Romney: Guilty of Wealth
Maybe we should stop taking questions from the audience in these debates. "When have you struggled financially?" asked one viewer of the candidates. Obviously this question is a "gotcha" to Romney, who is guilty of never being poor.
Yes, this is the debate where we find that Romney is rich and therefore not fit to be president. Just ask the tweeterers who were offended by Romney's proposed ten thousand dollar bet with Rick Perry over whether he supported national health care mandates in his first book. These literal minded, hypersensitive debate viewers reflected that they didn't have ten thousand dollars to bet. My theory as to why this will become the "take away" moment of the debate is because it takes the least amount of thought to contemplate, requires no background knowledge of any sort to react to, and most nicely fits into a YouTube style sound-bite. The debate moderators discussed this important development directly after the debate, framing the issue as though this were the big news item to emerge from the night.
The proposed bet was somewhat odd, but it did not occupy my thoughts in any significant way. If anything, it was a bit childish -- "I'll bet you a million dollars my dad is stronger than your dad." 10,000 dollars is a totally arbitrary figure which doesn't reflect Romney's attitude towards money anymore than a child betting a million dollars. Further, considering that Romney is straight-edge enough to consider coffee a drug, I doubt he has ever gambled or made a bet in his life. Finally, Romney's frugality, itself a good recommendation for his potential financial stewardship of the country, has been well documented.
Otherwise, it was a compelling debate. The most substantive back-and-forth was between Gingrich and Romney over the wisdom of referring to the Palestinian people as having been "invented." Their contrasting views here displayed the most significant difference in both temperament and political-philosophy between the two men. Is Gingrich's "telling it like it is" Reaganesqe or foolhardy? Did Romney's self-proclaimed "sobriety" and his refusal to be a "rhetorical bomb-thrower" demonstrate his fitness to lead, or should we believe it as Gingrich tells it, which is that Romney is merely "timid." This is what should rightly be the focus, were the focus given to the issues that would be of the most consequence should one of these candidates be elected.
It's true that we cannot blame the nefarious "media" in this case because they were merely reporting how the viewers were reacting. But again, maybe latching onto the viewers' untutored responses to the most unsophisticated elements of the debate is not the best way to analyze the competition. Moreover, we don't know who these people tweeting are-are they Republican primary voters? Doubt it.
While rags to riches stories are always a bonus, I suppose, they are not required in order to become a great leader. Some presidents have these stories and some don't. Nixon and Clinton are both of humble origin, but that did not make them ethically pure. Both Roosevelts grew up wealthy, but that did not exclude their chance of greatness. Granted, you couldn't make a movie like 8-Mile about Romney's life, but again, that hardly disqualifies him.
Every journalist insists that Romney is "socially awkward," perhaps implying that this is a result of his sheltered life. I simply do not see any evidence of that. On stage he seems the least awkward, perhaps equaled only by Gingrich's regal demeanor. Romney, reacting to the audience question about when he had struggled financially, made clear that despite his privileged (I know, that word...) background, his parents instilled him with a sense of ethics and humility. He clearly seems to be aware of his place in the universe.
One might say that George W. Bush is an example of one born of privilege who therefore never had to work for his place in life -- one who did not demonstrate the merit of which Romney has taken to emphasizing, in order to succeed, but rather coasted off his family connections. Given Romney's academic and business record, both examples of excellence and merit, this simply does not apply. Yes, he is guilty of having wealthy, successful parents. God forbid. And by the way, might his father's success have been due to his intelligence and hard-work, and isn't intelligence an inheritable trait? Something to think about.
If there is one thing to take away from this nonsense, I would suggest it is this: people need to stop asking Romney about his alleged support for a national health care mandate. Not because it isn't a legitimate point of inquiry or because Romney seeks to avoid the question. But because he has already answered the darn question a thousand times. Obviously, his answer is not going to change - he cites the tenth amendment, claiming that the states can do "whatever the heck they want", as he exasperatingly told the Iowa crowd Saturday night. If this answer is not satisfactory, then voters will decide. But it is becoming clear why Romney is on the verge of losing his mind when repeatedly and incessantly being asked about it. He's addressed it.
Malcolm Unwell is a commentator on matters of politics and education and an instructor of English. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.