SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
So here we are, hours away from the great debate, and Mitt Romney has announced his determination . . . to cheat.
The presidential debate in Denver this evening is supposed to be exclusively about domestic policy. But in today’s New York Times, we read that “advisers said he would try to broaden the argument against Obama’s job performance by raising questions about how his administration handled the attack on a diplomatic mission last month in Libya that killed four Americans.”
In other words, he intends to cheat, by bringing a foreign-policy issue into a domestic-policy debate.
Mitt and fellow Republicans such as Darrell Issa and Donald Rumsfeld have been trying for days now to exploit the tragic death of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Libya, concocting the story that the administration is guilty at least of gross negligence in their deaths, and suggesting that an attempt was made to “cover up” the details of the attack in order to protect what they see as President Obama’s policy of weakness and appeasement.
This is contemptible, of course, but, worse, it isn’t working. Sure, some of the usual magic-bean buyers in the mainstream media have run with it—I’m looking at you, Maureen Dowd—just as they believed all the Republican talking points about WMDs in Iraq or the Whitewater non-scandal. But the public just doesn’t care.
So, Romney and his advisers hatched a little scheme to get them to care, by suddenly throwing this foreign-policy issue into tonight’s debate on domestic policy. No doubt, they were hoping that the president would be caught flatfooted and give some feeble response along the lines of, “But this is supposed to be about domestic issues!”
Whereupon, Mr. Romney would pounce, replying, “It’s never the wrong time to talk about the murder of American citizens, Mr. President!”
No doubt, this is one of the “zingers” Romney’s campaign has also told us in advance that it has planned. The only trouble with dropping in a little bombshell like this—besides the fact that it’s cheating—is that you’ve now let the other side know you’re going to do it by announcing it in the New York Times. Like zingers, surprise cheating is no surprise if you’re going to tell everyone beforehand.
Romney’s penchant for tactical blunders like this one are the sort of thing that makes it all the more inexplicable that he ever became such a titan of the financial world. I mean, how do you negotiate anything, or plot the sorts of corporate financial takeovers Romney’s Bain Capital firm specialized in, if you announce your strategy in advance? It makes me wonder if there wasn’t some eminence gris who was the real brains of the operation over at Bain, plotting strategy while Mitt provided the contacts and the seed capital.
Tellingly, in the same Times piece in which Romney’s aides broadcast his surprise, we were told that the candidate “has practiced being ‘respectfully aggressive’ . . . with a goal of pleasing Republicans who believe he has been too passive.”
Here we are, just about a month before the general election, and Mitt Romney is still trying desperately to pander to what should be his own electoral base. Even with the campaign and his entire political life on the line, he does not dare stray too far from the party line—or even the party posture.
I don’t know who the guiding voice in Mitt Romney’s ear may have been at Bain Capital, but I can be sure who it would be in the White House.
More from Kevin Baker:
Appreciation — June 26, 2014, 8:00 am
From Johnny Cash to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”
New York Revisited — June 19, 2014, 8:00 am
And how it foretold the 2008 financial crisis
Rolls of toilet paper Chicago’s city government has produced this year from recycled City Hall wastepaper:
Two thirds of U.S. teenagers experience uncontrollable rage.
Russia lost, then regained, contact with a satellite carrying five geckos sent to copulate in zero gravity.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”