Last year, as part of his "Republicans like some of you older folks might remember, back before the entire party lost its mind" character, Mitt Romney had the following to say about climate change:

I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.

About six months later – this time in Campaigning Romney mode – he sounded a different note:

My view is that we don't know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

And now with Election Day slowly creeping into view, the campaign is taking pains to clarify that Romney is "certainly not a denier" of climate change. Well, that should clear things up.

Two things.

First, I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that giving different answers to a question at different points in time is a sign of inherent character flaws or a lack of honesty. People can change their minds about things. Ideally candidates DO change their stances as issues evolve.

Second, I am not naive enough to believe that candidates or elected officials do not play to audiences. The same question answered in different settings (and before different groups of voters/donors/etc) are going to sound different. It has been claimed that one of FDR's greatest gifts was to give a single speech that would lead opposing sides on the same issue to conclude that he agreed with their viewpoint. This is inherent to politics.

With those caveats, there is something difficult to define that feeds the perception among both Republican primary voters and the electorate in general that Romney is completely insincere. I don't think he is a bad person, and other candidates have gotten passes in the past on issue positions that, um, "evolve" over time. Why can't he get a pass on anything?

It's subjective and difficult to define, but something about this guy just screams "I will say anything to get elected." It's the same label Kerry had to wear in 2004 (nb: we'll talk more about the similarities between these two campaigns as the election progresses) and it is often fatal in elections. Eight years ago, Rove & Co. exploited this weakness, real or perceived, to devastating effect. We may be in for a repeat of that in 2012. The truth is that even when Romney answers a question directly and completely, we still walk away feeling like we have no idea where he stands because everything about him, his career, and his self-presentation screams "I will tell you whatever you want to hear if you'll please just love me."

Maybe I'm projecting that onto Mittens just as Obama's detractors see lies, hate, and manipulation behind every word he speaks. The perception does not appear to be limited to raging liberals, though. Why? Is it the hair? The obvious daddy issues? The slick, upper class glibness? The used car salesman tone of voice? Or is it merely the frequency with which he changes issue positions, the cumulative impact of which is to lead us to assume that nothing he says is to be taken seriously? If Romney can't find a way to prevent potential voters from visualizing an "All statements subject to change" subtitle under everything he says, even the billions of corporate dollars being poured into the campaign won't make it dramatic or interesting.

45 thoughts on “MITTSTERIOUS”

  • Mitt suffers from a common flaw of the genuinely wealthy: not really understanding the inner life of the other 99.99999(insert as many more '9's as you feel like)% of the population. That's not really a problem, unless you're running for office in a democratic country, in which case, you gotta either learn about that inner life (military service is often a good way to do this, or you can contract polio and spend much of your time living among the staggeringly impoverished people of western Georgia–though that's only if you're hard-core committed to the win), or you gotta learn to fake it (say what you will about Dubya–go on, say it, I can't hear enough about how much that man sucks–but he was able to convince most Americans that he ate what they ate, watched what they watched, cared about what they cared about.)

    Mitt will not do the former, and cannot do the latter. He is rich, and as a a result he lives in that bubble of privilege that isolates him from most of the really horrible consequences of being alive. There's nothing unique about this–many great American politicians were positively rolling in it.

    But Mitt is not an actor. And you have to be one to sell the kind of class-crossing empathy required to appeal to the base. It's pretty clear what Mitt believes–he's got a track record as a holder of executive office. But that track record is hurting his chances with a GOP controlled by the batshit brigade. So, what's to do? Pander, of course. Again, nothing wrong with this, but Mitt is, I would argue, falling victim to a semi-virtue: he's not a very good liar. (Note that I'm not saying that he doesn't lie. He does. We all do. But I think that, as a non-sociopath, he knows on some level that it's wrong, and then his Mormon guilt trips him up.)

