Friday, September 14, 2012

The Smirk That May Have Cost Romney the Election

by Nomad


or quite some time, political observers have been declaring that Mitt Romney's greatest weakness (outside of the fact that he simply cannot be honest) is his complete detachment, his lack of empathy and his inability to hit the right emotional tone. In the early hours of September 12, Mitt Romney exposed his character flaws for all the world to see.

As embassy staff in Benghazi, Libya were fighting for their lives against a band of armed attackers, Romney was attempting to portray- without any justification whatsoever- that Obama had expressed sympathy for the attackers.
The statement he has used as evidence had actually been written prior to the attack and had come not from the White House but from the Egyptian embassy. That statement had been an attempt to quell protests there.

It stated that the US embassy “condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims…as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

The Romney campaign reaction? Romney stated "that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." 

The following day, Wednesday, while the grim news from Libya- the brutal murder of the ambassador along with four other embassy staff- was stilling filtering in, Romney held a press conference to restate his views. It might have been an opportunity to reconsider his hasty words. Alas, Romney pressed on, with what reporters described as a smirk.  Before the reporters, he said:

"... (T)he administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values."
According to a CBS article, when asked what exactly did he had objected to, Romney went on to say:
"Their administration spoke. The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth, but also from the words that come from his ambassadors from his administration, from his embassies, from his State Department...They clearly sent mixed messages to the world and the statement that came from the administration and the embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was -- was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a -- a severe miscalculation."
It soon became apparent that the miscalculation was not the president's, but the candidate's. 
Romney's clear expression of glee was repulsive in light of the national tragedy. Making use of the event to score political points seemed to prove what most people had felt about this candidate. Romney has no sense of empathy and, for Romney, satisfying his ambition supersedes all other considerations.

A little fact-checking by AP and the verdict looked something like this:
The gunfire at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, had barely ceased when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seriously mis-characterized what had happened in a statement accusing President Barack Obama of “disgraceful” handling of violence there and at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
The reporter noted that the original statement was first emailed to the media outlets at 10:09 EST with the proviso that it would not be released until after midnight. (Apparently out of respect for the remembrance of September 11 attacks.) 
In fact, neither a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier in the day nor a later statement from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered sympathy for attackers. The statement from the Cairo Embassy had condemned anti-Muslim religious incitement before the embassy walls were breached. In her statement, issued minutes before Romney’s, Clinton had offered the administration’s first response to the violence in Libya, explicitly condemning the attack there and confirming the death of a State Department official.
So what was the need for the rush of that original statement?
In Washington, Republican foreign policy veterans called Romney’s initial statement premature and rushed, with limited facts and an incomplete understanding of what was happening in Egypt and Libya. Romney’s team also was unclear about the timeline of when the Obama administration weighed in.
One Republican official advising Romney’s campaign on foreign policy and national security issues painted a picture of a Romney campaign more focused on ensuring Romney’s evening statement made it into morning news stories than on waiting for details about what had happened.
Pure opportunism.

Many in his own party found the comments to be ill-timed and not appropriate. No way, no how. Of course, Rush Limbaugh- who seems to be the self-appointed, semi-official Republican party spokesperson- defended Romney, calling it part of a "media conspiracy." Predictably, Fox News also stepped up to defend the candidate. Sarah Palin- a person who knows only too well what making a national fool of oneself feels like- put in her two cents too. (Another case of "Gotcha" journalism?)

Retiring Sen. John Kyl of Arizona had the exceedingly poor judgement and taste to compare the Egyptian embassy tweets to rape.
“It’s like the judge telling the woman who got raped, ‘You asked for it because of the way you dressed.’ 
(What is it with the Republican preoccupation with rape? It's just creepy.)

Others in the Republican party were less supportive. Rep. Peter King and Sen. Mike Lee from Utah said they would have waited at least 12 hours before making any kind of statement. (As opposed to making statements as the events are occurring?)

John E. Sununu, former New Hampshire govenor, said,
"They [Romney campaign] probably should have waited. You look at the way things unfolded, you look at the timing of it, they probably should have waited.”
That's a daring statement for Sununu to make. His father, after all, has been consistently called a "Romney surrogate" and has spoken officially for the campaign on several occasions. 
(As we have reported, Sununu the Elder, like Palin, has his own colorful history of blunders to use as advice reference.)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen.Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wisely preferred to remain silent on the Romney remarks.
On 60 Minutes- which will air the entire interview on Sunday, September 16,  President Obama's take on the Romney blunder was understated but cut the heart of the problem.
“There’s a broader lesson to be learned here. And I think — you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. That, you know, it’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make ‘em.”
On the incident, PoliticusUSA noted a pattern in Romney's behavior:
Over the past few months, Romney has repentantly offended nearly every demographic that is not wealthy and white, and he appears to take great pleasure demeaning people. Many pundits asked how he would lead the entire country when he has alienated most of America, but they fail to understand that leading the country is not his intent; running it is, and running it like he ran Bain Capital. In fact, lying and exploiting tragedy is what successful vulture capitalists do, so no-one should be surprised that Willard’s first impulse is scoring political points from the deaths in Libya, because he will go to any length in the pursuit of power and money.
Harsh.. but it seems to be painfully accurate.
This latest incident perhaps underscores the fact that Romney simply does not have what it takes to be president of the United States. Namely, a sense of the moment, the ability to weigh options and make wise decisions. Or, if nothing else, the patience to wait until all the facts are in before rushing up to a free microphone. 

Whether Romney's fumbling reaction to this tragic event in Libya spells the end of his hopes as a viable candidate, it may be too early to say. (We don't want to speak too soon before all the evidence is in, do we?) It may not be a mortal self-inflicted wound, but Romney's miscalculations must be starting to add up with the undecided and independent voters. 

In any case, next up on the schedule: The Presidential debates. That ought to be fun.