The Media Hates Mitt
There are valid criticisms to be made about Mitt Romney, and those have been well-documented elsewhere. Still, it is surprising to see the ruthlessness with which Romney's every utterance is used in an attempt to destroy him. The media seized on two recent comments in particular, but an analysis of these comments reveals them to be innocuous. Indeed, in both incidents, the media shamelessly took Romney out of context.
On the campaign trail, Romney has repeated the mantra that Obama didn't create the recession, "but he made it worse." This is a particularly good rhetorical approach because Romney makes a concession and then drives his argument home. It is more effective than denouncing President Obama in apocalyptic terms, as seems to be the strategy employed by other campaigns. By stating the obvious but often purposefully overlooked fact that Obama really did inherit a mess in January of 2009, Romney establishes a credibility which distinguishes him from other candidates. His characterization of events is not talk-radio cartoonish; rather, his measured tone more accurately depicts the causes of, and possible solutions to, our economic problems.
The fake stir was caused by Romney's seemingly contradictory statements that Obama both made the economy worse and did not make the economy worse. But there is a fine distinction between the two comments that Mr. Romney actually said -- comments which have been used misleadingly as an example of Romney's flip-floppery.
As Clay Waters explains at NewsBusters, by saying that Obama made the recession worse, Romney is implying that the recession would not have been as deep and long-lasting if not for the president's policies. Later, Governor Romney denied saying that the economy is now worse than when Obama took office. This is true -- the economy is not worse now than it was in January of 2009, at least not by all measures. The recession is what is worse than it hypothetically would have been if someone else were at the helm, according to Romney. Presumably, the economy would be better than it currently is as well.
As you can see, this is difficult to explain in a sound bite, especially if a reporter intentionally wants to misrepresent the two statements. The perceived contradiction between the two comments is strictly a matter of semantics, not substance. Even semantically, Romney's statements remain non-contradictory, though they appear at first blush to present a paradox. Regardless, the media are much more interested in "catching" Romney than in getting to the meaning of his speeches. To put it simply, he was taken out of context on this one.
As a preface to Romney's next supposed gaffe, which chronologically occurred first, it is necessary to identify what has become a clichéd and inaccurate characterization of Romney: namely, that he is totally boring. In a Reuters report from July 8, there is a reference to Romney's "woodenness on the campaign trail." This was not a quote from another politician or a partisan analyst; this abstract noun, "woodenness," was a liberty taken by the author. One might have thought that Reuters was like the Associated Press -- a very objective, fact-reporting type of institution. So it is odd to find this inarguably subjective and pejorative epithet.
Romney is criticized as being boring, but when he decided to employ some levity, he was excoriated as having committed a serious error in judgment. There is a blatant yet heretofore unmentioned hypocrisy in his more rabid critics. The minute Governor Romney says anything risqué, there is mock outrage. Nonetheless, what Romney said was genial and harmless, as evidenced by the spontaneous laughter it provoked amongst a group of jobless Floridians: "I'm also unemployed...I'm networking."
Judging by the reaction of the media, it appears that this seemingly straightforward humor requires explanation. This is an example of irony, a form of humor with many manifestations -- in this case, the juxtaposition of two things that you wouldn't expect to go together. A millionaire who is unemployed. Humorous. Laugh; no need to get angry. It also had a self-deprecatory connotation. Campaigning is not like a real job, so Romney kind of is unemployed. Most journalists and reporters are intelligent people, and they likely understand this, but since they have the pretence to feign shock, I will maintain that pretence and feign to school them.
The travails of the unemployed are nothing to laugh at. But I hardly think that Romney's quip was a low blow to the jobless, and I am not convinced that they were uniformly offended, as this is all so irrelevant to their predicament.
The DNC scolded Romney, calling his comment "inappropriate and insensitive." Humor is impossible to achieve by being appropriate. Anything appropriate is by definition expected and conventional -- in other words, not funny. Humor requires a bit of surprise, a bit of dissonance. Unfortunately, this also means that your words can be taken out of context and used against you.
"Misstatements" by other Republican candidates and would-be candidates have been more worrying, given that they are meaningful indicators of deficiencies in knowledge. Republicans should not try to explain away such misstatements, which they would so obviously attack should they have been uttered by a Democrat. But as for Romney's supposed gaffes -- much ado about nothing.
Pete Machera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.