Shakespeare on Romney’s “fire people” predicament

So Mitt Romney runs a Pants-on-Fire campaign ad which splices President Obama’s three-year-old words to deceive voters. Romney campaign officials rather gleefully defended these dishonest ads. Barely a fortnight later, the plutocratic unsentimental venture capitalist Romney let slip, “I like to be able to fire people.” And both Democrats and opposing Republicans operatives were off to the races.

What Romney actually said was this:

“I want individuals to have their own insurance,” he said. “That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

Much of the ensuing storm was disgraceful Pants-on-Fire campaign stuff. (See Aaron Carroll for a sensible response to the actual substance of Romney’s argument.) Yet Romney’s in no position to complain, having proved to be such a nasty and deceptive campaigner when this suits his purposes. It’s not just the specific dishonest campaign ads. It’s not just Romney’s specifically refuted, yet repeated, claims about jobs he created at Bain Capital. It’s also the repeated insinuation that President Obama’s been traveling the world apologizing for America. It’s the dog whistle suggestions that Barack Obama doesn’t love or understand America.

So when Romney becomes the victim of a nasty cheap shot, it’s hard to be sympathetic. As Shakespeare once put things: “We but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.” Maybe this bad karma doesn’t matter now, anyway, given Romney’s New Hampshire victory.

I feel sorrier for the voters. Americans deserve a political and media system that would do more to filter out misleading claims, and that would force candidates to display greater integrity and rigor in proposing how they would guide this nation during very tough times.

Comments

  1. Warren Terra says

    I can certainly see within Romney’s “I like firing people” comments a general idea about the virtue of being able to choose your service provider and to reject bad service providers that is perfectly unobjectionable notion, if inartfully expressed. But once we get past the silliness about whether Romney really enjoys firing people, we can look at the statement itself. Romney’s defenders are telling us that the context matters, and they’re right. The context was health care, and the message Romney was trying to convey was wrong, in every conceivable way. Worse, he almost certainly knew that what he was trying to say was not true.

    Under the Affordable Care Act, modeled on the law Romney backed in Massachusetts, you can “fire” your health insurer and switch to another one. You’re just not allowed to fire your health insurer, pocket the premiums, and go uninsured. It may be relevant to Romney’s professed failure to understand this that he built his fortune by firing people and pocketing the savings – although the people who lost their insurance thereby were not Mitt Romney.

    Indeed, with respect to the specific issue of firing and the ACA, the two key changes made by the ACA are:
    1) You will have an increased ability to fire your health insurer, because of shall-issue and community-rating. Under the pre-ACA situation if you lost your insurance no company had to sell you a policy, nor sell you one you could afford.
    2) Your insurer will no longer be able to fire you, which was a huge source of savings for the insurance companies before: they would find niggling technical details with which to eliminate the vexing customers who actually required care.

    • ShadowFox says

      “Under the Affordable Care Act, modeled on the law Romney backed in Massachusetts, you can “fire” your health insurer and switch to another one. You’re just not allowed to fire your health insurer, pocket the premiums, and go uninsured.”

      That’s not entirely true. While it is accurate that you are expected not to go uninsured both under ACA and under MassHealth, it is simply not true that you don’t have a choice. Aside from being able to switch from one insurer to another under most employer plans, the MassHealth policy–which is an option for those who do not have employer-provided benefits–gives a choice between at least five different plans from at least four different providers (medical insurance companies that administer the plans). And you always have the option to opt out and pay a penalty, which is not as costly as most insurance plans. The same is true under ACA–the penalty is at most $5000, which is no more than half of the expected premiums (at least for those who can afford it).

      But your larger point that the insurer cannot fire you is far more important to quite a few people–and that’s the goal of ACA.

  2. Freeman says

    Americans deserve a political and media system that would do more to filter out misleading claims,

    And they’re getting it. Both of the dishonest claims you speak of have been thoroughly and immediately debunked in the political media system known as the blogosphere, if not so much elsewhere in the “traditional” media, which has mostly devolved into infotainment shows.

    …and that would force candidates to display greater integrity and rigor in proposing how they would guide this nation during very tough times.

    Only it doesn’t. But that’s not due to a failure to filter out misleading claims, it’s due to the overly-partisan nature of our current political climate. We all have a tendency to hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest. When the rest of our tribe agrees, that’s all the proof we need and we can easily ignore all proof to the contrary no matter how compelling it may be to a disinterested observer.

    • BruceJ says

      Here let me fix this for you:

      ” Both of the dishonest claims you speak of have been thoroughly and immediately debunked in the political media system known as the blogosphere, at least for the vanishly small number of voters who are attuned to the political blogosphere, if not so much elsewhere in the “traditional” media, which has mostly devolved into infotainment shows, watched by the overwhelming majority of the voting public.”

      We have a political system that has systematically and deliberately worked to increase the proportion of uninformed voters, and made the entire process distasteful enbpough that many people no longer bother to vote.

      When broadcast news divisions turned from ‘Something we must do for the gift of the airwaves from the american people’ to ‘not-so-profitable profit centers’ and the launching of Fox News as an explicitly partisan “news” organization we were going to inevitable end up at the point that outright lies are considered ‘political discourse’.

  3. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    I would have thought that Harold would use a different Shakespeare line: “’tis sport to see the engineer hoist on his own petard”. But he is more high-minded than I am.

