Stephen. M. Walt, reflecting on the secret video showing Mitt Romney saying that would ‘kick the can down the road’ when it comes to dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue, says something that has been puzzling me too.
Here’s what struck me about this latest incident. Romney is not a stupid man, whatever one might think of his political views or his awkward public persona. He is also a man who has been running for president for more than five years. He has done nothing else in that entire period: He was already wealthy and didn’t have to work, and his children were grown. He could spend most of his time mastering the issues, and he could have invited virtually anyone he wished to come in and brief him on any topic he thought was important for a future president to understand. He’s had more than enough time to learn the ins and outs of our economic situation, to study the pros and cons of alternative approaches to health care, infrastructure development, and the like, and to bone up on tricky foreign policy issues like relations with China and Russia, counter-terrorism, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At this point, there is simply no excuse for his not having clear and defensible positions on these vital issues, and more. It’s called doing one’s homework.
There’s also no excuse for Romney not knowing how to talk about these issues in a way that conveys a sophisticated awareness of where the minefields are. Somebody who really understands our tax system and the nature of government entitlements doesn’t tell donors that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes and imply they are just mooching off of everyone else.
Walt speculates on possible reasons for this.
They don’t just expose the ignorance of a man who’s spent his entire adult life protected in the bubble wrap of wealth, privilege, and intellectual conformity. What they reveal is either 1) enormous and inexplicable ignorance, 2) a smug and cynical willingness to say whatever he thinks each audience wants to hear, or 3) the iron grip of a world-view that is impervious to evidence.
My explanation is slightly different. Romney has always been rich and wealth tends to bestow an undue weight to the things that such people say. I recall an article where a woman at a party observed how people clustered around a rich person and treated his words with a great deal of respect even though the things he was saying were trite or even wrong. Maybe as a result of such fawning behavior of those around them, rich people start thinking that they have within them an inexhaustible fount of wisdom that enables them to arrive at good judgments without doing any actual thinking or studying.
This would also explain what conservative commentator Byron York has noticed, that despite being behind in the polls, Romney seems to be cruising along with a remarkably relaxed campaign schedule while Barack Obama is the one who is campaigning like he is behind.
These are the behaviors of a person who has never really had to work hard at anything.