We are used to the politicization of tragedies. It is unseemly, and it is often condemned, but it is also commonplace enough, so when Mitt Romney launched into a political attack against the president almost concurrent to the actual violence it was perhaps vile in timing, but otherwise not all that surprising. Likewise, Mitt Romney's bizarre assertion that the Obama administration "sympathized" with the attackers, based apparently on statements condemning religious intolerance issued from the U.S. diplomats in the middle of those attacks, is also not particularly out of character for him; he has premised his entire foreign policy on the notion that Obama engaged in an entirely fictional "apology tour", while his surrogates wonder aloud if the president is American enough—or "Anglo-Saxon" enough—to truly be devoted to American interests. (I mean that, by the way: if Mitt Romney has any actual foreign policy idea other than the declaration that Obama is too nice to other countries, and we need to be meaner to them, whether "them" refers to Russia, China, or anywhere else, I have yet to hear him competently elucidate it.)
So yes, Mr. Romney is a political panderer, an avid devotee of attack politics, and a fantastical liar. These are all known qualities. It was the smirk, though, that turned things. The smirk before, during and after discussing an attack in which American diplomats were killed, a rancid little twitch of a smirk that flickered in and out as he talked about murders, or rather not about murders, but how they would affect him, personally, and his own ambitions. The smirk seemed to make the inner thoughts of the man quite clear: Today was going to be a good day for Mitt Romney. The murder of diplomats was not quite enough to prevent him from condemning the statements of their fellow diplomats before and during the attacks upon them; an attack on an American compound overseas was not in and of itself seen as reason to at least delay verbal abuse of those diplomats for even a scant day, if there was opportunity to be had in not doing so.
One does not smirk when discussing a horrific act. No matter how much you feel the act may benefit you personally, presuming you are the sort of monster that thinks such things, one does not smirk when discussing acts of murder and violence. Even if you have the emotional capacity of a gnat, even if your own ambitions are so great that you cannot help it, one does not smirk. Not, at the very least, when the event is fresh, and the repercussions of the act still unknown, and the possibility of further violence still unclear. Even if you are indeed an outright monster, there ought to be no inner glee visible on your face as you stand before the nation to discuss how a set of still-fresh murders proves your own worth. That was the part where Mr. Romney turned from being a deplorable politician to being a repulsive human being. It is not worth condemning him, or demanding apologies from him, or even making fun of him; that one damn smirk told too long a story. Here is someone whose ambition outshines their empathy. Here is a person who, in times of stress, is first to probe whether it is exploitable to his advantage. Here is a person who focuses on such things to such a degree that he cannot even fully pretend to hide it.
I often considered Mitt Romney awkward. I seldom, though, ascribed it to outright malevolence. His gentle insults of the commoner classes he interacts with on the campaign trail were lighthearted enough, though certainly most of them had a healthy dose of mean as their seed. I considered him a hollow man, mostly, an empty fake, a man obsessed with personal ambitions, a man who could offer no clear vision for the country other than that he and his economic class ought to be given more of it. That damned smirk, though. That smirk spoke to a political heart no bigger than a cinder. That was a malevolent smirk. That was the smirk of a true son of a bitch, a crooked man, a man that even a political crook like Richard Nixon would find it hard to find common cause with.
This is not a man who will ever "rise above it all". He will always remain the all that other, better people have to rise above. This is not a man who has any thoughts of how to lead America via his own strength; his only proven strength is in the condemnations of others. When he ignored United States troops at war in his acceptance speech, it was cold enough; to explain later that it was obviously because they were not as important as his other thin points was much worse; to even have Americans overseas attacked, and to have that still not apparently leave a mark, is a shocking thing even in politics. Even our worst flag-waving bastards learn to hide their sociopathies better, when seeking office. Most of them, anyway.
He is a frequent and unrepentant liar. That should have already caused the nation and press and yes, even better heads in his own party to scorn him, though for some miserable reason it apparently does not. He is apparently devoid of both empathy and common sense; also not good traits for a supposed leader. But that damn smirk. There is no circumstance in which I want to wake up in the morning to a national tragedy only to watch the leader of the nation smirk about it, apparently imagining in his head how he can best gain advantage from it. Goddamn it, no. That is too much and then some. That is disqualifying.
Over the decades we have survived the leadership of stupid men, and of criminal men. We have survived carpet-bombings of substanceless rhetoric, we have inched our way forward through blizzards of of lies, we have pretended to be outraged about sex and pretended to not be outraged at misinformation; we are a hardy lot, apparently. I would hope, though, that we are still not so desperate as to look for leadership from someone who cannot even let a man's blood dry before scrawling his own name in it.
I could stomach Mitt as vapid charlatan. As a smirking, malevolent, outright bastard of a man, though, I am pleased to say that I am still a decent enough person to feel no sympathy for that. No, Richard Milhous Gantry here has got to go.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010:
Before political analysts start assigning blame and credit for victory and defeat in the 2010 elections, the first thing they should do is read about Brendan Nyhan’s excellent "tactical fallacy" concept. In short, the tactical fallacy states that the broader political climate is the primary factor in the outcome of elections, and tactical decisions about messaging, deployment of resources, organizing efforts, and ideological positioning are secondary. A good follow-up on Nyhan’s piece is Ezra Klein’s "It’s Always the Economy, Stupid." Klein’s piece has much the same thrust as Nyhan’s, but puts some persuasive numbers behind it.
The Tactical Fallacy is a refutation of the all too common "Great Man" theory of recent political history. The "Great Man" genre goes like this: Candidate, Consultant, or Party Leader X made a genius decision about messaging, deployment of resources or ideological positioning that was almost wholly responsible for winning. By contrast, Candidate, Consultant, or Party Leader Y made an idiotic decision about messaging, deployment of resources or ideological positioning that was almost wholly responsible for defeat. In this view, elections are ultimately about the genius and idiocy of a handful of people playing a game of Stratego.
In this article, I am going to look at a second common mistake in assigning blame or credit for electoral outcomes, similar to the Tactical Fallacy. I call it the "Ubiquitous Political Junkie Fallacy." This concept, (which I originally described as a fantasy) is the assumption the people who decide elections—swing voters and unlikely voters—know legislative policy minutia like the back of their hands. It further assumes that swing voters and unlikely voters vote—or don’t—based upon the difference between public policy that was enacted and their abstract, desired policies.
Daily Kos Radio was all about Romney's astonishing response to the overseas events in Egypt and Libya. In other news: Tea Party freshmen wrestle with having to vote to keep the government funded; Del. Bob Marshall (R) of Virginia is quoted saying disabled kids are "God's punishment" to women for prior abortions, and; the charitable Romneys fight tooth and nail to prevent a hospice from opening in their neighborhood. (Property values, dontcha know!) Listen on Stitcher here: