and set off a retroactive time bomb in the candidate's ever-shifting facade.
No. While mostly unspoken and unacknowledged, a much bigger question has been driving the American political machine for well more than a year. That question is, "At his core, just who is Mitt Romney, really?"
People of all political stripes want to know. It is the driving force that makes all his position changes and flip-flops and contradictions and walk-backs relevant and newsworthy. On the topic of who Mitt Romney is and what he believes there are more stories to keep straight than in a season's worth of To Tell The Truth contestant panels.
And it was reasonable to think, given his history, Romney was at least a pretty competent and intelligent person. But then, how to reconcile that with his stewardship over multi-million dollar organization know as Romney for President, Inc.? The last time a Michigander spent this much money on such a disastrous national endeavor the country coined a new synonym for failure: The Edsel.
In his heart is Romney really the man who promised in 1994 to be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy? Or is he the man who in 2012 has pledged his allegiance to the darkest anti-gay forces in the country? Is he really the Romney who said in 2002, "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose"—or is he the Romney of 2012 who's definitely against a woman's right to choose and not really clear if that includes cases of rape, incest, and the life or health of the mother?
Is Romney the man who, as governor of Massachusetts, signed a law extending health care to everyone in his state? Or the man who promises to repeal the same for the country?
People both left and right were curious—is Romney really a moderate Republican pretending to be a radical, reactionary conservative, or was Romney a radical, reactionary conservative who pretended for a time to be a moderate Republican?
Oddly, none of these things felt quite right. It was difficult to imagine him as being authentically any of the things he was being packaged as. They didn't ring true.
It was precisely because Romney is a cipher that the Republican primaries were a drawn-out and torturous affair for the Republican Party, and a party for the Democrats.
Primary voters flocked from one "Not Romney" candidate to the next. Virtually very faction of the party never really trusted that Romney was really one of them. In the end, Mitt Romney did not win the Republican nomination. He merely failed to lose it.
Though never accused of being charismatic, there is something compelling about the campaign and not just as the latest trainwreck TV sensation. The public was patiently waiting for the real tell that would finally solve the mystery of who Mitt Romney really was, since his words are meaningless and constantly subject to change.
And on Sept. 17, like the fictional presidential candidate played by Martin Sheen (the bad one, from the Stephen King film The Dead Zone) Romney's presidential potential hit an ignoble brick wall, when Mother Jones provided a jarring glimpse into the candidate's true character.
Libertarian leaning Josh Barro at Bloomberg News played his once-a-cycle "It's over" card saying: Today, Mitt Romney Lost the Election.
(Continue reading below the fold.)
The transcript is awful, but the performance is worse. There is an inflection of exasperated disgust when he enunciates the word "entitled" as he discusses his fellow Americans' desire to be able to affordably access the basic necessities of life, like health care and food. He is a man who's never wanted for anything and that princely obliviousness infuses every word of this shameful and completely ignorant rant.
And we see the delusional high regard he holds himself.
This son of a multi-millionaire automotive company CEO, governor and White House cabinet member, and he fancies himself a real Horatio Alger hero saying:
"I have inherited nothing. Everything I earned I earned the old-fashioned way."Afraid that the Obama campaign over-reached in painting a picture of Mitt Romney as a real life Mr. Potter that veered dangerously close to caricature? Now, it now clear they had not gone far enough.
It was clear Romney really is "that guy."
He is James Spader's Steff from Pretty In Pink. It's easy to imagine this man as a prep school bully who held a queer kid down and cut his hair, laughing as the kid cried. Romney as Cranbrook's Malfoy fits. And it's clear he hasn't changed a bit. Why should he? Life has richly rewarded him for such behavior. He forcibly acquired companies, soaked them for what they were worth, picked their bones and left the mess behind for someone else to clean up. Some other job creator will arrive to employ the thousands Bain pink-slipped, he figures.
It's clear now the birther jokes were not theatrical artifice or calculated pandering. He is a man who sees an opening and irrespective that it's a cheap shot that denigrates the entire presidential election process and that is offensive to virtually every African American in the country, Mitt Romney takes the shot anyway, because he can.
And, oh yes, Romney demonstrated his great ethnic sensitivity too, lamenting the unbearable whiteness of his being.