    But you have to lie when you run for national office in a country this large. It's unavoidable. The electorate is too large, too diverse, too demanding. You've got to tell Peter he's you're number one, then catch the limo to the next convention center, where you'll tell Paul he is your numero uno. But Mitt views neither of these gentlemen as such (particularly Paul, whose first language appears to be Spanish.) It's not that he's lying to one of them–he's lying to both of them. Mitt's not inconsistent–he's perfectly consistent: he does not care, and he lies badly in saying that he does. Watch his body language as he speaks to *any* given group, and it's exactly the same: "Get me the hell out of here–I want to leave this place and these people and never ever return."

    Does Mitt even want to be president? Because the image he projects right now is a middle-school principal who's retiring at the end of the year, forcing his way through what he prays to God will be his final pep rally–he's gonna be professional and say all the right things, but oh Lord is his heart not in it…

    Wow. I'm actually starting to feel sorry for him. Better go re-read the account of the gay peer he assaulted.

  • Taylor Spraggs says:

    You're not projecting onto Romney.

    As a Canadian with no real vested interest in the presidential election, Obama may be greasy, but Romney is worse. Much much much emphasis added worse.

  • Shit. I wrote "you're" instead of "your." I am officially a Youtube commenter. "I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it. Time to write an eloquent haiku of self-condemnation on a rice paper scroll, then ritually disembowel myself on a floor blanketed with pages of Strunk & White.

  • Dixie Pomeroy says:

    The thing I've never gotten about him is why he went into politics in the first place. Since I always had the same questions about Dubya I can only conclude that the lingering daddy issues are strong in both of them. If Romney had come back from his Olympics leave of absence (unretroactively unretiring, I guess you would call it) he might still be at Bain now, with the same vast wealth and power that goes with it and no (well, fewer) pesky journalists asking questions about its practices. He's still have all his houses, local political influence, distinguished hair, and LL Bean grandchildren, and he wouldn't have to get up and make speeches every day trying to please strangers. Say what you will about Obama but I think there are many aspects of the political process that he genuinely loves. Romney just seems like he'd have absolutely no problem with waking up to find out his entire political career was just a dream.

  • Romney is an intensely sincere man, but there is a problem. All of his sincerity, and it is truly a considerable amount, is concentrated into one quality: insincerity.

  • duck-billed placelot says:

    What makes you say that Romney isn't a bad person? Do you just mean in comparison to other plutocrats? Someone who destroyed companies, offshored jobs, bilked the government/taxpayers of billions which incidentally increased his personal fortune via property values, and bullied a woman with five kids and a "health-threatening blood clot" to not have an abortion (just in case you were thinking it was all faceless/nameless/business stuff) – plus the time he strapped Gail Collins to the roof of his car – doesn't meet any threshold of good person that makes much sense to me.

  • Each instance I have seen of him changing his position has had the same character: Changing from a moderate or liberal POV to a view that, if not outright conservative, is conservative-acceptable. It's the convenience of his change that smacks of insincerity. He's not going to beat (D) Obama by being (R) Obama, so he shifts the things he says he believes to the right. I think the only thing he truly believes (and let's go ahead and extend this to most politicians) is that tactics like this are his best chance to win.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Mitt is the least natural politician I have ever seen!

    He is a terrible campaigner, with a stiff speaking style.
    Ans he can't be trusted in unscripted moments, lest his Little Lord Flaunt-it-alot come out, and he insults people cookies or their rain gear.

    Mitt giving a speech makes Carter, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry, look like Lincoln, Teddy, FDR, and JFK.
    Hell, he even makes Nixon look like Clinton, and "Poppy" Bush look like Obama.

    Look Plutocrats, we know he's one of yours, and he going to be your puppet – but someone forgot to take the operating stick out of that puppet's ass.

    And I'm not so sure that Mitt's ever changed positions, since I'm not sure he every had any core beliefs to begin with.
    When running for office, I just think that he's said whatever it is that people want to hear, so they'll vote for him, and he wins.

    And what's scary is, a man who believes in nothing, is liable to do anything.

  • Democrats "Flip Flop"

    Republicans "Evolve their positions over time"

    See how that works? Just like how Republicans automatically get a pass on being "tough".

  • @Dixie Pomeroy

    My take on Romney is that he's in it for power and ego — and there are at least two other possible motivations which he does not possess.

