Monday, August 06, 2012

Romney Gaffes: A Bug Or a Feature?

Latest Newspaper Column:

There’s a well-worn cliche among computer geeks that goes: “That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”
It started as a way to deflect criticism of software that just didn’t work as advertised (or failed to work at all) by claiming that whatever weird glitch was driving the user up the wall was always intended to be that way.
For a while there, I was wondering if “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” might explain the recent Mitt Romney International Gaffe Tour 2012.
As you may have read, Romney kicked things off by dissing the British hosts of the Olympics on his first stop, earning the unenviable nickname of “Mitt the Twit” from the tabloid newspaper The Sun, and worse epithets from several others.
He then went to Israel, where he told a crowd that Jews in Israel were more successful than the Palestinians because of their “culture,” which managed to be both a slam at the Palestinians and more than a little stereotypical of the Jews — after all, wasn’t Romney just trotting out the old anti-Semitic trope that “Jews are good with money”?
Of course, this also fails to take into account that maybe, just maybe, the Palestinian economy is struggling because their movements are severely restricted and a good chunk of the country is sequestered behind a 25-foot wall. Just a thought.
Then it was on to Poland, where a Romney press spokesman responded to shouted questions from frustrated reporters by snarling, “Kiss my [rude word]; this is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”
Am I the only one who finds “Kiss my [rude word]; this is a holy site” hilarious? The spokesman then told a reporter to “shove it,” in a way that suggested he wasn’t giving advice on getting the doorknob unstuck.
Now, at first glance, all of this may have made Romney and his people look inept and unprofessional. But then I had second thoughts. After all, even now, Romney’s still trying to shore up his credibility with the Rabid Right.
And what better way to do that than treating other countries (even allies) with contempt, kicking the Palestinians in the teeth, and telling the press to “kiss my [rude word]”? Were all these gaffes a “bug” in the campaign software or a “feature”?
But when you dig a little deeper, you find that these missteps were just the tip of the gaffe-berg. There were others, like Romney having to cancel a fundraising dinner in Israel because it was scheduled on a holy day of fasting.
He also praised the Israeli health care system for keeping health care costs at “8 percent of GDP,” forgetting perhaps that the Israeli National Health Insurance Law “sets forth the state’s responsibility to provide health services for all residents of the country,” according to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
And yes, there’s an individual mandate. Romney praising “socialism”? That’s gotta be a gaffe-and-a-half.
But it was Romney’s treatment of the press that finally answered the question for me. It wasn’t just the guy telling off reporters. Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren griped that there’d been no press access to the MittBot in Poland and that reporters felt like they were “in a petting zoo … trapped in a bus while Polish citizens take pictures of us.”
Here’s the thing: You can trash talk the press, you can put them in crowded buses, you can put them up in roach motels — but you cannot deny them some sort of access, even if it’s illusory. They’ll sell their souls for the thrill and the prestige of feeling like they’re “inside” with the movers and shakers.
A candidate who gives them that thrill can tell them the most outrageous lies, and they’ll print them verbatim, singing the candidate’s praises all the while, extolling his “manliness” and explaining away his gaffes. You can feed them total BS, but you can’t starve them.
George Dubbya Bush was great at it. John McCain cooked baby back ribs for the press and let them ride the tire swing at one of his houses. They loved the guy, giving him pass after pass.
Time’s Mark Halperin even earnestly argued that McCain not remembering how many houses he had was “terrible news for Barack Obama.”
But remember when Sarah Palin’s press spokeswoman responded to a question about whether Palin would take questions by jeering, “From who? From you? Who cares?” How’d that work out for her?
So, on third thought, I’m going to have to go with inept. This trip showed one thing: Mitt Romney is not ready for the world stage.