
"Romney Gets the Last Gaffe"

by Ken

On the whole I'm inclined to let the R's do their own recriminating amongst themselves, secure in the knowledge that they will analyze the 2012 elections to death and come up with almost exclusively the wrong lessons. This isn't to single out R's or movement conservatives; it's the way all movement pols "analyze" elections. If the election had gone the other way, at this very moment we would have the whole of Dem officialdom tearing its hair out (such hair as is there, anyway) and recriminating and finger-pointing and drawing exactly the wrong lessons from the morass -- just as they're now drawing many of the wrong lessons from the victories.

Still, there's something special to the departure from public life of Willard Inc. (At least I hope it's his departure from public life.) Just this afternoon the Washington Post's pretty good political reporter Dan Eggen posted a piece that was headlined "Romney sinks quickly in Republicans' esteem."
The former Massachusetts governor -- who attracted $1 billion in funding and 59 million votes in his bid to unseat President Obama -- has rapidly become persona non grata to a shellshocked Republican Party, which appears eager to map out its future without its 2012 nominee.

Romney was by all accounts stunned at the scale of his Nov. 6 loss, dropping quickly from public view after delivering a short concession speech to a half-empty Boston arena. Then came a series of tin-eared remarks this week blaming his loss on Obama's "gifts" to African Americans and Hispanics -- putting him squarely at odds with party leaders struggling to build bridges with minorities . . .

The messy aftermath of his failure suggests that Romney, a political amalgam with no natural constituency beyond the business community, is unlikely to play a significant role in rebuilding is party, many Republicans said this week.
I'm really not eager to flog a dead horse -- or whatever species of carcass that is. I really didn't expect to add significantly to the lovely NYRB blogpost of Garry Wills's I quoted from on Wednesday, "Garry Wills on Willard: 'What can be worse than to sell your soul and find it not valuable enough to get anything for it?'" But son of a gun if the son of a gun didn't that very day go and make it necessary to reopen the dumping operation.

GOING OUT ON A NOTE OF GRACE? NOT WILLARD'S WAY

I confess that I was surprised on Election Night by the reasonableness, even graciousness, of Willard's concession speech -- when he finally gave it, having apparently given up on the hope that Karl Rove wasn't blowing it out his butt in insisting that the networks were calling everything prematurely. I had no way of knowing how sincere or insincere he was. We'll come back to the problem of fact-checking his "sincerity." For now, let me just say that I have no way of knowing. Still, if the goofball had left it at that, he could have gone out on a note of relative grace.

That, however, isn't Willard's Way. I'm sure by now everyone has heard about the stunning performance the buttwipe gave on the post-mortem conference call with fat-cat donors on Wednesday in which he explained away his defeat (never mind that in electoral-college terms it wasn't a defeat, it was a rout) as the product of the president's "gifts" to pampered demographic groups, "especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and young people."

The New Yorker's Alex Koppelman, in the News Desk post from which I've already quoted up top, makes a necessary point: "There are, as there were after the release of the 'forty-seven per cent' video, some people asking whether this is really what Romney believes, or whether he thinks it's what his audience wants to hear."

And I have to say, when it comes to "authenticating" Willard, I really have no tools. It never sounds to me like he believes anything he says -- or at least that he believes any regurgitation of nonsense any more or less than any other regurgitation of nonsense. The only thing that can be said for sure is that when he regurgitates in direct contradiction of his other regurgitations, I take it as a given that he can't possibly believe both. My hunch always is that he doesn't believe either, but I have no way of knowing. I just dismiss most of what he says, as I've written here numerous times, as "stuff he says." The famous "47 percent" campaign pander certainly had a certain ring of belief, but again, I don't know. How could I?

