Romney may have gotten one good line in, but as I mentioned, his answer to NBC’s Brian Williams’ question on gun control was awful.  The only place I was able to find a full transcript was a Conservative website, but here it is:

Williams: As governor you signed an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts. And you said at the time, quote, ‘These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.’ Do you still believe that?

Romney: Well, I actually signed a piece of legislation, as you described, that banned assault weapons in our state. It was a continuation of prior legislation. And it was backed both by the Second Amendment advocates like myself, and those that wanted to restrict gun rights, because it was a compromise. Both sides got some things improved in the laws as they existed. And I happen to think that with regards to the Aurora, Colorado disaster, we’re wise to continue the time of memorial and think of comforting the people affected. And political implications, legal implications are something which will be sorted out down the road. But I don’t happen to believe America needs new gun laws. A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.

Let’s break this down bit by evasive, mealy-mouthed bit, with my comments in red.

  1. “I actually signed a piece of legislation, as you described, that banned assault weapons in our state. It was a continuation of prior legislation.”  [He is basically trying to say: “it’s not my fault, it was like that when I got there.”]
  2. “And it was backed both by the Second Amendment advocates like myself, and those that wanted to restrict gun rights, because it was a compromise. Both sides got some things improved in the laws as they existed.” [It was an assault weapons ban–that means it restricted guns, period.  Don’t try to retcon everything so that you were more radically conservative.  He’s trying to appeal to the hardcore NRA members by lying to them, and what’s worse is that it’s not even a very good lie, as it makes him look like an incompetent governor.]
  3. “And I happen to think that with regards to the Aurora, Colorado disaster, we’re wise to continue the time of memorial and think of comforting the people affected. And political implications, legal implications are something which will be sorted out down the road.” [I said something similar on the day of the atrocity; I thought we should wait until more facts were known before talking about what to do to prevent it.  But now, more facts are known.  Romney is trying to dodge the question so that he doesn’t have to alienate any voters.]
  4. “But I don’t happen to believe America needs new gun laws.” [What happened to what you said in the previous sentence?  Do you want to talk about the political angle or not?  If America doesn’t need new gun laws, then tell us: what does it need?  Surely something can be done to prevent this kind of tragedy.]
  5. ” A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.”  [What? Yes, everyone knows mass murder is illegal, and yet it still occurs.  That’s true.  But the point is, you can make it harder for the crime to be committed.  What Romney said is a trivial generality; an attempt to dodge the question again.  And it succeeded, because Williams then moved on to another topic.] 

Stop the presses!

I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but I saw it with my own two eyes, I did!  He was being interviewed by Brian Williams of NBC, who said something like “an anonymous Romney staffer said you were planning to pick a boring white guy for VP”.  And Romney chuckled and said something like “you told me you weren’t interested.”  UPDATE: The verbatim quote from Romney was: “You told me you were not available”.  Same thing, really.

Now, it’s true that minutes earlier, Williams asked him something about a gun control law he passed as governor, and Romney answered with a barrage of weasel words and non-answers the likes of which I’ve seldom seen.  And even more pathetically, Williams totally let it go without follow-up questions.  But still, you have to give Romney credit: he made a joke that wasn’t awkward or forced, which is pretty rare for him.  And after all, “likeability” is what wins elections!

Really, it happened!  I tried to get the clip, or at least a transcript for you  at NBC’s website, but I can’t get the clip to embed, or even play correctly on my computer.  It might be here.  Or that might be an interview with Kathy Griffin.  For some reason, I was having a heck of a lot of trouble with navigating their site.

World War I propaganda poster depicting Britannia and Uncle Sam. Image via Wikipedia.

An anonymous Romney adviser has allegedly told the Daily Telegraph that Romney would improve relations with Britain because:

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

What a lot of people are talking about is the racial angle (pardon the pun) of this alleged quote.  One thing to keep in mind is that Obama is in fact partly English on the side of his mother, Ann Dunham.  (Dunham is an English name, for one thing.) But people are thinking this is a not-too-veiled racial attack.  I’d have to say I don’t what else the point of such quote could be, although it should be noted that the Romney campaign is saying this quote is inaccurate.  Well, if so, they should sue the Telegraph for libel.  If they don’t, it might seem like their guy actually said that, and they’re lying to cover it up.

What I really want to talk about, though, is this “special relationship” stuff.  I remember there was a big dust-up back in 2009 about the “special  relationship”, when Obama gave then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown a set of DVDs as a gift.  The Prime Minister had given him a pen-holder made from the HMS Gannet.  This upset a lot of people, but from what I can tell, Brown was treated like this by virtually everyone.  He had that anti-charismatic thing (a lot like Al Gore) that made people dislike him instinctively.  So I don’t think this means Obama doesn’t like Britain.

In practice, the “special relationship” seems to work like this: the British give us their culture–actors and actresses, authors, musicians–and we give them help whenever there’s a world war.  It’s not a bad system, all told.