    Some politicians genuinely enjoy meeting and attempting to charm people from all walks of life — think Bill Clinton or even Dubya. Others truly believe in some sort of big ideological goals, above and beyond what gets the rubes to vote for them and/or the trains to run on time — such as LBJ or Dick Cheney.

    Romney is in politics because he likes being in charge and making decisions. Sure, he could have stayed on Wall Street and made an even bigger pile of money, or retired and put his feet up, but where's the challenge in that? President was the only job big enough to satisfy his ego. He sees grubbing for votes among the unwashed as necessary but intensely distasteful. As for ideology, I don't think he has any beyond a vague notion that what's good for Wall Street zillionaires is good for America.

    In this sense Romney resembles other businessmen-turned-politicians, most obviously Michael Bloomberg. His problem is that, while people might accept a cold-blooded technocrat for Mayor or Governor, they want something more for President — call it an emotional connection. Romney, without any natural charm or ideological fire in the belly, is struggling to achieve one — which means voters are a lot less inclined to forgive any policy wavering on his part.

    Of course, Romney also has a huge problem of substance, in that his health care reforms so greatly resemble Obama's. Now he has to pretend Romneycare never existed and Obamacare is the work of Satan. He is well aware that this is purest bullshit, and audiences pick up on this awareness.

  • Watching the Olympic footage of him telling the athletes they "didn't build that." I've concluded that he's probably a very shy and introverted individual. He's the kind who's very good at what he does, but would prefer to be left alone to do that. He's also very ambitious, and that comes into conflict w his core nature. To get to where he is, he's had to play the game, and he's out of his comfort zone. Imagine being asked to vote for Emily Dickinson. It probably wouldn't be very convincing that though she won't leave the house, will still make an excellent President. That I think pretty much explains his woodeness.

    That said, the whole "etch-a-sketch" thing certainly doesn't help, and effectively seals him as being ready to say or do whatever it takes to become President.

  • When have the presidential candidates been anything other then serial liars? Maybe Romney has Stockholm syndrome to the Tea Party.

  • Mitt was interviewed by Brian Williams last night. He was asked about his wife's horse and when it was competing. His answer–"That's really Ann's thing and I hope the horse does well but I don't know when it's competing and I won't be there to see it" reeked of the sort of smugness and insensitivity that make Romney completely unlikeable.

    Because I don't care when the horse if competing but it's YOUR WIFE'S HORSE and it's important to her and shouldn't you just have a smidgeon of emotional attachment to appear anything other than completely detached?

    He is worse than a bad campaigner. For having so much and having so little capacity to seem at all human.

  • @Talisker: I disagree with your comparison of Romney and Bloomberg. They are both rich but really the similarity ends there. Because Bloomberg genuinely cares about NYC and wants it to be a better place. He was Machiavellian about getting around term limits so he could have another term but I doubt anyone believes that this was much more than his thinking that he had more work to do and that he was the best person to do it. For the betterment of the city.

    Romney's motivation is much less clear. He wants to be president because he really believes that he can move this country in a better direction than anyone else? No, I don't think so. I think it is much more along the lines you laid out–he likes being in charge and making decisions. (Alternative view: It will look really good on his resume.) Not really a great reason to put someone in the Oval Office, is it?

  • @Rosies Dad: if you recall, the whole sob-story we 99% are supposed to buy is that the RMoneys are perfectly justified in taking a $77,000 tax loss on the horse because it's for his wife's therapy. How can that be when she and the horse aren't even on the same continent?

  • Although most politicians are duplicitous to some degree, not all of them are trying to convince the average American that they understand their experience, coming from a position of immense wealth, in the middle of a huge recession.

  • Romney's in a tough position.

    He can't really run on being governor of Massachusetts because
    1. Massachusetts means "New England Liberal" to much of the base.
    2. "Romney Care"

    He can try to run on his "business experience" but even his Republican primary opponents slammed him on Bain Capital.

    He can run as a "man of faith" but much of the party's base consider LDS to be little (if at all) better than a cult.

  • @John: FDR did *exactly* what you describe. He might not have experienced abject poverty, but he cared and wanted to do something about it. And in 2008 Obama was a multimillionaire from book sales.