But Alex Koppelman offers what he believes is some evidence on behalf of Willard's belief in what he mouthed off about the "gifts."
[W]e have prior evidence that this is in fact what Romney thinks -- indeed, that it is the explanation that his campaign as a whole has settled on. At the end of last week, in an article about the reasons why the Republican nominee's team simply hadn't expected to lose ["Why Romney Never Saw It Coming"], Slate's John Dickerson reported:
Romney advisers . . . envy [Obama's] ability to leverage the presidency for his campaign. Young voters were told about new provisions for student loans and Obama's support for same-sex marriage, an issue that appeals to young voters. Hispanic voters were wooed by the president's plan to waive the deportation of children of illegal immigrants. One Romney aide also included the much-debated changes to welfare requirements as a policy aimed to win over African-American voters. "It was like they had a calendar," said one Romney aide. With each month, the Obama administration rolled out a new policy for a different segment of their coalition they hoped to attract.
But jeez Louise, is there any incumbent officeholder who wouldn't attempt to do exactly the same thing? Here's Alex's comment:
The Romney people weren't entirely wrong to think this way -- not exactly. The Presidency is a powerful tool, and any incumbent who didn't use that tool to at least some extent would be foolish. And there were clearly times when Obama used policy announcements to great political effect. To reduce the whole election -- not to mention a significant part of the Administration's policies -- to such things, though? That's just absurd. At the very least, the man responsible for the health-care reform plan on which Obama's is based should know better.

"HE STILL CAN'T SEE IT," SAYS ALEX K

But there's another element of delusion on the part of Willard and his campaign which Alex finds more important.
In the same conference call, Romney talked about plans for the future. He wanted to keep his donors together somehow, he said -- "to meet perhaps annually, and to keep in touch with a monthly newsletter or something of that nature" -- so that they could help steer the G.O.P. and, presumably, the country. Which just makes the whole thing sadder: he still can't see it.
What is it he still can't see? This brings us to the chunk I quoted up top, which I'm going to repeat here, now in context.
Romney seems to think that newsletters and meetings and money can solve the Republican Party's problems, that it can win the White House when it doesn't have to run against a President who's bribing voters. He doesn't see that he's the problem: what he believes, what he says. Conservatives have constructed a myth that says certain groups -- blacks, Hispanics, women, young people -- vote Democratic because they're stupid, because they're lazy, and because they can be purchased with trinkets and baubles. It'd be one thing if they kept that myth a secret, but instead they shout it from the rooftops. Then, when it's over, they wonder why those people voted Democratic again.

Romney was never the worst offender on this score; he never delighted in it, as people like Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh do. But he certainly participated. Indeed, part of his problem throughout this campaign, and the one before it, is that he's never been good at disguising his lack of respect for the American electorate. His changing positions, his evasions about them, his misrepresentations -- they all, ultimately, came off as a challenge: I think you're too stupid not to fall for this. And there are very few people who appreciate being told they're dumb, or the person who said it.

There are, of course, other, larger problems for the Republican Party to grapple with over the next few years. But they'll have trouble solving many of them if they can't get past this and realize that Democrats don't have to bribe voters -- not when their opponents are so interested in insulting them.

AS JOE CONASON POINTS OUT, NOBODY GETS
MORE GENEROUS "GIFTS" THAN WILLARD'S PEOPLE

Joe has written a fine column, which I read via Nation of Change: "Mitt Romney's Sneering Farewell to the '47 Percent.'" He devotes much attention to the nonfactuality of nearly all the drivel in both the "47 percent" mouthing off ("Recall how he disowned the '47 percent' remarks when he realized how damaging they were to his chances for victory, telling Sean Hannity on Fox News that what he had been caught saying at a $50,000-a-plate Boca Raton fundraising event was 'just completely wrong'") and the new nonsense. He's especially charmed by the irony of the Willard camp, after making "Obamacare" the centerpiece of their denunciation of the Obama administration, blaming its popularity for their electoral booboo.

"But," Joe writes, "as a matter of feelings rather than facts, Romney evidently cannot stop himself from sneering at society's struggling people and the politicians who seek to improve their lives."
It is not as if the donors he was addressing don't want "gifts" from government — such as the big new tax breaks that Romney had promised them, the huge increases in defense spending that would swell their profits, or the various individual corporate favors that they regard as their very own "entitlements." Just don't expect that kind of honest introspection from Romney or his crowd.

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5 Comments:

At 6:38 PM, Blogger mnoble44 said...

I truly and deeply enjoyed this piece. Well done.

