No, He’s Not Pretending

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.”


bout Mitt Romney and his recently uncovered attack on the poor, the elderly, and working folks, conservative columnist David Brooks—one of only a handful of conservatives left who understand Burkean conservatism—made many good points in his column in today’s New York Times.

However, this wasn’t one of those good points:

Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. 

The first problem with that assessment of Romney is that it is difficult to conceive how a man can be “a kind, decent man” while “pretending to be something he is not” in order to obtain political power. Brooks is better than that, as a thinker.

But the real problem with that rather generous assertion is that it simply isn’t true. Romney is not pretending. That much is obvious to anyone paying attention to his campaign, even David Brooks, who earlier in his column wrote:

Romney’s comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact. In 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62 percent of Republicans believed that the government has a responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves. Now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Republicans believe that.

The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers.

I don’t know how Brooks can assert that Romney is only “pretending” to be a “government hater” and yet suggest Romney “has shifted over toward a much more “hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view,” a reactionary and radical view that now represents almost two-thirds of the Republican Party.

At one time, I also thought Romney was a pretender, attempting to trick conservatives into thinking he bought into all their extremist nonsense. But unlike some folks in the mainstream press, who keep on insisting that Romney will soon abandon his extremist rhetoric and “move toward the center,” I am convinced by the evidence that Romney is who he has been telling us he is.

No one opportunistically becomes and remains “hyperindividualistic and atomistic” unless it resonates in his soul, and finds a welcome home in his thoughts.

The problem for Romney is that he perfectly embodies, and enthusiastically embraces, what it is that ails the Republican Party. Anyone watching that video clip of Romney speaking before wealthy donors—at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser—immediately notices how fluidly he writes off half the American people, not struggling to find the words to express himself, like he did, say, at that press conference called to defend his disgraceful response to the murder of Americans in Libya.

Romney is at home with those wealthy folks, and at home with people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Erick Erickson, who tweeted yesterday:

And Romney is at home with one of the most angry, repulsive right-wing commentators working today, Michelle Malkin, who chimed in this morning:

NEVER be defensive or apologetic,” she shouts at Romney, because extremists like her don’t quite trust him, can’t quite go all-in on his candidacy because they are not yet convinced he is as hard-bitten as they are.

And while conservatives may not completely trust Romney, he most definitely trusts them. He trusts that the hard-ass philosophy they champion is a winning philosophy, and he sticks with it, even as he slips in the polls, because he fundamentally believes it. He really is one of them, despite the fact that he has had a hard time winning them over.

This headline from NBC News tells us what we need to know:

No, he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t back down when it is obvious he should, when it is obvious he got his facts wrong, when it is obvious he has offended so many, including so many Republicans who fall into that “47%” he casually, oh-so-casually, wrote off.

At his press conference hastily called to explain his remarks, Romney—who has refused to release relevant tax returns—defended his remarks by repeating the tax lie constantly broadcast by conservatives on Fox and elsewhere:

It’s a message which I’m gonna carry and continue to carry that says, “Look, the President’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes…”

He keeps telling the lies. He isn’t backing down. And it is not just because he doesn’t want to offend Michelle Malkin or Erick Erickson, or not just because Rush Limbaugh will call him Elmer Fudd again on the radio. He doesn’t back down because he doesn’t want to back down. He really does believe what he told those rich donors. He really does hold utter contempt for people he perceives as “dependent upon government,” who, he claims, refuse to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Many of us have characterized Romney as “soulless,” a man who would say or do anything to become president. And it has been the case that he would say or do anything, including changing his positions on a daily basis, to achieve that high office and the power that goes with it. But now, curiously on this issue, he has finally drawn a clear line.

With that line he has split the American people into the “makers” and the “takers,” and he has made a decision to defend that divisiveness, to defend that view of the people.

And in the process he has, at last, shown us he does have a soul, one with a very dark and cynical vision of America.

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  1. The “fluidity” of Romney’s speech in dismissing half the populace is a point well-taken, it is a hypothesis with verisimilitude. That fluidity would not exist unless it were practiced speech.

    But it occurs to me that there is more to his persona than contempt for persons of little means. Consider Romney’s background. His father was a wealthy, successful, driven executive. He attended elite and competitive institutions throughout his schooling. The hazing incident in which he was a leader. The nature of Bain Capital wherein it capitalized cleverly on the failures of others. This is a competitive man, a man of gamesmanship, a man whom other executives would admire for just such traits. It is a reasonable hypothesis, I submit, that Romney’s core motivation for politics is simply to excel at a challenge, a challenge which just happens to be the one at which his father failed. Compassion for the less fortunate might coexist with such a background but beyond his church-mandated and tax-exempt tithing there appears to be no evidence of such in Mitt Romney’s case.

    How tempting would it be for a man of competitive mien, a thirst for prevailing, to defer lesser measures and prioritize the ultimate tools of power, the Defense Department? Diplomacy can be ever so frustrating, so time-consuming, so boring.


    • Jim,

      Well said.

      While I hesitate to speculate on the deeper psychological motives of folks, beyond what is obvious to the eyes, I do think your hypothesis is reasonable.

      But I think it has a slight flaw to the extent it relies (I’m not sure how much it does) on overcoming his father’s failure to become president. And I say that because I have read a little about his father and I can say that nothing Romney has done in this election cycle would make his father, at least the one known publicly, proud of his behavior. Thus if Romney were trying to somehow achieve something his father couldn’t get done, he is doing it in a way that does not honor the public’s memory of his father.

