Mitt is not a wit. No one expects Mitt to be dashing off a high concept quip, a bit of biting repartee, or a subtle piece of humor.
Strangely enough, Romney’s lack of a sense of humor does not seem to be bothering too many people.
Be that as it may, Mitt’s most famous statements fall into a different category: Mitticisms.
I didn’t invent the term, but it's the best I could find to describe remarks like: “corporations are people too.”
Clearly, it isn’t high concept. It does not feel like an epiphany. You do not go away thinking that you have now grasped a point that had previously eluded comprehension.
The Mitticism about corporations does contain a grain of truth: corporations are treated in the law as though they are persons.
In jurisprudence this is called a legal fiction. The law treats corporations as persons even though it knows, as Mitt apparently doesn’t, that corporations are not people.
But, there’s more to a Mitticism than a simple error of judgment. This one resonates because it was uttered by a man who does not have a very good feel for people.
It’s not just that he isn’t a people person; he seems to have no feeling for people at all.
Writing about a recent biography called The Real Romney, Frank Rich summarizes the general feeling that those who have known Mitt Romney have about Mitt Romney.
It isn’t a pretty picture:
For all the encyclopedic detail its authors amassed, and all the sources they mined, their subject remains impenetrable. “A wall. A shell. A mask,” they write at the outset, listing the terms used by many who “have known or worked with Romney” and view him as “a man who sometimes seems to be looking not into your eyes but past them.” Former business and political colleagues are in agreement that he has scant interest in mingling with people in even casual social interactions (in a hallway, for instance) and displays “little desire to know who people are.” He so “rarely went out with the guys in any social venue” that one business associate dubbed him the Tin Man for “his inability to bond.” During his one term as governor of Massachusetts, Romney was inaccessible to legislators, with ropes and elevator settings often restricting access to his suite of offices. He was notorious, one lawmaker explained, for having “no idea what our names were—none.” A longtime Republican, after watching Romney’s vacuous, failed senatorial campaign against Teddy Kennedy in 1994, came to the early conclusion that Mitt’s “main cause appeared to be himself.”
If Romney had shown that he likes people and connects well with them, his effort to provoke sympathy for corporations would have felt less strange.
As for Mitt’s famous inability to connect with people, here’s another Mitticism: “I like being able to fire people.”
Some heard the statement as a full-throated call for smaller government. As such, it’s not a bad idea. Or, at least it wasn’t until yesterday when Romney started opining about fixing the social safety net.
Still, no boss should ever like firing people. No boss that I have ever met has ever felt anything but anguish over the prospect of firing people. Every one of them has told me that it is the worst aspect of their job.
Also, no one wants to work for a boss who is so callous that he gets a special thrill about firing people.
We are dealing with something that has already passed beyond insensitivity. Being capable of firing people when you have to is a regrettable part of managerial jobs. Liking the task shows an absence of feeling for other human beings.
And then there was the Mitticism about Romney’s speaking fees. One year they came in at $374,000. Romney replied by uttering the now famous Mitticism: “It wasn’t very much money.”
To whom, kemosabe?
As for his feelings for other people, when trying to grasp the trauma of being unemployed, Romney, who made over $20,000,000 once said: “I’m also unemployed.”
Smug, arrogant, callous and numb… will these qualities excite people and propel them to the voting booth.
Let’s ignore the psychology and see this failing in the context of moral philosophy. Romney seems to be singularly lacking in a quality that Aristotle and Confucius considered essential to good leadership. Call it benevolence, generosity, or magnanimity; it is precisely what Romney does not have.
Not having it constitutes a major character flaw. It is an especially bad flaw in a leader.
A benevolent leader does not throw crumbs at the poor. He creates opportunity for them. A benevolent leader delegates responsibility. He empowers those who are beneath by giving them authority and responsibility on the job.
In this context, benevolence is not like charity.
For reasons that are easy to understand people are obsessed and distracted by stories about Newt Gingrich’s lust. They are making a mistake if they do not understand that Romney’s lack of generosity is a worse flaw in a leader.
Yesterday’s Mitticism, duly reported on this blog and everywhere else, demonstrates the point: “I’m not concerned with the very poor.”