In reality, there wasn't really a vision. I don't even think Willard believed that lowering taxes 20% was a realistic policy proposal. He was just trying to sell anything he thought people would buy so he could get the power. He really is just a really wealthy man who wanted the ultimate power to go with it. God bless the American people for seeing through that.

 
At 6:56 PM, OpenID outnow2012 said...

I think I may have found the key to understanding why Romney says the things he does; and it's important in trying to understand some components of the GOP platform.

I can't find the reference right now, but I know it dates from 2007. Being questioned by a reporter about the content of a letter he had written which contained statements that seemed very much at odds with his public positions, Romney apparently said: "You have to keep in mind who I was writing the letter to."

Many have said that Romney is a salesman, but it's difficult for many of us to grasp how completely this actually describes him. Almost all social behaviors can be reduced to a "transaction", but Romney is one of those people - there are plenty of them - who have a natural affinity for an explicitly transactional style of conduct, to the extent that they find it difficult to understand behavior which is NOT explicitly transactional.

What separates Romney's explicit transactionality from what we liberals regard as a decent, civilized code of behavior (which as I said can also be regarded as transactional) is the crudeness of the currency - plain hard cash, or "financial gifts". The word "gifts" is deliberate sarcasm.

Romney once again was caught in a situation where he was speaking directly to donors. It's exactly the same as the 47% incident, except that in May he was trying to explain how he was going to win the election and yesterday he was trying to explain why he didn't, both in the same explicitly transactional terms. That's not only what he understands, but what he expects that THEY - the donors - will understand. (I suspect some of them might be less likely to go along with his second explanation than they were with the first.)

This is not to say that Romney doesn't have an equally repugnant belief system underlying what he says; he most certainly does. In both of these cases he was working hard to "suck up", but the words and the imagery he chooses - when he could say much the same thing in a very different way if he chose - speak volumes.

 
At 8:05 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks MN! And interesting case, Out!

I think your explanation even explains that strange truculence Willard exhibits whenever he's called on he's said. I've described him as thinking that it's all just "stuff he says," so why the fuss? But from your vantage, that it's all targeted sales pitches, the one thing really doesn't have anything to do with the other.

Of course there are honest and dishonest salespersons. The honest ones rarely have to account for extreme and intense contradictions.

Cheers,
Ken

 
At 6:33 AM, OpenID outnow2012 said...

Thanks Ken.

It's important to understand that in Romney's professional world, achievement is not measured in terms of ethics such as honest vs dishonesty. All that matters is completing the transaction. The bottom line is the only goal, and the only guide for HOW that should be achieved or maximised, is the need to avoid illegal behavior. Doing his job well, for Romney and others like him, means completely internalizing this very simple ethic. The difference between truth and falsehood is otherwise irrelevant.

This is why we saw so much "twisting and churning" in the way he presented his case, most notably on the night of the first debate. To us, it was pure unmitigated gall to pivot as he did. He had the audacity to attack the President FROM THE LEFT, and most will never forgive him for that. For him, however, it was a brilliant move. The only thing that mattered was how he looked to the people at home, many of whom had never seen him speak before and knew very little about what he was selling.(Incidentally, it made one thing very clear: there was no way he could sell that brand of conservatism on its own merits.)

That, until recently, has been regarded pretty much universally as the business code of ethics. It's beginning to change - we have such things now as "social enterprise" - but I can be almost certain that Romney has never heard of such a thing, and the American legal code is also yet to recognize it. I bet you yourself don't know that 2012 is the International Year of the Co-operative; that business model is also making a strong comeback.

It's difficult to envision the U.S. waking up to these changes any time soon - but on the other hand, when America makes up its mind to do something (such as embracing progressive government) it's amazing what can happen. From that point of view, it's an exciting time to be an American.

 
At 2:49 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

"All that matters is completing the transaction. The bottom line is the only goal, and the only guide for HOW that should be achieved or maximised, is the need to avoid illegal behavior. Doing his job well, for Romney and others like him, means completely internalizing this very simple ethic. The difference between truth and falsehood is otherwise irrelevant."

Yes, that's our Willard!!!

Thanks again, Out!

Cheers,
Ken

 

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