    • says

      The line is even more cruel than many think. Early cannon (the meaning of “petard”) were prone to blowing up. The operators (“engineers”) rarely survived such accidents.

  4. Dan Staley says

    Americans deserve a political and media system that would do more to filter out misleading claims, and that would force candidates to display greater integrity and rigor in proposing how they would guide this nation during very tough times.

    I’m not sure that we aren’t getting exactly what we deserve. I’m willing to listen to arguments that we’ve been distracted by shiny trinkets and moving things so the plutocrats can snatch and grab everything in sight, but I’d counter that allowing distraction has consequences…

    At any rate, these are surely symptoms and indicators of our decline. The task is to create a soft landing, and I don’t see that happening.

  5. Bloix says

    “I like to fire people” isn’t a literal description of what you do when you switch health care providers. It’s a metaphor, and not one that would occur to the ordinary voter. An ordinary person who switches from one dry cleaner or supermarket or auto mechanic to another doesn’t think of it terms of “firing” someone. But Romney does.

    So what’s going on here is not about the literal meaning of what Romney said. It’s about the obvious pleasure he obtained from describing that literal meaning with the metaphor of causing people to lose their jobs. The implicit tag line in what he said is, “Don’t you?” and he expected his audience to respond, “Yes, we do!” as if they were a crowd of plutocrats like him.

    But instead they responded, “Well, no, I don’t actually like firing people. In fact I’ve never done it. But I’ve been fired, or seen my spouse or child or parent fired, and it was a wrenching, horrific, life-changing experience. It wasn’t funny at all and you’re a creep for the way you think it’s something to smirk about.”

    • Ebenezer Scrooge says

      I think I must disagree with Bloix in part here, having ended a difficult relationship with a workman a few months ago. (I’ve also fired an employee. I’ve also broken up with close friends.) The difference between these disruptions is great, but is as much of mere degree as of kind. As soon as the impersonal economic relationship gets a personal component, the same complex of emotions–empathy and guilt–is brought to bear.

      I would agree with one of Bloix’s larger points. Terminating an impersonal economic relationship usually involves no guilt or empathy with others’ pain. It’s typically a calculation of advantage or convenience: nothing more. There are some atypical cases of dealing with an impersonal entity that have a personal element to them. But in these cases, the personal element is not painful at all: a feeling of revenge for having been screwed over. In such cases, I have used the word “fired”, and used it gleefully.

  6. Rob in CT says

    The problem I have is that with all the sound & fury dedicated to the (unfair) spin of his quote, most people are going to miss the fact that the substance of his quote is all wrong.

  7. politicalfootball says

    Much of the ensuing storm was disgraceful Pants-on-Fire campaign stuff.

    Oddly, I haven’t seen much of this, and what I’ve seen has come from the Right. Has anyone got a good example of some lefty pulling this out of context?

    Politics ain’t beanbag, as Mitt himself recently observed, and I wouldn’t be particularly troubled if this were used unfairly against him. But lefties, for better or worse, are too fastidious to dirty their hands with that sort of thing.

    • says

      When I see such reports, I wonder what controls are in place against poll subjects taking the mickey? There’s no moral obligation to tell the truth to a pollster taking 15 minutes of your life. I’d like to see such tests carried out with a small incentive to getting the answers right.

  8. ShadowFox says

    Harold, having listened to the entire Romney diatribe, I have to say that even you are taking the comment out of context. If you listen to the even more extended quote, you will note that Romney does take a specific line that one should be able to fire a service provider based on personal preference, not on anything that the provider did wrong. At least, Romney makes no effort to distinguish these cases. So, yes, he does take pleasure in firing people on a whim, even though the “Out-of-context!” response to his critics suggests that all he says is that you should be able to fire your service provider for cause. He does not. Personal displeasure is not a legal “cause”. So, on the balance, the critics are right, even though they do take the particular line out of context.

    • C.S. says

      I agree — and even more so. I think that Romney’s quote is actually being fairly described, even if the persons describing it (Newt, et al.) think they’re unfairly describing it. The context might be health care insurance, but the phrase is deliberately larger than that context. The structure of his argument is such that he is using a general proposition (liking to be able to fire people) and applying it to a specific circumstance (health care). In the context of his argument, it is reasonable to believe that he actually said — and meant to say — that he likes to be able to fire people.

      If there’s any dishonesty on the part of those folks who are jumping on this phrase, it’s the way they drop out the part about “being able.”

    • says

      I think Warren’s point about who can fire whom is particularly important in light of the pro-oligopoly and pro-monopoly positions that Romney and his fellow-travelers have promoted so strongly. It’s not just health care but almost every other facet of life where big companies can fire customers (directly by terminating contracts, or constructively by making the conditions of continued service so onerous that it amounts to the same thing) but customers can’t easily fire service providers (be they insurors, telecommunications providers, food sources or whatever). So even in the health-care context (and even with the ACA) the prospect of “firing” your insuror and finding another one with comparable policies, all of your usual doctors and pharmacies and other care providers in network, and no hidden gotchas is daunting to anyone without a personal assistant or two.

  9. Brian Jaklitsch says

    The beautiful thing about these attacks is that, while essentially cheap and kind of beneath the Obama campaign, they are being put out there most prominently by fellow Republicans. In other words, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry are doing Obama’s dirty work for him.