Worry about Romney's positions, not his gaffes

Candidate's misstatements or personal defects deserve less attention than his flip-flops, economic policies

  • And you thought the war on women was bad...
And you thought the war on women was bad... (Baltimore Sun/KAL )
April 03, 2012|Thomas F. Schaller

Mitt Romney has been treated rather roughly, even unfairly, by the national media.

Yes, in December he challenged Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet — an amount interpreted to indicate the kinds of absurd sums an out-of-touch man of Mr. Romney's wealth and status might actually bet with a friend or colleague — over a dispute about the former Massachusetts governor's position on the individual health care mandate.

But clearly Mr. Romney didn't mean to actually make such a bet, or at least not for that real amount; he said it to indicate his confidence that Mr. Perry was lying about his record. And who among us hasn't casually said "I'll bet you a million bucks" on this or that proposition? Does that mean we are 100 times more disconnected from the lives of average Americans than Mr. Romney? Of course not.

Then there was Mr. Romney's comment about how he "likes" having the option to fire people who don't deliver on some good or service for which he's paying them. So he again chose his words poorly. But again, who among us doesn't want to be able to change dentists or barbers if they are doing a bad job? It's our money, and this is a capitalist economy. I cherish the same right as Mr. Romney to take my business elsewhere when I'm unsatisfied.

Mr. Romney deserves criticism for other remarks. Trying to connect with working-class people, some of whom have to budget carefully to attend what can be expensive weekends attending a NASCAR race (I've been to Dover race week — it's not cheap), Mr. Romney offered a dumb quip about knowing the owners of NASCAR racing teams. And, yes, Mr. Romney gets what's coming to him for his "wife's couple of Cadillacs" remark, especially at a time when many Americans are squeezing every last mile out of their lone, banged-up car.

It may and perhaps should be relevant whether Mr. Romney's life bears little resemblance to that of a typical American: His new home does have a car elevator in it, something I suspect most voters (myself included) had never heard of before that news item was reported. But if the financial wealth and personal lifestyles of candidates were disqualifying, then neither Roosevelt deserved to have set foot in the White House. Of course, both are considered by historians to rank among the best American presidents.

My friend and fellow columnist Paul Waldman of the American Prospect recently described Mr. Romney as the "Republican Al Gore" — a stiff and impersonal politician who fails to connect with regular voters. In 2000, liberals and Democrats were infuriated by the kid-glove treatment the media gave candidateGeorge W. Bush because, we were told, the then-Texas governor was the kind of guy you'd rather have beers with during Monday Night Football.

I've met Mr. Gore a couple times, and you know what? He is stiff and impersonal. But picking presidents based on such foolhardy metrics is asking for trouble and, sure enough, Americans got eight justly deserved years of trouble. The country would have been much better off with that jerk Al Gore in office.

Likewise, it shouldn't matter if President Barack Obama or former Governor Romney would be the more fun person with whom to watch the Masters this weekend. And although Mr. Romney would become one of the wealthiest men ever to occupy the Oval Office, that fact should concern voters only insofar as his wealth prevents him from understanding the more common lives of the people he aspires to represent as president.

Here's what is important: According to Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein's comparative analysis of Mr. Romney's current and Mr. Bush's 2000 economic policy platforms, Mr. Romney's tax scheme is even more conservative and friendly to the already wealthiest American than Mr. Bush's. And that's saying something, given the rising economic disparity and doubling of the national debt that happened on Mr. Bush's watch.

Let's hope American voters this November keep their eyes on the ball. What Mr. Romney would actually do in the White House matters more than how personally awkward he may be. And on this count, his long list of social issue flip-flops and his troubling economic proposals are sufficient cause for concern.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is schaller67@gmail.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @schaller67.

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