Welcome to all of you coming over from Andrew Sullivan's place, and thank you very much to Andrew for sending you here. Comments are always welcome, but they're moderated, by me, and I'm going to be out and about all day so I may not get to yours until late. But I promise yours will get posted, although please check out my comment policy.
A sure-fire way to send Mitt Romney into a snit---and, by the way I hope to make that into a meme, A Mitt Snit---is to suggest that his family name, fortune, and connections had anything to do with his success. He did it all on his own, gosh darn it, and how dare you suggest otherwise! You just hate success! Mitt's not the only rich guy prone to such snits. It's practically a fetish with certain rich assholes that we plebes accept they did it all on their own, with no help from anyone, especially not from the lowly likes of us. This is not a new or particularly American type. Josiah Bounderby---and to Brits his name says it all---a factory owner in Dickens' Hard Times gasses on and on through most of the novel about his self-made fortune, setting himself up for others as the example of self-reliance and hard work, only to have it revealed at the end that his poor, widowed mother had been supporting him for years before he struck it lucky. Mitt Romney was born with many advantages. He made the most of those advantages by working hard and being smart. I happen to think what he did at Bain was the equivalent of captaining a pirate ship, but there's no denying that at least from the crew's point of view he was an intelligent and masterful skipper, and it's not taking away from his intelligence or his skill to point out that he was given the boat.
He had advantages and those advantages gave him a head start in business and in politics where he was able to start near the top with the first office he tried for. You could even argue that after he lost he had to take a step backwards and settle for being governor. United States Senator is often the next step up from Governor for the majority of governors who have no shot at becoming President.
For anyone who wants to point out that Ted Kennedy had even greater advantages when he first ran for the Senate, yep, he sure did. But he acknowledged them. In fact, whatever you think of the Kennedys, you have to admire the way they've practically made Most People Weren't Born as Lucky as Us the family motto.
But because Mitt was able to start near the top, he was spared having to go through anything like this:
The South Dakota Democratic Party did not constitute much of a platform. Republicans captured 90 percent of state elections between 1889 and 1967. Still, McGovern did not lack for faith, idealism, and a sense of practicality. He saw that if he ever sought elected office he would need an organization behind him, taking it upon himself to build the requisite infrastructure. As one Democratic official noted, George McGovern was not so much rebuilding the Democratic Party in South Dakota as establishing the George McGovern Party. By 1956, after installing party chairmen in every county, McGovern deemed himself ready to run for Congress, targeting Harold Lovre of the First Congressional District, who was armed with four terms in the House and a track record of staggering margins of victory. But McGovern recognized and capitalized on two fundamental traits of the region's voters. first, South Dakotans demanded staunch anticommunist and pro-agriculture stances. The three pillars of the state's economy were corn, wheat, and cattle. Second, he understood that South Dakotans valued a sense of personal connection with their public officials, the perception of at least compassion for their conditions. In other words, the voters seemed to care more about the man than about his politics. As candidate, McGovern resolved to project the impression of principle, rootedness, and neighborly interest. Though naturally uncomfortable with the superficiality of the campaign handshake, McGovern eventually conceded that there was no better way of establishing that personal connection with voters. While Eleanor minded the campaign office with only one other volunteer, McGovern traversed the thirty-eight thousand square miles of South Dakota territory east of the Missouri River that composed the district, shaking hands with as many people as he could, at as many picnics and church dinners as possible. George Cunningham, the former President of the fledgling South Dakota Young Democrats who had recently finished army service, accompanied McGovern on his travels, and they sold campaign buttons at each stop to finance their journey to the next town on their itinerary.
That's from The Eighteen-Day Running Mate: McGovern, Eagleton, and a Campaign in Crisis by Joshua M. Glasser, a so far very interesting and well-reported book (I'm about two-thirds in), although I'd like to ask Glasser about his choice of phrasing there, "the superficiality of the campaign handshake." I don't think there's anything superficial about shaking hands with voters on the campaign trail. That's my point, in fact. A candidate better learn the habit of literally and sincerely reaching out to voters. McGovern apparently did. I'm not sure Mitt has.
That's how you win a down-ticket election. You get out there and you shake as many hands, kiss as many babies, ring as many doorbells as there are minutes in the day every day. Ideally, before the campaign's over you'll have met every voter and asked them for their vote personally. Of course the higher up the ladder, the larger the constituency, and the more that ideal becomes an impossibility. So you're forced to do a lot of it by proxy. Instead of meeting voters one at a time, you meet them in crowds. Instead of showing up on their doorsteps, you show up on their TVs and computer screens and mobile devices. You spend more time with big donors than with small business owners. And what used to be a matter of just doing your job, going out to listen to constituents tell you their troubles and ask for your help, becomes a photo op.
If you worked your way up the political ladder, and you know what's good for you, you remember what the point was and you keep in mind who deserves your attention when you're out on the stump. And when you stop standing in front of the crowd and dive into it instead, all the old skills come back.
This is where Mitt's advantages turn into disadvantages.
Mitt never learned those skills.
Maybe I should say he's never had to practice them as much as most politicians.
He clearly doesn't know instinctively what to do when he has to deal with voters one to one. He's awkward and uncomfortable and prone to gaffes. I don't mean what the press corps would prefer to call gaffes, all his deliberate and calculated lies. I mean what happens when his apparently instinctive goofiness gets the better of him. He says and does stupid things, like forgetting to thank the owners of a diner he's taken over and trashed for a photo op. In another mood, in another post, making a different point I'd probably say this is a sign that he's an arrogant elitist who can't be bothered to muster up ordinary sympathy for the Help. And maybe it is or it's part of it. But I don't know that it is or how much of it it is. I am, however, pretty sure that much of it is simply lack of practice.
