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Sunday, May 13, 2012

The evolving of an asshole

 In an effort to combat the prevailing image of Mitt Romney as woodenly detached and given to a constant stream of verbal clumsiness and foolery, his campaign has insisted that anyone who knows Romney knows him as a funny, fun-loving, kind soul who doesn't have mean bone in his body.  The staff encouraged reporters to look to his past and people who knew him then.  A Washington Post reporter did just that and came up with some detailed accounts of what a fun-loving, hilarious lad Willard Romney was in prep school.

One incident came about when, during the early 1960s, Willard saw a young man on campus with hair too long and too bleached for Mitten's taste,  He said, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”  And so a couple days later he rounded up a posse, ran the young man down, held him on the floor, and cut off his hair, while the young man yelled in fright for help.  Boy, did that send chuckles and chortles of affability through the student body, even though five men who were interviewed about the incident express shame and regrets today.  

The real thigh-slapper involved an English teacher with Mr. Magoo eyesight.  He walked into closets and became the object of pranks from his adolescent charges.  The one recounted is when the teacher and some students, including Mitty, accompanied him to the library, the entrance of which had a double set of glass doors.  Romney opened the first door to graciously allow the teacher to pass.  At the second door, Romney gave a gracious after-me gesture with his arm toward the unopened glass door.  The teacher walked into it, which sent Romney into spasms of mirth and glee.  Oh, that Mitty was a card.  

The reactions to the story about Romney's boyhood escapades falls into predictable categories.  Some find the stories a definitive revelation of his personality.  Others insist that citing boyhood moments of insouciance is irrelevant, because all humans are subject to the vagaries of puerile thought and culture as they mature.  However, those who study the development of the human psyche say that the element of malice involved in adolescent acting out and whether a person develops and shows a responsible attitude about it over time is the significant factor in personal history.  Some personality traits that show antisocial hostilities are apparent in childhood and, rather than being surmounted, become a part of a person's operant character.

In the case of Romney's boyhood pranks, the significant aspect is they they were not general pranks anonymously targeted, but were aimed at specific individuals  and were expressions of Romney's attitude about them.  He wished to inflict humiliation and dominance on them as an expression of his level of regard for them, not merely to elicit laughter at some general human foibles.

Part of Romney's trickery in these cases was to humiliate and elicit denigration and contempt of personal traits on which Romney was passing judgments.  His classmates who were witnesses or participated in the acts expressed shameful remorse in remembering incidents of 50 years ago, while Romney claims he can't recall them.  

Incidents which in most cases would be regarded as part of those childish things that are put away with manhood in Romney's case inform the strange insouciance he demonstrates in manhood and particularly on the campaign trail. 

Some of his peculiarities elicit humor but bewilderment.  One of his themes on the campaign trail gave a friend of mine, who is a forester from the days I was actively involved in silviculture, a mind-stopping WTF-is-he talking-about moment.  It is Romney's peculiar judgment about the trees of Michigan.  As if the trees can vote.  

He first broached the subject when he was campaigning in 2008, when addressing a social club in Detroit:  "I love being in Michigan.  Everything seems right here. You know, I come back to Michigan; the trees are the right height. The grass is the right color for this time of year, kind of a brownish-greenish sort of thing. It just feels right.”

During his primary campaign this year, he revived that theme, telling one audience,
"I love this state. The trees are the right height," and another, “This feels good, being back in Michigan. You know, the trees are the right height."  

My forester friend said it is one thing to look at, say some oak trees, and note that the average mature oak is 80 feet tall and that the oak trees one is looking at appear to be in good health and developing as oak trees are supposed to do.  But to say the trees in Michigan are the right height is like saying, "Hey God, you got the trees in Michigan right," and suggesting that one's personal judgment matters on the way nature is performing.  There is a disturbing egocentrism in that repeated statement.  It demonstrates the way Romney thinks.

One can apply it to his work at Bain Capital and wonder if in assessing the companies he bought he decided if they felt right and were the right size or if he said, "This one is too big; I'll cut it down to size."  He seems to be imposing his personal judgments on trees and business enterprises, as he did on the fellow student whose hair he decided to cut off or the teacher whose dignity could be sacrificed to his whim of humor.  When Romney cites his business experience in the "real world" and his accomplishments, it seems to be informed by this strange mentality of notion and ego-centered whim.

This disturbing aspect of Romney's personality forms the essential basis for his campaign against President Obama.  He does not cite specific elements of the policy and say this is the specific result this policy produced and this is why it is wrong.  He cannot explain why his health care plan for Massachusetts, upon which many parts of the Affordable Health Care Act are based, is right while the plan endorsed by Obama is wrong.  He retreats into the ploy of saying the Obama plan is wrong because Mitt says it is.  Similarly, he insists on the claim that his plan for allowing the Detroit auto-business to go bankrupt was right, while Obama's was wrong.  Although the auto executives point that they turned to the government for bail out help because there simply was no private capital available, an assumption on which Romney's bankruptcy plan was based, Romney insists on his rightness.  And then he takes credit for the success of the bail out in re-establishing the auto industry to viability.  Romney's notional claims have no correlations with facts. 

The Romney campaign is premised on the charge that Obama is ignorant, incompetent, and unfit for the tasks of office.  Rather than cite objective evidence of Obama's shortcomings, Romney employs the tactic he did against his classmate: “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”  And one cannot dismiss the fact that Obama is a black man, a representative of a group which Romney's creed has historically excluded from the status accorded to white men.  

Romney has a history of imposing personal judgments and dismissals on people he has deemed as unworthy.  His campaign is premised on such dismissals.

And so, Mitt Romney is evolving. 


Bob Newland said...

Romney has been correct in one assessment (although he wouldn't know if someone hadn't told him). Obama is ignorant, incompetent, and unfit for the tasks of office.

Problem is, Romney is ignorant, incompetent, and unfit for the tasks of office.

Bob Newland said...
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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States