Since everyone knows that Romney has no real feel for people, it’s not surprising that he would dismiss a class of human beings, a class of fellow citizens, as beneath his concern.
Coming fast upon his decisive win in the Florida primary it showed Romney with his typically tone deaf sense of the American people, to say nothing of his supporters.
Jonah Goldberg opined: “But great politicians on the morning after a big win, don’t force their supporters to go around defending the candidate from the charge that he doesn’t care about the poor. They just don’t.”
Goldberg makes an astute point, one that shows another side of Romney’s lack of benevolence.
A great politician, Goldberg is saying, allows his supporters to bask in the glow of victory. He does not take it away from them by making a ham-handed remark that they will feel obliged to defend in public.
And many people did, for reasons I will not outline. I am sure that they would have been far happier doing anything other than defending an indefensible remark.
Charles Krauthammer tried to put the best face on this last Mitticism by suggesting that Romney is not overly familiar with conservative thought.
But, if that is true, why should conservatives trust his professions of conservative faith?
Romney has been in politics for decades now. He’s been running for president for years now. It’s about time he got a grip on conservative principles and learned a little message discipline.
For my part I found that Romney was revealing a liberal attitude that pawns off the very poor on a Nanny state and a burgeoning bureaucracy. Since liberals believe that the Nanny state will take care of people it has a vested interest in seeing these people remain unemployed and very poor.
Thus, they need not to feel guilty about passing minimum wage laws that make it impossible for many of the very poor to be hired. They do not see the options as a job or unemployment, but as a union job and endless state support.
The more people depend on the state, the more they will be likely to vote for the party that represents an ever expanding entitlement state.
Mark Steyn also captures the thought behind Romney’s latest Mitticism. Granted, he errs when he considers Romney to be showing patrician benevolence. The attitude Steyn describes denotes condescension more than benevolence. But, then again, patrician benevolence might really be an exercise in condescension.
In Steyn’s words:
Romney’s is a benevolent patrician’s view of society: The poor are incorrigible, but let’s add a couple more groats to their food stamps and housing vouchers, and they’ll stay quiet. Aside from the fact that that kind of thinking has led the western world to near terminal insolvency, for a candidate whose platitudinous balderdash of a stump speech purports to believe in the most Americanly American America that any American has ever Americanized over, it’s as dismal a vision of permanent trans-generational poverty as any Marxist community organizer with a cozy sinecure on the Acorn board would come up with.
After half-a-century of evidence, what sort of “conservative” offers the poor the Even Greater Society? I don’t know how “electable” Mitt is, but, even if he is, the greater danger, given the emptiness of his campaign to date, is that he’ll be elected with no real mandate for the course correction the Brokest Nation in History urgently needs. In last Monday’s debate, Newt said he wasn’t interested in going to Washington to “manage the decline”. Mitt’s just told us that he’s happy to “manage the decline” for the poor – but who knows who else?
No one should be surprised to see Romney compared to bloodless patricians like John Kerry and Al Gore. Soon people might be comparing him to the most famous bloodless Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis.
By all accounts Romney appears to be a perfect candidate. But, who knows at what point during a long campaign he will utter one Mitticism too many and turn off voters definitively.
Having run the nastiest and most divisive and most negative campaign that most observers have ever seen, Romney will soon start trying to reach out to his opponents, to heal the breaches that he is singularly responsible for having created.
The problem is, if you need to extend a hand of friendship to a defeated colleague it is best to have treated him as a colleague, not a devil.
More than that, Romney’s mean spirit and nastiness is beginning to turn off independents. His favorability rating among them has plunged of late.
Many have calculated that the moderate Romney, a man who has taken moderation to an extreme would be just the ticket for independent voters.
Of course, if Romney’s Mitticisms, coupled with his foul temperament, turn off independents then Republicans had best hope that the election becomes a referendum on Obama.
The point has often been made, here and elsewhere, that no one really likes Mitt Romney.
If you ask why that should be so, the answer must be that Mitt Romney does not like people, and does not much care about what happens to them.
It remains to be seen how it will sound when Mitt Romney faces off against the charismatic snake oil salesman named Barack Obama.