Seriously, though: the “special relationship” seems to have been heavily emphasized by Winston Churchill, presumably for the purpose of convincing the U.S. to intervene in World War II.  And certainly, since America was founded people who had been British, there’s no doubt the two countries have a lot in common.  However, I don’t know that it is really that “special”.  Diplomatic relationships are usually forged and dismantled based on financial or military interests, not sentimentality.  If–Heaven forbid!–the United States’ relationship with Britain deteriorated, we would no doubt start saying “well, the whole country was founded because of a war with them, after all.”

That’s really the point: a lot of this is contrived stuff for people to argue about that ultimately doesn’t mean very much.  Example:  Romney says he’ll put a bust of Winston Churchill back in the Oval Office if elected.  Big deal.  I admire Churchill, but that really doesn’t matter very much in the scheme of things.  This is all a lot of pointless fighting over symbolism, as far as I’m concerned.

James Madison probably couldn’t win the Presidency today. He was only 5 ft 4. (Image via Wikipedia)

Liberal friends of mine sometimes wonder how I can be so optimistic about Obama’s chances in the election, and yet be so cynical about politics in general.  They wondered the same thing in 2008.

Basically, I support Obama, but I think he wins for the wrong reasons.  It’s not his fault, though.  I don’t think he can do anything about it, even if he wanted to.  It’s mostly due to the charisma thing that I talk about so much, rather than his actual policies, that Obama enjoys so much success.  There are always polls coming out showing more people just “like” Obama as a person than support all his policies.

It’s not just charisma–though-mostly–but all kinds of superficial factors.  Imagine if Obama had all the same policies, and said all the same stuff, but instead were a short, bald, pot-bellied, bespectacled man with a high-pitched, nasal voice.  I doubt he would have been elected Senator.  People don’t want to support a guy like that, even if he is totally right about things.  This is especially true since the advent of television.

Presidential elections aren’t really determined by policy, or ideology, or anything like that.  They are determined by who has the more “likeable” candidate.  The Democrats happen to have him at the moment, but the Republicans have had him in the past.

On paper, actually, Mitt Romney is a pretty good candidate for meeting the superficial requirements.  He’s good-looking for a man his age–“distinguished” I think is the term–and he looks fairly tall.  Decent speaking voice.  His only flaw, from a superficial standpoint, is his total inability to interact normally with people.  Perhaps he needs a holographic avatar to make it easier.

So, I’m quite cynical about politics, but I’m fortunate in that right now the political system seems to favor the candidate who supports the same policies I do.  In the long run, however, I think this is not the ideal way to pick a President.

So, the Obama Campaign released this ad earlier this week:

Effective ad.  Ironic contrast of music and imagery is always a good trick.  And Willard Mitt Sinatra there really needs to quit trying to sing; he always looks like a moron when he does.

But anyway, I’ve come to offer a half-hearted defense of the guy on this.   I still think he’s a rotten candidate from a rotten party; but I will say this:  that ad appeals both to nationalism and anti-intellectualism, both of which are hallmarks of the Republican party, and something I hate to see the Democrats doing.

First off: outsourcing.  Yeah, it’s terrible that people lose their jobs.  No one disputes that.  But standard Ricardian economics show that free-trade and comparative advantage are useful strategies for economic success.  That’s basic economics.  Also, a lot of these anti-outsourcing appeals rely, at some level, on anti-foreigner sentiment.  Not what I like to see.

The problem in this country isn’t so much the outsourcing itself as it is the lack of a good social safety net to help the out-of-work, along with a boneheaded resistance to Keynesian economic policies to help the macro-economy and provide jobs.  Now, Romney is part of a lot of those problems, and for that reason, I don’t think he’d make a very good President.  But the outsourcing itself makes economic sense.

Here’s the other point: if Romney would say something like:

I outsourced because it made sense for the company.  My job was to help the company and I did.  And as President, I will help the country.  It’s just that what’s good for the company might not work for the country, and vice-versa.

That’s a totally honest position, and I could respect that.  Of course, he won’t do that because, like I said: rotten candidate, rotten party.  They think you can run a country like it’s a business. 

All I’m saying here is that I’d like to see the Democrats focus more on what’s really wrong with the Republican party–see: hostility to macroeconomics and attempts to destroy social safety net, above.  This ad–which I’m sure will be quite effective–strikes me as contrary, in many ways, to what the Democratic party is supposed to believe in, or at least to what they actually end up doing in practice.  Do you think Obama really would, for instance, raise tariffs to stop this kind of thing?

This stuff Rush Limbaugh’s saying about the villain in the new Batman movie is just goofy.  I’m sure the name similarities will be fodder for political cartoonists, but what can you do?  Remember this, Limbaugh?

Why did Romney’s company have such a stupid name, anyway?  I know it’s spelled differently, but “bane”  means “a person or thing that ruins or spoils”.  Who names their company anything like that?  If I had a company, I wouldn’t name it “kanser”.

