I used to think that John McCain’s election campaign was incompetent but Mitt Romney’s is surely giving him a run for his money. McCain always faced an uphill battle in 2008 with the albatross of the George W. Bush presidency hanging around his neck but his unforced errors, especially the disastrous selection of Sarah Palin, did not help him. By comparison, Romney should have had it easy. The economy is sputtering, unemployment is high, people are feeling uneasy and fearful about their future, and he could have run as the agent of change. And yet he still has not managed to take the lead in the polls.
Part of the reason may be that he has a curiously unlikable public persona. There is an overweening sense of self-satisfaction and entitlement that seeps through however much he may try to hide it. It may well be that this quality may be common among those who are successful at the kind of private equity work that Romney did. After all, it must require some sense of distance from ordinary people to be able to make decisions that enrich you greatly while devastating the lives of large numbers of ordinary people.
To be able to sleep at night must require some kind of cognitive and emotional shield that makes you think that everyone deserves what they get in life and that you are merely the agent of the ineluctable laws by which society functions. If the laws benefit you and hurt others, you cannot be blamed any more than you can be blamed if your neighbor is killed by a bolt of lightning. That’s just the way it goes, and all those sycophants around you who depend on you for their jobs reinforce the idea that it is all for the greater good.
The problem is that although his advisors have surely told him that this attitude will not endear him to voters and to keep this aspect of his personality well-hidden, he seems to lack sufficient meta-awareness to prevent it escaping because he keeps making these unforced errors. How else can you explain his decision to greatly expand the size of one of his houses and build an elevator for all his cars when he knew that he was going to run for president? How else can you explain his “I like to fire people” statement? I know that the context in which he said it gives it a different connotation but no savvy politician would ever have used those words to convey that idea.
And then there was last week. He had to have known that the Democratic convention would spend a lot of time painting him as an out-of-touch plutocrat. So what does he do? Rather than lying low or counter-imaging by doing some ‘man of the people’ type photo-ops, he instead goes to one of his summer homes and spends his time on piloting his fancy boat on a lake and jet-skiing. Rachel Maddow is also puzzled by this seeming lack of awareness of the Romney campaign.
I really wonder what the thinking is in the Romney campaign. If there is some clever strategy, I just don’t see it.