    OTOH, trying to fake concern for poverty when you really couldn't care less gives off a repellent stench which is difficult to disguise with smooth talk.

  • @RosiesDad: Fair enough, I'm not saying it's an exact comparison. My point was that Bloomberg has the image of being pragmatic and somewhat aloof.

    I suppose a non-specific desire to "do good" is another key motivation for politicians. It's common among modern Democrats, I think it was important for Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama; but it could appear in Republicans too, as with Bloomberg, maybe Schwarzenegger and Reagan if you're being generous. At the other extreme, Nixon was a pretty good example of someone indifferent to human suffering.

    This is an interesting point — saying "I'm the best person to be leader" is a statement of both sheer ego, and desire to see good leadership. Most politicians will have a mixture of these two motives. It is hard to say which is more important, and they may not know themselves. Even an utterly selfish and amoral leader might achieve good things, if doing so advanced his own personal glory; but given the choice, you'd rather have one who actually cared about the welfare of his fellow citizens.

    There is plenty in Romney's biography to suggest he doesn't care all that much. In particular, he has very little understanding or sympathy for the struggles of people who are not stupendously rich. Even if he was trying to do good (and that's a pretty big "if"), his notion of "good" is so distorted and skewed towards the wealthy that it could be pretty harmful to the rest of us.

    Needless to say, I think Romney would be an appalling choice for the White House. The best you can say is that he is not as obviously insane as most other Republican candidates.

  • Romney has never articulated any reason why he's running for office.

    “I am running for President because I have the experience and the vision to lead us in a different direction.” — actual quote

    That's not a reason – that's word salad. I'm not sure he has a reason, other than he's wealthy and it seemed like a natural next step. The country certainly isn't being run in a way that is in any way offensive to his interests – he has nothing to complain about. So there's no passion, no drive – he knows that if he fails, the U.S. will be run in a way that is exactly compatible with his interests, just like it has been for all of recent history.

  • I'm not sure why all these billionaires like Romney, Koch, Scaife, Coors, Waltons etc. are so hell-bent on changing the system.

    The system seems to be working pretty darn well for them.

  • anotherbozo says:

    The comparison of Romney to Emily Dickenson blew me away, but there's something to it. Mittens is so awkward, EVEN IN FRONT OF CROWDS WHO ARE ALREADY BELIEVERS, that the situation cries out for analysis. I have to resort to a mental list:

    1. He wants the job and will do, say anything to get it, just because he wants it, not because he wants to "lead us" anywhere. He thinks "President Romney" has a nice ring.

    2. He has no center, never has, no set of core beliefs about anything. Put him on a desert island and His Christian faith would be negotiable.

    3. He is an introvert, HATES politics and certainly public speaking.

    4. He feels himself so far removed from the voting stiffs, and from having to ASK for anything, that even when he's on script, his attitude is

    "See these pretty beads?" You give me island, I give you beads, yes? Look! Pretty, pretty!"

    Never mind that the natives are reasonably intelligent adults. He doesn't speak their language, so all he can do is dumb-down his own. That, and an obscene shitload of money, will mean Victory.

  • Mitt has creeped me out since day one. The robotics hypothesis of Uncanny Valley describes it best for me :

    "Uncanny is an area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely human" and "fully human" entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly "strange" to a human being, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction."

    He wants to seem authentic and relatable, but he isn't.

    Plus, he is a cringe-inducing orator.
    At least Dubya was able to pull of the folksy aw shucks charm schtick. Mitt is just plain awkward.

    My favorite to date:

  • Monkey Business says:

    I agree with your point that changing viewpoints should not be seen as a sign of weakness. But, there's changing viewpoints based on empirical evidence, like Kerry did in regards to the War in Iraq once it became apparent that it had turned into a gigantic clusterfuck, and pandering, which is what Mitt Romney has done.

    When you compare Mitt Romney's positions in 2004 to Mitt Romney's positions in 2012, you can't say "Well, his thinking has just evolved.". He's tacked as far right as possible, following the trajectory of his political party. He did the same thing in 2008 as well.