Now his selection of Paul Ryan made much more sense as well. Somewhere between Stanford and Harvard, Massachusetts and Utah, the 2008 primaries and 2012 ones, Romney too became drunk on the Kool-Aid of rich man's bootstrapping myth. It was easy to see the source of the team's obvious rapport, perhaps they'd first met at a Ayn Rand book club.
This is the Mitt Romney that tied his dog to the roof of his car and took a six-hour drive to Canada. When asked by a pair of lesbian moms, what they should tell their daughters about why they can't legally marry, this is the Mitt Romney that told them, "I don't care what your tell your daughters."
and irresponsibly accusing President Obama of treasonous sentiment following Embassy attacks abroad.
This was the Mitt Romney who called our active-duty military serving overseas an item on a laundry list not important enough to mention.
This—this Mitt Romney we hear in the video—this was the Mitt Romney that finally rings true with so much else we already knew about the candidate.
This is Mitt Romney, absent focus group-speak, absent beltway coaching and preparation. This was the unvarnished Romney. They say character is who you are when no one is watching. That might also apply to politicians behind closed doors at $50,000-a-plate fundraisers.
These extemporaneous remarks are delivered without the stammering or the awkward chuckling that peppers every Romney interview, for Pete's sake. He is not slowed by the wheels turning in his head searching for the ideal talking point per polling.
The mystery was solved. The moderate Northeast Republican was indeed all artifice. This is what Romney believes in his core, all the worst tropes of the paranoid fantasies of the reactionary right wing.
"Let Them Eat Crab Cake" was Romney's mantra New York Times' Maureen Dowd sniffed, saying:
We thought Romney was secretly moderate, but it turns out that he’s secretly cruel, a social Darwinist just like his running mate.And there is a great irony about this being the final destination of Romney's long political journey. The very crowd that had mercilessly dogged him throughout the primaries was now seeing starbursts over the great unmasking. If only Romney had realized he had a crowd-pleasing stump speech in his pocket all along!
Alas, Romney can't even enjoy it. The candidate dare not publicly revel in his "You like me, you really like me!" moment with the Rush Limbaugh/Michelle Malkin/Eric Erickson/Ann Coulter wing of the GOP. An avalanche of bipartisan condemnation reigned down on him from people who have hearts and even an iota of compassion for their fellow Americans.
Former Bush speechwriter, Newsweek’s David Frum said Romney had been turned into a robot by the conservative orthodoxy that surrounded him. He called it a terrible line of attack and the "wrong kind of Republicanism."
In the middle of the worst recession—job economy—since the 1930s, to offer people who are out of work insults, to try to chop up and say “you are good, you are not,” to use the language of parasites, parasites are microbes not people.Jonathan Chait in New York magazine described the man on the tape as a "sneering plutocrat." Newsweek's Michael Tomasky, calling the comments "dumb," "callous," and Romney at his "smug worst," said he too was convinced Romney had come to believe the philosophy that surrounds him:
I think this is destructive way to think. Mitt Romney should be running to be the president of all the country. If you don’t run to be president of all the country, you won’t be elected to be president of any of it.
You marinate a cherry in cheap whiskey long enough, the stink attaches.Calling the comments "stupid and arrogant" The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol fulfilled his "stopped clock" quota:
So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.Joe Klein at Time picks up on Romney's apparent difficulty with simple arithmetic: "I’m not sure that he has put two and two together: that a great many of the 47% — the white working-class voters and senior citizens — are Romney voters."
New York Times' David Brooks, however unlike his colleague Dowd, still doesn't buy we've glimpsed the real Romney. In an otherwise savage dressing-down Brooks says:
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.Mr. Brooks is too gracious in affording Mr. Romney the benefit the doubt that he merely says stupid things, but doesn't believe stupid things.
Regardless, Romney's ship has sailed on the "stupid" and inelegant slips of the tongue excuse. Stupid is a generosity afforded to the young and inexperienced.
Mr. Romney is a 65-year-old man. If he has not yet learned to express whatever kindness and decency lives in his soul with appropriate words and actions, he is never going to.
And when someone draws a salary from all the taxpayers to serve the all citizens in the office of president of the United States, learning simple decency and kindness are not skills to be left for on-the-job training.