Pardon me for piling on but I think one element of the Mitt Meltdown has been missed.
Brooks is on to something but doesn’t understand completely the enormity of what he is saying. The comparison between the two fundraiser recordings — Romney’s on the 47% and Obama’s on clinging to the guns and religion — is instructive. Obama’s could be seen as pop sociology and it certainly could have been phrased better (or left unsaid!) but it shows someone grappling with the question of why some folks were resistant to following their own interest in supporting change. In other words Obama was grappling with how he could reach these people and perhaps expressing a certain amount of frustration that he wasn’t succeeding. He certainly wasn’t saying they were a hostile force motivated by self interest and moral turpitude that he should ignore. Contrast Romney… who was writing off (electorally at least) a broad swath of people whom he regards explicitly as having fallen into a morally degraded state where they are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, with this situation being the result of deliberate action by his political opponents.
This substantive difference is certainly damning. But another aspect of the contrast has not received notice, which is why I am posting this. Obama’s analysis, so far as I can tell, was original with him in its specifics (though of course it has cognates for example in “What’s the Matter with Kansas” by Thomas Frank). Romney, on the other hand, appears to be repeating practically word for word tropes created by right wing bloggers, obviously without having taken the effort to understand the underlying statistics. In other words his own words seem completely untouched by his own thought processes.
It’s not like this is unusual for Romney. In foreign policy, he is repeating slogans from right-wing neo-cons who wish to outsource American mid-east policy to Israel, and then when he is interviewed by George Stephanopoulos he shows no comprehension of the supposed difference between his policy and the President’s (here he isn’t helped by the fact that the neo-cons are largely attacking the Administration for not doing things it has actually done and the Bush administration didn’t succeed in doing –such as really strong sanctions or slowing enrichment, but never mind that) — the point is that he evinces no understanding of any substance behind the mean and mendacious sloganeering, and then shows no understanding of why he has gotten into trouble (See Mark’s post on Being Mitt Romney means not knowing you need to say you’re sorry, and contrast his behavior with Obama who knew when to say he had said the wrong thing.)
In his column, Brooks hits hard about Romney’s failure to understand anything about American culture, politics, and policy but then turns into a quivering and inconsistent bowl of mush in his close:
“Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?”
This is untenable. Romney has advanced no serious entitlement reform ideas, just slogans, and when he is challenged to say whether he would repeal specific parts of Obamacare he seems to have gotten his own policy wrong.
There are two explanations that are probably both true to an important degree. First, continuing with the analysis that Brooks presents in the body of his piece, Romney is indeed an upper crust reactionary in his political orientation, although at times he has been able to suppress these hard-edged views for political advantage. Second, and more certainly, he is indeed “pretending to be something he is not” — though Brooks misunderstands the depth of the pretense. Romney wants us to take him to be a serious person who might have any claim on the presidency, and this is clearly far from the truth. The comparison with Obama’s own leaked fund raiser video shows that this is a tin-horn CEO who is incapable of thinking about public policy or politics for himself.
What’s even more damning than Brooks’s contention that Romney has no understanding of America is that from all the evidence Romney has has not bothered to try to learn anything about the policy choices he would face. In this regard he is even worse than the previous Republican Harvard MBA presidential candidate, George W. Bush, who in advance of his run tried to educate himself in areas where he felt himself weak, for example by inviting Condi Rice to Austin for intensive tutorials on foreign policy. Needless to say I disagreed with the policies that emerged from this effort, including the focus on China and the ideological distraction of extirpating arms control that pervaded the first nine months of the Bush administration and quite possibly prevented the 9/11 attacks from being disrupted. But at least Bush’s effort showed some appropriate seriousness about the task of being president.
The rap on Romney in Massachusetts, was that he showed much more interest in becoming governor than in governing. This is confirmed by the latest poll in which he has the support of 38% of the voters in his home state who experienced his reign. W had much higher approval in Texas.
Romney’s complete mismanagement of his own campaign is a likely premonition of how well he would manage as president. And it’s worth reflecting that this campaign was his second consecutive try for the presidency with practically unlimited Wall Street money.
All new presidencies experience the first year in office as a perilous one because the administration is barely staffed, various factions have not learned to work together, and the political and international landscapes have not been calibrated. Even with questions of ideology and political direction put completely aside, (ignoring for example irreversible changes in Obamacare and the Supreme Court) one has to shudder for the country about what might go wrong in the first year of an administration managed in the style of the Romney campaign.
Just think — There is abundant reason to believe that Romney would be WORSE THAN W. And after only four years of Barack Obama he would be starting with the government and households in much worse financial shape than the one W inherited after eight years of Bill Clinton.
If you need any motivation to get out there and organize, just think on this and the fact that the weight of the Romney and SuperPac money has not been fully felt yet in the swing states.