And, on the topic of Batman and politics, I just can’t resist posting this clip that made the rounds in 2008.  Make what comparisons you like:

Her dress reminds me of Queen Amidala's in "Star Wars".
“The Crystal Ball” by John William Waterhouse. Via Wikipedia

About four years ago, the conservative site Townhall had a poll you could vote in for who you thought McCain would pick for Vice President.  Well, much like Ross Scott’s Gordon Freeman, if I see buttons I just have to push them, so I voted in the poll.  I picked somebody named Sarah Palin, who I had never even heard of, but I figured “McCain will pick a woman, but not the obvious one that everyone is bandying about, Kay Bailey Hutcheson.”

So, today, I saw that they’re conducting a similar poll for Romney.  For this one, though, they want your email address, no doubt so that they can send you ads, so I’m not going to actually vote.  Also, there are no buttons to push.  Where’s the fun in that?  Anyway, though, I scanned the list and let me officially go on record as picking Governor Susana Martinez.  Once again, I don’t know who she is.  But she is a woman, and she has a Hispanic surname, and Romney needs help with both demographics.

AMERICAblog notes that a recent poll found that not only is Mitt Romney less popular than Obama, he is also less popular than George W. Bush.

This is what I mean when I talk about charisma.  I mean, I like Bush better than Romney.  I don’t know why.  Bush seems like a more easy-going guy, I guess.  There’s no logical reason for it; I’ve never met either of them.  And say what you want about Romney, but he does not have a proven track record anything like Bush’s.  Romney didn’t preside over the beginning of one of the worst recessions in history.  Romney didn’t declare major combat operations had ended in a highly controversial military operation that would continue for another eight and a half years.  It’s totally irrational.

Seriously, Bush became a two-term President almost entirely because of his mysterious ability to seem more likeable than other guys.

Oh, come all my friends, pray gather round me;

I’ll sing you a song of a man called Willard Mitt Romney.

Oh, Willard Mitt Romney had millions of bucks.

He cut a fine figure in a well-tailored tux.

He was groomed from the first to become President.

He  looked Presidential wherever he went.

He came from fam’ly distinguished and famed,

And his policies in Massachusetts were highly acclaimed.

But there was one problem besetting this man;

A problem that threw a wrench in his Executive plan;

A problem which many a comic did often exploit:

‘Twas that he was a complete social maladroit!

Everyone stood in silence whene’er he cracked jokes,

With his horses and jets, he didn’t fit in with common folks.

He once bet 10,000 American on a light little whim,

And he couldn’t tell why all the voters couldn’t relate to him.

And as for his healthcare plan, well, it’s sad to tell;

It turned out it had succeeded entirely too well!

But ‘midst all these clouds, Mitt glimpsed some silver lining them:

He’d got lots of cash from the rich by wining and dining them!

It all boiled down, (as it always does), to the issue of money

Would it be a curse or a blessing to Willard Mitt Romney?

You know that “charisma” stuff I go on about all the time on here?  The quality that is more important than any other to winning elections?

Romney doesn’t have it.

I know, that’s not news.  But it never ceases to amaze me how singularly lacking he is in this quality.

I was listening to a snippet of some speech of his on the radio.  It bored me.  That’s a bad sign for him; if he were a half-way charismatic fellow, he’d have had me outraged.  All the charismatic people on the Republican side can make do that.  But Romney is just dull.

You don’t even have to consider the content of their speeches–and Heaven knows, too many voters probably don’t–to see the difference.  Obama sounds passionate and fired up when he speaks, whereas Romney’s voice sort of cracks whenever he tries to raise his voice to a powerful crescendo.

Sure, tons of people will vote for Romney because they hate Obama.  People are either going to vote for Obama or against him, but nobody is going to vote for Mitt Romney.  He is just hoping that enough people will hate the incumbent to vote him in.  That was the strategy for the last uncharismatic guy from Massachusetts, too.

And now there are rumors that his campaign plans to “avoid John McCain’s mistake”–to wit, make a dull pick, without any charisma, the opposite of Sarah Palin.  This is also a terrible idea, though speaking as one who hopes Romney does not get elected, it pleases me greatly.

I suspect that, in the end, Palin helped McCain’s 2008 campaign.  Yes, you read that right.  It is true that she made a fool of herself in her interviews, but what of that?   The Republican base does not believe anything in the mainstream press, and consequently explained that away as “media bias”.

You say: “but she alienated the moderates”.  No, she didn’t.  The moderates were already alienated, because they were going to vote for Obama no matter what.  No one except a die-hard Republican was going to vote for John McCain, and even they didn’t like him much.  Palin served to energize the only group which would even consider voting for John McCain.  From a purely strategic point of view, she was a good pick.  A rotten candidate, but a good pick.  Curious how that can happen.

Anyway, if the Romney people do decide to double down on dullness, I think it will signify that the people running his campaign are basically counting on a massive economic disaster to make Obama unpopular.  And I suppose that could happen.  Kind of sad, though, if your entire campaign depends on something like that.