    Not only that, but Mitt Romney lacks almost entirely the quality that most Americans look for in their political leaders: the belief that they understand what your normal, average, every day Joe is going through. Mitt Romney is the son of a governor and former auto industry executive. He's lived a life of extreme privilege. He genuinely doesn't get people that have to struggle to put food on the table or keep the lights on. He can't empathize with 99% of the population, because he was never part of 99% of the population.

    Whatever your opinion of President Obama's politics, there just aren't that many people that think that A) he's a bad person, and B) he doesn't "get" 99% of the population. I personally don't think Mitt Romney's a bad person either, but I do think there is a fundamental disconnect between Mitt Romney's America, and the America we actually live in. It is for that reason that Mitt Romney will lose in November.

  • @MajorK: Sure it's good, but it could be so much better! You're dealing, after all, with people whose lust for money borders on the pathological.
    I don't even want to waste my time trying to figure out old Mitt. I just go with a variant of the old Inspector Clouseau line and leave it at that: he believes in nothing; he believes in everything…
    It doesn't really matter much how cynically unprincipled he is, though – a whole lot of people will vote for him because (a) they hate those dirty hippies, (b) they hate those stuck-up liberal elitist liberals, (c) they hate those uppity Nihs (hat-tip to Governor LePetomaine there), (d) they hate those job-stealing wetbacks, (e) they hate those dirty commies, (f) they hate those free-loading, lazy, troublemaking lawn-Occupying back-sassing kids, (g) they hate those unAmerican, unChristian, Ay-rabbic Mooslim terrorists, and/or (h) they hate all those bleeding-heart appeasers who don't realize that we need a Strong Leader to make our country great – we could have a Thousand Year State, or even longer, with the right Leader, and you can't make an omelet without breaking a few dozen eggs.
    Hey, freedom is so over-rated, and most of us are happier being told what we can and can't do anyway.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Great comment, JohnR. Romney fascinates me the way Nixon used to, but I can understand why the interest isn't shared. A pretty morbid interest it is, anyway.

    Romney avoids particulars of What He's Going to Do if elected, because, as you say, he stakes most of his chances on his being the Not Obama.

  • Dixie Pomeroy says:

    I think the biggest difference between Mitttens and Bloomberg is their backgrounds. It's not like Bloomberg grew up in a one room shack or anything, but as a kid and young adult he was much closer to, and certainly had more day-to-day interaction with, the middle class voters Romney is now trying to appeal to. I would totally believe that Romney didn't see a black person who wasn't serving him food or opening his car door until well into adulthood. You can't underestimate the effect that his gilded upbringing has had on his current woodenness.

    One more thing that occurred to me when the prep school hair-cutting ambush story broke – he might be gay. In my experience the bullies who focused their wrath on kids they perceived to be gay were much more likely to have a few gay skeletons in their closets themselves. Maybe he doesn't allow himself to 'act natural' because he's deeply ashamed and afraid of what that natural state might turn out to be.

  • mel in oregon says:

    changing positions on global warming isn't like changing brands of toothpaste. romney is supposed to be someone with some formal education. the problem with denial is the scientists who say it's true which is 100% if you exclude the corporate whores, have no political agenda. as for bloomberg, yes he's right on calling out the two prez contenders, but he isn't good. there has been more racial profiling while mayor than any previous occupant of the office. the obvious problem with romney, (& who cares how much he flipflops) is his complete lack of understanding of the problems of most americans. that & his obvious lack of concern for those who have lost enormous home equity, Have been victims of foreclosure, the enormous un/under employment which he has no possible way of fixing, & the enormous credit card & student loan debt. besides his stupidity on issues, their is the con-man about him that is so obvious. he won't release his taxes. he has money stolen from the IRS in numerous countries. he makes you want to puke every time he speaks.

  • @RosiesDad:
    Romney is trying to distance himself from the dressage horse because he finally realizes it is bad optics.

  • As someone who has been in a room with Mitt Romney for two hours, I can assure you he is an extremely well programmed Life Model Decoy.

  • How is it that we can't paint the guy with the freakin' dressage horses as an "out of touch elitist" and make it stick?

