The Hillary Rosen Kerfuffle
The Hillary Rosen kerfuffle is like an early skirmish in a long war. It doesn’t have much to do with the outcome but it tells you a lot about what you should be wary of in your enemies. The Allies in the First World War should have known it was going to be a grim business as soon as they went up against enemy machine guns. Japan knew very early in the Second World War, at the Battle of the Coral Sea, just months after Pearl Harbor that the successful attack on battleships had become irrelevant because the naval war in the Pacific was going to be between aircraft characters. Politics is war by another name. It uses rhetorical poses as its weapons and one should be wary of the weapons your enemy deploys. Do you have a way to answer it?
The problem with Hillary Rosen, the third string Democratic commentator that the Romney people decided to use as a foil, was that on some talk show or other she took Mitt Romney at his word and pounced on his words. He had said that his wife Anne was his main advisor on women’s issues and so he could be relied on to know what was going on and so was not waging a war on women. Rosen said that was ridiculous. Anne Romney could hardly serve as a main advisor on women’s issues—as opposed to, let us say, though Rosen did not say this, Hillary being a key advisor on women’s issues to Bill, given that Hillary had been involved in women’s issues from the time she was a young lawyer in Washington and would become notorious for having authored an article that advocating children rights independent of the rights of their parents. Not only hadn’t Anne Romney ever made women’s issues a public cause, and not only did she lack any academic credentials in the area, she had not even, as the infamous quote had it, “worked a day of her life” and so had no personal experience on which to base her supposed advice to her husband. Case closed. Mitt Romney was just tossing out words without meaning, words he could not stand behind.
And that is what got Hillary Rosen into trouble. Nobody thought Mitt Romney’s words were to be taken seriously. Of course, his wife was not his main advisor on women’s issues. She was a housewife who lived very high off the hog. Mitt’s words were just fluff, a way to pay a compliment to his wife and an awkward way to say that he did care about women’s issues. People shouldn’t read too much into Mitt’s words, and so everybody had to jump ship on Rosen, including the President, his spokespeople, and even the feminists on the talk show circuit, who said that the real issue was not what Rosen said but that Mitt’s policies were not good for women.
The same thing happened when Mitt said that 93% of the people who lost their jobs under Obama were women. He said this in the course of the week to counter charges that the Republicans were waging a war against women in that they were against birth control, equal pay and other legislation aimed at aiding women. Timothy Geithner said on Sunday that such a claim was ridiculous because the women who were let go were the women employed as nurses and teachers and librarians who states could no longer keep employed when their receipts went down in the second and third year of the recession while the men laid off in construction and manufacturing had been let go in the last year of the Bush administration. So the blame goes to the recession as a whole, which began under Bush, rather than on what happened on Obama’s watch—as if blame ought to be apportioned by what happened before Jan. 20, 2009 or after it, rather than on the conditions which led to the shutdown of free flowing capital, for which Geithner has to carry his own weight of blame. The important question, however, that Geithner avoided simply, I think, because it didn’t occur to him to be this elementary, was to ask what was it about the Obama policies that led to the lay off of women. Did executive orders from Obama lead to a differential between men and women layoffs? Romney’s statistic, then, is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with Obama. It is just cited, a factoid, with a tone of contempt which is what places the blame. And that is all that Romney does: he sounds contemptuous and will once in a while cite irrelevancies as if they backed up his contempt. It is very difficult to counter such an attack with reason because you have to construct a case for Romney that is reasonable before you knock it down, whereas Romney doesn’t have to be reasonable in the first place. He just says things and lets his opposition do all the work. It could make for a long summer of answering accusations stated without the case for the accusation being made if you fall into letting Romney take that rhetorical initiative.
I don’t think, though, it will take that much to overturn that rhetorical applecart. Obama weighing in with a “ridiculous” when Romney pulls a particular stupid example of this rhetorical style should be enough, especially if Obama keeps hammering away at the incident as a clear signal to what Romney is really like: all bluster and no content, filling his speeches with empty vituperation and never getting down to where facts take hold. Obama must have decided that the Hillary Rosen case was not the battleground on which to fight: it was too early and too easily misinterpreted to pounce on. Obama remains in his lair, though he will have to be careful, not waiting too long before an outrageous statement starts its play, lest he fall into Kerry’s certainty that the swift boat accusations would just play themselves out. The media didn’t know what they should do about the swift boaters and so they trumpeted the charges even while saying they were difficult to substantiate, especially given the suspicious sources of those making the charges. At the moment, the media still hasn’t caught on to Romney’s tactic, or doesn’t know how to deal with the Romney factoids, reporting them as if they are facts that have to be reckoned with.
Moreover, Romney doesn’t have the personality to make his charges, whatever they are, stand up as credible. He is just too pompous however much he tries to be self-deprecating. He is full of awkward gestures and badly worded phrases. It can’t be, as some commentators suggest, because he is only comfortable with Mormons. He had to deal with other groups as a politician and as a businessman. What he gives off is contempt for the voters. They can’t be expected to respond to anything but flim-flam even if an associate at Bain Capital would have been fired for citing the ridiculous statistics that Romney uses on the campaign trail. That was business; this is politics, a far less serious pursuit.
It didn’t have to be this way. Romney had a credible record as a one term governor of Massachusetts and had other unusual qualifications: he had indeed done well when he took over the Salt Lake Olympics and had a career as a successful businessman, something that hasn’t been parlayed into a Presidential nomination since Wendell Wilkie. It gave him something of a fresh resume. Moreover, his signal accomplishment as governor had been Romneycare which indeed was the model for Obamacare. He could have portrayed that as a life accomplishment which gave him the knowhow to fix the parts of Obamacare that were in need of fixing. He had specialties in health, and in the construction of businesses, and in dealing with public events. What more could you want? He was weak on foreign policy, but so was Obama when he became President, even though Obama had been a keen student of foreign policy ever since he was an undergraduate. It would have been a campaign of the can do guy against the intellectual guy, and that is something Romney still alludes to, and we know who wins those kinds of races in American politics. Remember Gore v. Bush and Stevenson v. Eisenhower?
But, no, Romney was not going down that route. He wanted to assure himself the nomination and so he went hard right, willing to earn a reputation as a flipflopper just so he could not be outflanked on the right. And now he is left to run as-- what? Rick Santorum except that you know in your heart that Romney knows in his heart that the government should, as the expression goes, stay out of the bedroom. He wouldn’t fail to flip flop back to the center if he became President. He couldn’t help it. That is just the way he thinks. All he would do to Obamacare is polish it. He would also, perhaps reluctantly, appoint very Conservative Supreme Court Justices and arrange taxes so that rich people would get even richer on the general principle that the secret to the economy is its inevitable growth, not the fairness of its tax structure. That is a problem only in revolutionary times and this is certainly not one of those.
Now that the dust has settled, it is clear that Romney would have won the nomination anyway. He had just too much money. Even Texas could have been bought, and even if not, he would have gone into the convention with all the large population states (Texas maybe excepted) and could have run as the responsible Republican. The convention rejected Taft for Eisenhower; and all Buchanan got out of the convention in ’96 was a speech. Mitt panicked and so is not now in the catbird seat. Obama feints and ducks and then gets in a jab, setting his opponent up for a real shot to the face. Obama is the candidate for the long pull. I can’t wait for the rat-tat-tat of the blows that tie Romney to the Ryan Budget, which guts Medicare and Medicaid and raises taxes on everybody but the rich, while giving the rich a pile of money, and doesn’t even get close to balancing the budget. Take that, Mitt.