|This is actually a pretty good checklist.|
I’m busy with other projects–dissertating, researching, and watching Breaking Bad, in ascending order–but I wanted to point out that the problem with Mitt Romney’s statement about the attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt is not what it tells us about foreign policy. We know very little about Romney’s foreign policy views, and it is possible that Romney himself hasn’t thought deeply about the it. (Indeed, my
gut feeling informed intuition has long been that most American presidents simply don’t have well-informed views on things like military intervention before they take office.)
The problem with Romney’s statement is that it was a poorly-chosen, poorly-timed message.
For all his presentation as a cautious businessman, Romney has consistently shown that he has little idea how to sell himself in person. True, he has good instincts about how to market himself–stay away from the media, keep the campaign largely on message, don’t worry about temporary roadblocks like Herman Cain–but that is entirely different from being a good spokesman on his own behalf.
Yet unlike a native politician, such as Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, or whoever is running for sheriff in your county this year, Romney lacks the finely honed filter that prevents him from unintentionally saying really dumb stuff.
The “two Cadillacs” gaffe, the “I like firing people” quote, that some-of-my-best-friends-are-NASCAR-owners slip–they are all qualitatively different from Obama’s worst verbal errors (“you didn’t build that” and, I guess, the “57 states” things), which are the products of fatigue and temporarily verbal confusion. By contrast, Romney’s slips have comported with what many people (including, lest we forget, a substantial majority of Republican primary voters) thought he is: a distant plutocrat who’s only honest when he isn’t paying attention.
The most recent statement, which pretty blatantly politicized a moment of national grief, added a newer, sinister dimension to this image. Instead of Romney-as-clueless-Richie-Rich, we now have Mitt-the-Machiavelli, whose only thought is how the deaths of dedicated public servants affect his campaign. That this was not a slip of the tongue but the product of the campaign’s top strategists and, allegedly, the candidate himself speaks volumes about how the candidate sees himself. But it says nothing about how he sees the United States and its role abroad.
Late Update: I wanted to clarify the post’s relationship to its title. Why is Romney’s statement such a problem? It’s not that it’s part of a well-thought-out philosophy of “not apologizing” (both because the timing was wrong to release that critique, and because the philosophy is not well-thought out), as David Weigel at Slate implies. Rather, it’s that it shows that Romney may actually lack the kind of empathy that we normally presume that presidential candidates have. To be blunt, Romney may in fact be less empathetic than Nixon, whose career (as Rick Perlstein and others have argued) was in part driven by resentment at the slights, real and perceived, that the Establishment committed against the ordinary striver. This may not, in some grand philosophical sense, disqualify one from the presidency, but it normally disqualifies you from being a presidential candidate.