    I mean really, this guy makes John Kerry look like Larry the Cable Guy.

  • Romney only has to focus the anti Obama/black of the whites. my lawyer siblings can't stand Obama because he is black and they have had enough of Affirmative Action/discrimination against Whites. that's the real reason Romney is doing as good as he is, considering how little in common Romney has with the rest of white America.

    the success of painting Obama as anti American, by the Repubicans, will tell the tale of whether Obama gets re-elected. Romney is the "Token" white guy. funny, i never thought i'd ever see such a conundrum.

    whites are so terrrified of losing control of America, as if they had such control to beging with. lol, but the Republicans have done such a wonderful job of stopping/blaming Obama for everything, which even White Democrats won't counter.

    such a fix. Romney the Robot over the Obama the Muslim socialist Kenyan Usurper. Talk about choices in the other post. lol

    what a wonderful ride. and to hear Ann Romney speak only shows how deeply disconnected and full of disdain the Elites, like Romney, Bush, et al, including the Democrats, are for us working/taxpaying proles.

  • As someone who has been in a room with Mitt Romney for two hours, I can assure you he is an extremely well programmed Life Model Decoy.

    Hilarious/terrifying stories coming out of Whitehall tonight. Not that it behoves any Presidential candidate to be admired overmuch by Europeans.

  • @ Elle

    Hilarious/terrifying stories coming out of Whitehall tonight. Not that it behoves any Presidential candidate to be admired overmuch by Europeans.

    – or anyone else for that matter, but the response from No 10 got a good laugh from the Muskoka Chair crowd.


  • @Just Me

    I am very excited by learning a new idiom! I have read the Wikipedia page on Muskoka/Adirondack Chairs, but it doesn't say who sits in them. If you can be bothered, I would love to know what this signifies.

  • @ Elle

    Happy to oblige. The Muskoka Chair crowd is a highly non-exclusive guild who flock at sunset to the decks overlooking the multitude of lakes in cottage/resort country north of Toronto and indulge in libations while pondering the minutiae of existance. Please join us if you're ever in the neighbourhood!

  • @ab: Sorry if I caused discomfort with my hyperbole. :)

    I was just trying to illustrate an idea of someone who suffers from agoraphobia or demophobia, yet is highly ambitious. Said person would have to put themselves into positions where they are pants wettingly desiring to run away screaming. Yet he still does, because he has to in order to achieve his ambitions.

    Just because someone like Dickinson was a complete recluse wouldn't preclude her from coming up with some excellent public policy. However, we don't consider recluses as "proper leadership material", and it would be a fair ask to have people vote for a recluse.

    But its obvious that the man is incredibly uncomfortable in these situations and as has been noted just isn't comfortable in his own skin. Find the video of him getting goosed during that photo op. during the primary. He just didn't know what to do.

    Imagine that happening to Papa Bush. Wouldn't happen, and if it did he'd go all grandfather on them and turn the offender over his knee and paddle them. Shrub would have found the humour in the situation and made a joke of it. Clinton would have invited them to become a White House intern.

    His secrecy sure doesn't help his cause, like the buying up and destroying of the computers from his term as Governor, and his not giving nuts n bolts of his policies. Whether we like the idea of the individual mandate or not, we do have to give him points for what he did achieve as Governor with Romney-care. Not single payer granted, but it sure as hell does something about the situation, and certainly isn't Medi-voucher.

    Question for those who have better understanding than I. Is it possible he has a mild form of Aspergers or related? It could go a long way to explain some of his behaviours, and being a bit wooden.

  • Does he realize, really deep down, that becoming President would mean having EVERYbody paying attention to EVERYthing he says and does for at least four years?

    As a kid, I dreamed of growing up to be Vice-President. Being President seems like a terrible, horrible, no-good job. Perhaps that's why only slightly cracked* people apply.

    *Or extremely cracked.

  • to Talisker:

    I take (semantic) exception to the phrase

    what's good for Wall Street zillionaires is good for America.

    Romney has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't care what's good for America. As long as the Americans who count are not taken down with the rest of us, of course.

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