In (Reluctant) Defense of Mitt Romney


EXCLUSIVE: Human beings enjoying the company of Mitt Romney

I have no love for Willard “Mitt” Romney. He has consistently proven that he is an unprincipled opportunist who bends with every minor political breeze. There is no shortage of statements he’s made and positions he’s held that deserve criticism and ridicule.

So my feeling is, let’s stick to criticizing those, and not go grasping at straws and doing what we liberals accuse the right of doing: taking things unfairly out of context to score political points and enjoy some schadenfreude.

The two hits against Romney I’m thinking of in particular have been around for a while now, but were recently re-aired by Rachel Maddow (whom I usually adore) a few nights back to prove a case that Romney’s camp is opting for The Full Thurston. They simply don’t hold up to be attack-worthy in my opinion.

The first is Romney’s response to hecklers a while back when he inartfully declared, “Corporations are people, my friend.” By itself, it seems risible; Look at that rich guy saying that evil corporations are the same as humans! Of course he would think that, that mean, out-of-touch richie-rich!

But here’s the entirety of his response to the hecklers:

Corporations are people, my friend. [laughter from hecklers] of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? [Hecklers shout something about “in their pockets”] Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings my friend.

I’ll be the first to tell you that this is not the way I would have phrased this, if I were on Romney’s side. It doesn’t help that he says that said money goes to “the people” rather than just “people.” But his meaning is clear, and in fact correct: Corporations are made up of human beings who are making money. I don’t like that corporation people are making so much money and doing so at the expense of the rest of the species, you know, at all, but it remains that what Romney said is true. That money goes into the “pockets” of actual humans. Just very, very, very few.

Importantly, Romney was not saying that corporations deserve special rights, nor was he saying that corporations are the equivalents of human beings. He might very well believe those things, but he didn’t make that case here. This hit on Romney is illegitimate, and we supposedly reasonable liberals and rationalists should cut it out.

Second is Romney’s “I’m also unemployed” joke from a few weeks ago. This line was trumpeted across the political media as the ultimate bonehead, unsympathetic, Scrooge-like crack of the century as though Romney was mocking the jobless before taking a big dive into his money bin.

Okay, so Romney very well may have a money bin that he swims in. I don’t know. But if you watch the video and see it — again — in the full context, this is obviously not where Romney is coming from. He is using the jobless situation in America as a central theme of his campaign — a reason why he should be elected above anyone else — and holds events and discussions around the theme, naturally.

Now, everyone knows he’s super-rich. He’s not hiding it, he’s not ashamed of it, and in the abstract, he has no reason to be (how he got rich is another matter for another post). Since everyone comes to the table (literally, in this case) with the knowledge that Romney is Governor Moneybags, and because he is establishing a conversational rapport with the people at this event, it makes perfect sense to make a little “Ha, ha, I’m also unemployed” gag to ease any  tension and break some ice. Lord knows, Romney needs all the help he can get with that.

Or does he? Look at the video in full context. The first thing I think you’ll notice is that everyone there is laughing when he makes the joke, and they even join in. The feelings are genuine, and no one there is expressing even a hint of resentment. They get it: He’s rich, he’s running for president.

But also notice that after the joking, Romney takes a new, sincere tone, and expresses what appears to be a genuine concern for the psychological impact of joblessness. Is it genuine? I have no idea. But contrary to the usual rap against Romney that he’s awkward and too weird to be president, this is a strong moment of connection for him that is obviously being overshadowed by a political media with no sense of humor.

Again, from a political standpoint, I would not have made that joke. Feelings are too raw all around to make joblessness a gag on the campaign trail. But in context, it worked, and the folks on the receiving end were obviously just fine with it, and put at ease as they sit at a table with someone who might be the next president.

Nothing upsets me more in politics than the way the right lies and distorts in order to make their case. I don’t at all mind nailing a politician for being genuinely wrong or for showing exactly what it is they really think via some Kinsleyan gaffe. But the attacks on Romney in these two cases don’t hold water. There’s plenty more on which he can be called out, with derision and ferocity, but these are not even close to that. We lefties can and should do better.

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