Campaign 2012: Mitt speaks!

8 10 2011

Anything goes in politics.

I have declaimed this often and loudly on this and other (well, TNC’s and sometimes Emily’s) blogs: the only thing that matters in political campaigning is what works. That’s it.

What about the law? If breaking the law doesn’t work, don’t do it. Most of the time it doesn’t, but some of the time—particularly as regards campaign finance—it doesn’t matter: any final rulings on the matter take place after the election and involve only a fine, if that.

More to the point, I see no point in getting OUTRAGED or offended! by campaign rhetoric  because so much of this rhetoric is designed to rouse one’s base, which pretty much has the effect of OUTRAGING and offending! the other side.

C’est la vie politique, in other words.

Anyway, there are limits the O and o! tactic, in that presidential candidates need to convince the undecideds to toss their votes to them. You don’t want to O & o! these folks, you want to bring them along; given that by definition they’re already more skeptical of your candidacy, you don’t want to do anything which causes them to squint their eyes, twist their lips, and say that’s dumb.

I nominate former governor Mitt Romney’s foreign policy speech to the Citadel for the squint treatment.

He says a lot of contestable items in the speech, repeating, for example, the canard that Obama has “apologized” for America. Whatever: that’s a Republican theme manufactured to sow doubts about Obama’s fealty to the US, and while there is no evidence of any sort of “apology tour”, this attempted theming is a standard part of any political campaign (see: Al Gore and his alleged invention of the Internet).

This, however, is dumb:

I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on Earth, I am not your President.
You have that President today.


All of the other nonsense about a military build-up and world leadership and big sticks are interpretive-partisan matters, that is, whether or not you see it as nonsense likely varies on where you stand. Romney may or may not believe that the Navy has been “hollowed out”, but it is within the realm of possibility that he thinks that the shipbuilding rate of 9 [nine what? nine ships? which ships?] is alarmingly low, and that increasing this to 15 will secure the nation.

But this, that President Obama wants a weak America, does he really believe that?


Romney is often hit with the charge of a Gumby candidacy: he’ll bend and fold and spindle himself into any shape his audience wants. From pro-choice to pro-life, pro-gay rights to anti-, from moderate to rightist, from the craven sane to the craven un-sane—again, whatever works.

But declamations on the president’s devotion to this country are dumb. Yes, there is a rump portion of the Republican electorate who question Obama’s bona fides, but there are likely many more who simply think he’s wrong; they question his strategy, not his motives.

Now, this latter group may not care if Romney dissects Obama’s heart, but as any Republican nominee will have to contest in a national election, he’ll want to avoid saying anything to his base that could cause undecideds to squint at his words.

Saying that Obama doesn’t want a strong America is squint-worthy for two reasons:

1) He authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden and drone strikes which have killed dozens of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, gave the go-ahead in the capture of Somali pirates, and in his positioning of special-ops military teams around the world, has made clear that the US will do what it will do, regardless of national borders and international law.

(I have my own disputes with some of his actions, but I am in the minority in questioning what I see as presidential overreach.)

In any case, Romney is working against easily-available and hard-to-dispute evidence, such that he leaves himself open to the question of “what would you do differently in these cases?”, a question which allows him no good answers.

2. Along the same lines, he leaves himself open to the questions along the lines of  “do you really believe that President Obama wants a weak America/doesn’t put America first/doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism/etc.?”

This is dumb because, again, there’s no quick-and-easy way to answer this question, not only because of the evidence, but also because of the presumption of bad-faith.

Pundits and operatives can engage in bad-faith, but the president is supposed to be bigger than all that, he’s supposed to be generous and broad-minded and able to embrace all of America. (Yeah, yeah, I know, but what can I say: it’s a campaign trope.) He’s supposed to say stuff along the lines of “My opponent and I both love this country, but only one of us has what it takes to lead the nation forward.”  He’s not a bad man, he just has bad ideas.

You want questions which allow you in your response to demonstrate both your generosity and superiority. You want questions which allow you to focus unreservedly on your policies and vision, on your depth and far-sightedness. You want questions which allow you smoothly to rise above, even as you whack away at your opponent.

“Governor Romney, in your speech before the Citadel you stated that President Obama does not want the United States to be the strongest country in the world. Do you really believe that? Do you really think your opponent wants to destroy America? ” is not that kind of question, because any attempted smooth rising-above will be stuck on your own bad-faith words.

Which is why opening himself up to this line is. . . dumb.

(Edited for typos, grammar, and some nasty syntax errors.)