[F]or Romney's traveling press corps, the jerky party was just the latest in a series of similar casual encounters with the candidate — most of which are joined by reporters on the condition that they are "off the record," meaning nothing the candidate does or says can be reported.Off-the-record Romney apparently is fun, witty, and answers reporter questions in great detail while handing out large quantities of beef jerky. On-the-record Romney isn't, and doesn't. This frustrates reporters because … I have no idea. Maybe it's like that Warner Brothers cartoon with the frog that starts singing and dancing, but only when nobody else is looking?
Eager for access to the famously reserved candidate, reporters have generally agreed to the campaign's terms for these "OTRs," which have long been common practice on presidential campaigns. But the resulting interactions — rare, unfettered conversations with an unusually candid Romney — have left many of the traveling campaign reporters frustrated that they're unable capture a side of the candidate that he keeps hidden from public view.
"The OTRs are annoying," said one reporter who covers Romney. "I mean, I'm glad we do them, but it's like, we can't show a side of him that exists."
It seems like we get these stories every election season. Oh, if you only knew the real so-and-so, he's not nearly the jackass that he is every other time you see him. He just has a hard time expressing himself. Sure, fine, whatever. I'll take your word for it; that is one talented singing, dancing frog.
On the other hand, we elect leaders for their public personas, not their private ones; knowing that so-and-so is a nice enough fellow when nobody is looking does not particularly help them navigate a distinctly public job. Hearing that a candidate is only willing to give detailed answers to questions when he knows they won't leak out is, likewise, not particularly endearing, and knowing that a candidate has the ability to not come off as a self-centered ass does us little good if only select, privileged audiences get that treatment. The "if you knew the real candidate" stories, therefore, always seem forced and a little out of place. We are at least supposed to pretend that we are electing leaders based on their ideas, not their affability, so pointing to secret affability, of all things, seems two or three steps removed from whatever more noble process we were trying to emulate.
Maybe off-the-record Romney still thinks America should guarantee certain standards of health care, or agrees that maybe the fabulously wealthy are not the most abused and put-upon people in the nation? Now there's a singing frog I'd be interested in hearing from.