Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Teaching Mitt new tricks

By M. Ulric Killion

Romney protest in California

Opponents of Mitt Romney protest outside a recent fundraiser in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images / March 27, 2012); Romney's joke about father's factory closure falls flat, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2012.

Many are growing increasingly weary of Mitt Romney’s tendency to flip-flip on issues, and his consistent gaffes or pour mouthing.

All of which only leaves one puzzled by the fact that there are conservative republicans, tea party conservatives, or perhaps even a following of “severely” conservative republicans that continue to bolster his ascendancy to Republican Party candidate for the highest office in the land—the U.S. presidency.

Granted, Romney’s handlers appear to be trying to address the problem of his pour mouthing, but not necessarily his proclivity to flip-flop on issues, because the latter may present a more difficult problem for them.

As for Romney’s tendency to commit gaffes, it boils down to a problem of whether they can either stop him from talking too much or minimize the damage when he does talk too much. In other words, it is a question of whether his handlers still have time to train the poor mouthing of “Richie” Romney (i.e., “I like to fire people,” “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners',” “the trees are the right height,” and on and on).

Obviously, his handlers have made some progress, because, during the last week of March, Romney admittedly made fewer gaffes than usual. Although this week’s new gaffe, which is the  etch-a-sketch gaffe did originate from his campaign, the words (i.e., etch-a-sketch) did not come directly from the often poor mouthing of Romney (i.e., Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom made the gaffe).

Nonetheless, and presenting a challenge to Romney’s candidacy, the words—etch-a-sketch—have come to symbolize and characterize both the candidacy and person.

Spencer Platt/GETTY IMAGES - Members of the media gather around an English bull terrier named Petey during a small protest by a group called Dogs Against Romney outside of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 14 in New York;  Mitt Romney’s dog-on-the-car-roof story still proves to be his critics’ best friend, Washington Post, March 14, 2012.

While his critics ran with the “dog on the roof” story, the etch-a-sketch gaffe directly and uniquely summarizes the problem with Romney and his candidacy. As Sowellread poignantly observed, “More serious pundits opine that the etch-a-sketch meme is so potent because it reinforces an existing narrative about Romney — that he has no core and erases his previous positions faster than an impatient kid shaking his red plastic toy.”

It is not that his “etch-a-sketch” behavior reveals something new about Romney and his candidacy; rather, it succinctly describes a lack of “genuineness” about him and his candidacy, and our thoughts about him as both a person and candidate. In other words, for most Americans, this lack of “genuineness” epitomizes both the politics of Romney and the person of Romney.

In the same vein, and for the same reasons, for most of us, or average Americans, he fails the tests of likability and trust. Even those conservative republicans, tea party conservatives or “severely” conservative republicans that worked toward pushing Romney’s candidacy to the forefront in the GOP race are still searching for the real or genuine politics of Romney, and the  real or genuine person of Romney.

As reported by the New York Times (March 29, 2012), his supporters are “pleading with Mitt Romney to share personal details of his life,” which “would help them connect with the real Mitt Romney.” Even within the ranks of his conservative Republican supporters, Romney fails the tests of likeability and trust, including the test of genuineness.

In response to the problems of Romney and his supporters urging that he help them connect with the real or genuine Mitt Romney, his campaign is trying to personalize Romney and make him more likable, trustworthy, and genuine. The attempt to do so, however, is failing.

3-31-2012 6-41-48 AM

Source: “MittBot3000 was in full effect last night while talking stiffly to Jay Leno about all kinds of snooze-inducing things like Russia and Health Care, but he was at his very worst in this clip when Jay asked him to play a little game and come up with one word for each possible Vice Presidential candidate. Uh oh. Does not compute. MittBot melting down. Mittbot melting down. Miffffffffff,” Jezebel, Mitt Romney Suffers Tragic Humor-Circuit Malfunction, March 29, 2012.

For instance, recently Romney was a guest on the Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show,” and as the Los Angeles Times (March 29, 2012) observed,

Romney was no Roosevelt in front of the NBC cameras. For the most part, he stuck to generalities about the economy and exuded all the charisma of an earnest bank manager. Though he did get in a couple of clever quips, Romney wisely refrained from trying to be a comic. There's one thing worse than being dull, and that is trying to be funny and failing.

Romney seems reminiscent of the Republican presidents who came after Roosevelt -- Taft, Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. Like Romney, they were undramatic men who believed the business of America is business. They did their best to make life easier for the tycoons of their time. We can expect the same from Mitt.

In an exchange with Leno on the subject of healthcare, Romney once again displayed his lack of affinity with less-fortunate Americans.

While Romney is known for his awkward sense of humor, he still, earlier in the week, took a try at humor, though failing miserably. Romney told what he thought was a "humorous" story about his father shutting down a factory in Michigan and then moving production to Wisconsin, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Angel Clark, Examiner, March 29, 2012) wrote, “The event Mitt Romney was joking about cost thousands of people their jobs. Maybe not the best joke during a rough economy with high unemployment and people struggling to make ends meet. This does not make Mitt Romney seem more likeable.”

According to the National Journal (March 29, 2012), “An attempt at humor and friendly voter outreach backfired for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on Wednesday when he was roundly criticized by leading Democrats for joking that his father, George Romney, as an American Motors executive decades ago, once shut down a factory in Michigan and moved it to Wisconsin.”

In an article titled, Romney's joke about father's factory closure falls flat, Morgan Little (Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2012) writes,

In seeking to connect to thousands of Wisconsin voters during a conference call Wednesday, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney decided to break out what he thought was a humorous anecdote about his personal connection to the state.

The only problem was that the story, about his father, George, shutting down an American Motors factory in Michigan in favor of shifting production to Wisconsin, ended up highlighting the very problem that many pundits and voters have with Romney.

"Now later he decided to run for governor of Michigan," Romney said during the call. "And so you can imagine that having closed the factory and moved all the production to Wisconsin was a very sensitive issue to him, for his campaign.”

The punch line, that his father would eventually have to cope with the fallout from the factory's closure and the layoff of more than 4,300 workers when running for governor in Michigan, exacerbated by a school band's inability to play Michigan's fight song instead of Wisconsin's, has been immediately pounced upon by his critics as a prime example of how out-of-touch the former Massachusetts governor is.

It is for these reasons and a host of others that Romney fails to connect with us. He also fails, for the same reasons, in the areas of likable, trust, and genuineness.

Some might try to ascribe his human failing (i.e., an inability to connect with others), or his cold-hearted and stoic business person mannerisms, to the qualities necessary for success in business.

The latter, however, is a very tenuous position, because most successful business executives, especially those born without a silver spoon in their mouths and worked their way to the top on their own merits, have both personality and at least some charisma. While Romney has the misfortune of having neither a glowing personality, nor much if any in the way of charisma.

While his handlers might be able to teach him about politics, political strategies, and how to manage a political campaign, one thing that they will not be able to teach “Richie” Romney— is personality and charisma. The same holds true for likability, trust, and genuineness.

In this respect, the old saying might well be true, which is, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” such as teaching a dog to ride tied to the roof of a car in an airtight container, while, according to Romney, “regularly, enjoying himself.”


See also The Republican Conundrum

All Rights Reserved by M. Ulric Killion, 2012.

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