Gregor Mendel, please call your office

Mitt Romney called Barack Obama a liar by comparing his behavior to the behavior of Romney’s own sons. What’s up with that?

No one yet seems to have commented on possibly the weirdest moment of the debate: the first time Romney called Obama a liar. I was focused on the audacity of Romney’s insult and the weakness the President showed by not responding to it. But if you think about what he actually said, it just gets stranger and stranger:

I got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it

Two points here:

1. Would a normal person call his five sons chronic liars on national TV?

2. If Tagg and the rest of the litter are in fact chronic liars, maybe they came by it naturally. Or maybe they learned it from watching their father.

Transcript here. Search for “five boys.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

23 thoughts on “Gregor Mendel, please call your office”

  1. Mark, I think your interpretation is getting really clouded by your hatred for Romney. I heard that as an innocuous reference to his sons’ behavior as young children. Calling the President a liar: Offensive. Gentle teasing about normal childhood behavior: Meaningless.

    1. Sorry, npm, but that is not interpretable as “gentle teasing.” There is a choice in interpretation: Romney meant the President is a liar, or he meant the President is a child. The metaphor does not exclude both interpretation, so perhaps Romney meant the President is a childish liar.

      Pick one, or all. All of them are offensive. My recollection is that his “gentle teasing” was in response to Obama’s reference to Romney’s promised $5 T. tax cut. Romney has said repeatedly (and said in the debate) that he wants to cut tax rates by 20%. Over a ten year planning horizon, that is $5 T.

      He has also said that he’s going to cut deductions and loopholes so that the rate cut is revenue neutral. Fine. What deductions and loopholes is he going to cut? Oh, he won’t specify that. That’s fine, too. We’ve got a $5 T revenue cut and no plan to make up the difference.

      1. I have a child. I understood what Rmoney meant, even though I don’t like him one bit. I didn’t take it to mean what Mark said it meant. Many more rich targets here.

        1. I’m with Dan and npm. A little clumsy, but many good decent parents have said similar things about their beloved offspring.

        2. I have two sons. I am well-aware of a child’s proclivity to try to make parents believe that their playing basketball in the living room had nothing whatever to do with the broken lamps.

          I will also concede that my dislike of Romney might predispose me to find insult where none was intended. But I stand by my interpretation: I still believe it was intended as an insult.

      2. I wonder now if perhaps Romney actually believed it when he said he wasn’t proposing a $5T tax cut? It’s possible that all he knows about his plan is “20% rate reduction across the board” and hasn’t bothered to tabulate how much revenue loss that comes to over a decade. Maybe that’s why he won’t/can’t specify what deductions he’ll eliminate?

  2. Yuh, that sure was a weird moment, the kind of Joe Wilson in-his-face slam that romney’s base always wants to see. But I can’t help also thinking that it’s the typical republican ploy of accusing the other side of doing exactly what they’re doing themselves. Whether it’s a tactic, or projection, or a reflection of conceptual limitations (they can only think up the things they’re already doing) is something I haven’t been able to figure out. But it’s a consistent enough pattern that it’s a good way to figure out what they’re actually up to– watch what they accuse Dems of, and they’re sure to be doing it.

  3. npm got in first, so I’ll second him/her/it. There are so many real targets in the romneyverse, why waste ammo shooting at mirages? (And have you never encountered children’s lies? The little rats.)

  4. As a matter of fact, I noticed it and further wondered if Romney would get any flak for comparing Obama to a “boy”. (You’ll notice he didn’t use the word “sons”.)

  5. Romney is good at delivering multi-layered, humorously nasty digs. So this works in all sorts of ways: calling Obama a child, making Romney the daddy, calling Obama a liar, calling him a boy as a racial insult. All those things are there.

  6. I know there have been a lot of these, but the President should have said, “Those boys seem to have gotten that from their dad.”

  7. ‘Yes, Jim (Lehrer), there is a clear difference. I wouldn’t make my daughters the butt of a joke the only time I mention them before 40M people.’

    I thought it was rude, and obviously practiced. I personally found Romney to be an offensive, incoherent coked up asshat during the debates. Here’s a fifteen second spot : ‘would you buy a used car from this guy?’

    1. Yes. He only proved to me that his core skill is slick salesmanship — the trick of telling any given audiecne what he thinks will close that particular deal. Quite telling.

      He was a glib, slick, fast-and-fancy talker. As well as utterly, completely unanswerable for anything he has ever said before.

      His only skill is sealing the deal. What happens when the lemon breaks down is always Someone Else’s Problem.

  8. … and, I can’t believe no one else can see that Obama was doing what all honest, courteous people do when confronted with a slick, rude, arrogant liar.

  9. “I got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it…”

    He was referring to Obama as being a liar (as he has publicly for more than a week now, repeatedly), and was in fact calling Obama a “boy”–offensive no matter how you look at it, but by orders of magnitude when you incorporate the racial element.

    Every word Romney spoke was heavily scripted, polished for weeks. This was no accident, but a deliberate message to his base.

    Here’s the outline:

    Boys lie (using evidence of his sons).

    Obama lies (using no evidence other than his own unfounded assertions).

    Ergo, Obama is a “boy”–a racial slur that was most assuredly intended.

    Faulty logic, yes, but not to his base, and his base well understood the underlying meaning.

  10. I wish Obama simply said “I’m not one of your boys.” Well, I wish Obama had said a lot of things that night.

  11. Obama should have told Mitt that he taught his girls to tell the truth, so he is not used to it. And frankly he finds Mitt’s overt mendacity rather jarring.

  12. My immediate reaction was that Romney’s real intent was to bring attention to the fact that he had sired sons and that somehow this was a testament to his alleged manhood. This guy will say anything to garner favorites. He is despicable and did not deserve to be on the same stage as our president. In my opinion there was no debate. A well-intentioned person of integrity cannot possibly “debate” an unprincipled, manipulative, power-hungry liar.

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