      You might be right, though, that his primary motivation is climbing the highest mountain, which in our politics is the presidency. And I am especially worried that should he get to the top, the challenge of being the toughest SOB and Commander-in-Chief to ever occupy the office might overcome him and, well, let’s don’t even think about it.




      • King Beauregard

         /  September 18, 2012

        Maybe it’s something depressingly simple? Romney asked himself “Why shouldn’t I be president?” and couldn’t think of a single reason why not. Now, I can think of a half dozen reasons why I would be a lousy president, and I imagine most people are reasonable enough to see they’re not up to the job. Not Romney, though — it’s a thing he thinks he can attain, therefore he’s going for it.

        Same thing with Bush: the very concept of “competence” doesn’t exist in his world, so at no time did he ask himself whether he would make a good president before he was elected, and at no time did he ask himself during his presidency (as far as I can tell). In Bush’s mind, the presidency was just another prestigious position where he could do stuff, some stuff worked out and other stuff did not, and that’s how life goes. Bush understood blame but not responsibility, and I don’t know that Romney’s much better.


        • King Beau,

          I think, too, that we are forgetting the religious aspect of pursuing the job. I will speculate wildly here that Bush II possibly saw the presidency from the inside during his father’s term and thought, “I can do this. I can do what my dad couldn’t get done. And I think God wants me to.” I offer some evidence for this from a book written by a Christian named Stephen Mansfield:

          The book also shows that in the lead-up to announcing his candidacy for the presidency, Bush told a Texan evangelist that he had had a premonition of some form of national disaster happening.

          Bush said to James Robinson: ‘I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can’t explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen… I know it won’t be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.’

          Now, some will ridicule Bush’s faith, and I admit it scares me to think he believed he was picked by God to be president, but one thing I will say about him is that no matter what you think of his beliefs, he actually held them with conviction. And perhaps that is, above else, what motivated him to become president. And I am sure, knowing the evangelical mind, that the Florida fiasco in 2000, and the Supreme Court weighing in on his side, only confirmed his belief that God blessed his decision.



  2. writer89

     /  September 18, 2012

    Do you know what group of Americans are included in that 47% who don’t pay any federal income taxes? Members of the military deployed to a combat zone! They are exempt from income tax. So according to RMoney, those soldiers are people “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” RMoney disses the troops in Afghanistan. Is he TRYING to lose? Sure seems like it.

    Mitt says he’d have a better chance at being elected if he had Latino parents. Seems to me he’d have a better chance if he had a conscience.


  3. Yellow Dog

     /  September 18, 2012

    Romney would have a better chance of being President if he was from Mars and could prove it.

    This is the week he lost the election and the Repub’s know it.


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  September 19, 2012


    I only respond to his view of not taxing military personnel deployed overseas. He is correct, I think, but am not sure if EVERYONE so deployed is exempt. I THINK it is only those serving in combat zones.

    I met a young sailor a few years ago that reenlisted and received a huge bonus for doing so, around $20,000 as I recall. He was “overseas” deployed on a submarine “minding the store” near the Persian Gulf and yes, his bonus was tax free saving him in the range of $4,000 or so, maybe less.

    There are about 155,000 Americans in the Civilian Work Force and thus potentially “income tax payers”. Half of that is some $75 + Million folks paying NO income tax. There are a max of 1.5 Million in our military and only a fraction are “overseas” at any given time, say 150,000 at most today.

    Now compare the total number in the military not paying income taxes to the other 75 MIllion not doing so as well.

    Then you decide who contributes to our lack of tax revenues?



    • Uh, Anson, half of 155,000 is 77,500, not “$75 + Million folks”. You are confusing money with numbers of people and getting your decimal points mixed up as well. You might want to revisit your analysis if you want anyone to pay attention. Suggestion: have someone else do your taxes for you.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  September 19, 2012

    Obviously I mistyped the number in the civilian workforce. It is about 155 MILLION. The 150,000 or so in combat zones is a fairly good approximation however. 150,000 out of 75 MILLION non-income tax paying Americans is……!



    • You are confusing two different issues. On the one hand, while I agree the number of non-taxpaying soldiers within that 47% is rather small, the approximately 50% of the nontaxpayers who are retired and living on Soc. Sec. is NOT. Nor are the working poor, students and others who are not actually mooching layabouts, as right-wingers so love to characterize them. My point about the soldiers was that Mitt dissed the ENTIRE group of 47% who were not paying taxes, calling them moochers, and thus, by extension, calling the soldiers in combat zones moochers. Those are two different issues, which you are throwing together to create a straw man argument. This is typical of right wing thinking. Yes, it’s true that it’s not good to be permanently or even temporarily dependent on others, unless you are a child or an old person or handicapped, which many of that 47% in fact are. But by conceding that, I am not also conceding that government programs such as welfare and food stamps create an entire class of people who are unable to fend for themselves. That is a myth rising out of the fever swamps of the right wing. The fact that a handful of people may take advantage of a system is not grounds for dumping the entire system. Romney is not against welfare because he thinks everybody cheats. He’s against welfare because he’s a SOCIAL DARWINIST. If you want to argue about this point, let’s focus on that, because that’s the key to understanding where Romney/Ryan/Limbaugh/Hannity etc. are coming from. “This is the law of the Yukon, that only the strong shall thrive; that surely the weak shall perish, and only the fit survive.” Robert W. Service said that, but it’s the core of right-wing economic philosophy. I and all other liberals reject that concept as it applies to human beings in the 21st century.


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