Campaigning for the Senate and then for Governor, Mitt didn't have to shake as many hands, kiss as many babies, or ring as many doorbells as George McGovern had to in just his first campaign for Congress.
I'm not comparing Mitt to just McGovern or to Barack Obama or to the Kennedys. I'm comparing him to most other Republican politicians who worked their ways up from city council to state assembly to US Congress.
I noted it during the primaries. Mitt was running an elitist TV and photo op campaign, just as if it was the general election, while Rick Santorum was running as a democrat. Small d democrat. Mitt's implicit message was Vote for Me Because I'm a Leader! Santorum's was Please Vote for Me and I’ll Be Your Guy in the White House. It was ironic because the only truly democratic thing about him was the sweater vest, but he knew how to ask for votes.
When he ran for the Senate, Mitt gave Ted a scare, at first. He was able to do that because of his advantages. He arrived in town with money and a powerful name, and he didn't have to build a party organization for himself by himself. It was there and eager to help him because he already had money and powerful name. Of course, Ted had money and an even more powerful name. But he had something else, a different kind of advantage, one he had earned by making the most of the advantages he was born with--- a personal connection with the people of Massachusetts that went back thirty years. Thirty years of church suppers and union local picnics. Thirty years of shaking hands and kissing babies. If he hadn't shaken every voter's hand it was only because he hadn't gotten to the newest-born ones to kiss them yet. When Jack Kennedy first ran for Congress, he knew he wasn’t a natural at door-to-door, church picnic-to-church picnic politicking and that he needed to learn how to do it. He had a great teacher, a former mayor of Boston, his grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. Bobby like Mitt, was able to start nearer the top. He wasn’t a natural either. He learned a lot from running his brother’s campaign for President, but there was something else going on between Bobby and the voters, between Bobby and people, something that was in one way scary but in another way sublime. Whatever that was, it transcended ordinary politicking and required more---from him and out of him---than a talent for shaking hands and kissing babies. Ted, however, was a natural. When he was born, the first thing he did was shake the doctor's hand. Then he kissed all the other babies in the nursery. Whenever he came home to campaign, it was like coming back to the old neighborhood to catch up with the old gang. Americans love their royalty but they want their princes and princesses to be able to stand up at the pancake breakfast and lead the crowd in a rousing, off key rendition of Sweet Adeline, and not make it seem like they're doing it as a favor or just for the cameras.
This ain't easy.
It takes practice.
It's helpful if you're born with the right temperament and the talent, but it's a skill you can learn, a habit of mind and heart you can acquire. You don't have to like it. But you have to mean it.
It hasn't come up as much this campaign, that I've seen, at any rate, but one of the Republicans' regular lines of attack on the President has been to call him a Chicago politician. They mean that he is corrupt, allied with thugs, willing to do anything to win. They mean he is a mirror image of themselves, of course. Whatever the Right says we're doing, they're doing. But the point is they're right about the importance of Obama’s roots in Chicago politics, just wrong about what that's meant. Obama came up through the ranks shaking hands and kissing babies as a part of doing his job. He's still very good at that part of doing his job as a democratic small d again politician. Maybe not in Bill Clinton's league, but who is? Every now and then someone in the Village press corps will pipe up with the observation that Obama doesn't like people. I don't see it myself. What I suspect is that these Village pundits have intuited that the President doesn’t like a certain type of people, Village pundits. Apparently he doesn’t enjoy the company of billionaire assholes either. Go figure. But whenever I see him out there shaking hands and kissing babies and asking people for their votes and listening to their troubles and complaints, it sure looks to me like he likes them. I don't know how deeply he enjoys it. But he means it.
You won't catch her saying "You people." Her word for “you people” is "us."
Mitt went down to Louisiana over the weekend to get his picture taken looking concerned. That's what you do. The President is going down today to get his picture taken looking concerned. But there was a story that came out of Mitt's visit on HuffPo headlined Mitt To Flood Victim: “Go Home And Call 211.” It sounds like he blew her off, and many liberals in my Twitter feed were quick to tweet the link, presumably because they wanted to alert the world to what a heartless jerk Mitt can be. But that means they didn't read the story.
Gasp! You mean people assume things about stories on the web without reading them, Lance?
Yes, I'm afraid it's true.
The flood victim had lost her house and didn’t know what to do. It was graceless of Mitt to tell someone who’d just told him she’d lost her home to go home, but he didn't blow her off and she didn't feel blown off. He was helping her by telling her the best way he knew for her to find help. What the story doesn't say is if he followed through the way he should have. It would have been a little too dramatic if he'd whipped out his cell phone and called 211 himself right then and there. He could have turned to his aides and asked one of them to do it. But he was with Bobby Jindal. Jindal's the governor. Helping constituents is his job. Mitt should have handed the woman off to Jindal who should have handed her off to one of his aides who should have made the call and asked if the woman needed a ride and promised to have someone from the governor's office go out to her drowned neighborhood to see what needs to be done.
This wouldn't be in keeping with the GOP's current message---You're On Your Own!---but it would have been reflexive on the part of most politicians, including many Republicans. This is the job. It's self-serving, of course. But it's still what you're elected to do. It's how it works.
At any rate, it's how it looked to me when I was growing up and watching Pop Mannion do it.
What I learned from watching Pop us that it ain't easy. It takes practice. And not everyone has what it takes to master it. Me, for instance. When I was young and could have taken advantage of my advantage---being Pop's son---I didn't have the patience, I didn't have the discipline, and I didn't have the humility. And I knew it. My sister Linda has all three. Which is why she has an office in the town hall Pop built.
By the way, I’m assuming you’re going to follow the links and read the stories, but to save you the trouble of having to scroll back up, here they are again:Cafe Owner After Hosting Romney Event: "I felt like it was a mocking"