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June 19, 2012 10:58 AM When Dumb Stories Matter

By Ed Kilgore

As Jonathan Bernstein explained at Salon over the weekend, this is the time of year when the absence of actual news promotes a silly season of bogus scandals, inflated “gaffes,” and a general slide into media idiocy:

It’s no surprise that mid-summer, when lots of newsmakers are on vacation (and when little is happening even in the sports world), is when stories such as the “ground zero mosque” or Shirley Sherrod’s supposed racism took off. Not just those; any kind of meaningless hype, whether it’s a supposed gaffe or some meaningless polling random variation, is going to get far more attention than it deserves.

That interpretation would seem to apply to “WawaGate,” the latest “controversy” involving Mitt Romney (in this case the candidate’s amazement over a hoagie-ordering device at the popular mid-Atlantic convenience store chain). That’s certainly the initial take by TAP’s Paul Waldman, who calls the media’s treatment of the story part of “the dumbgeist.” But he goes on to suggest that while the “story” is idiotic, it does suggest something significant that we already sort of knew: Romney really has poor instincts as a candidate, doesn’t he?

[T]he story you’ll be hearing is that Romney’s amazement at the Wawa touch-screen display (made only more vivid by him saying “Wawa’s” when it’s actually just “Wawa”) shows how out-of-touch he is with common folk….
But that’s not what it actually shows. It shows that Mitt Romney is a terrible, terrible candidate.
If he weren’t such a terrible candidate, he would understand…that if you visit a place that ordinary people are likely to visit—a convenience store, for instance—it’s probably not a good idea to later describe what you saw there as though you had just been to the pyramids of Giza or got a secret look at the iPhone 5.
If he weren’t such a terrible candidate, Mitt Romney would also understand how much political reporters love, love, love historical campaign references. Every political reporter can’t wait to show their viewers or readers how great their memory is, to pull out how much today’s event reminds them of something that happened when they were working on their first campaign. And amazement at an electronic device inside a store is just a blinking red light that screams “George H.W. Bush and the scanner!!!”

So the WaWa “story” doesn’t matter in itself, but somewhere down the road the kind of strange lack of self-awareness that led Romney into the jaws of this silly story could wreak some real damage on his candidacy. We just don’t know when.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • T2 on June 19, 2012 11:05 AM:

    I saw the clip of Romney's WaWa remarks and, being in the South and not knowing what the WaWa was (down here it's a device used with an electric guitar), all I took from it was that this guy is as wooden as a cigar store native american. He just has no cool factor at all, no "with-it".......or more to the point....no clue.

  • Celui on June 19, 2012 11:22 AM:

    Youbetcha! Some of my best friends eat at WaWa's!! (and other phony 'just plain folks' ad techniques)

  • biggerbox on June 19, 2012 11:24 AM:

    What's worse is that he apparently contrasted the "amazing" ordering system at Wawa's with a story he supposedly heard from a doctor who complained that he had to fill out a 33 page form to get the post office to change his address. Romney's point was private enterprise, modern and good, government fossilized and bad.

    Almost everyone who's ever moved, except I guess, those who work on the Romney campaign, knows that PO change of address forms fit on a postcard. 33 pages? WTF? Maybe they have people to fill out their change of addresses for them?

    The remarkable thing about Romney is that he's so stiff - usually, successful lying scumbags are much smoother than that.

  • schtick on June 19, 2012 11:25 AM:

    IMHO, I think Romney would be amazed to know we can pick up the phone and order pizza delivered, but he'd probably insult us by suggesting it's frozen pizza from Walmart. He is so used to the tealiban sheep that he has no clue that the lower classes can actually bake, cook, read, write, and think.

  • DJ on June 19, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Plus, as the Rude Pundit pointed out, we have the touch screen in this country due to government-funded research at the Universities of Delaware, Illinois, and Kentucky.

  • Gandalf on June 19, 2012 11:40 AM:

    I know this might be a little redundant but what this story absolutely points out is how far removed from everyday life that 99.99% of americans are familiar with. C'mon lets face it even most of the 1% are familiar with the everyday items and technology that we all mostly deal with. If the baron never comes out of the castle he doesn't know when the peasants are going to revolt.

  • Gandalf on June 19, 2012 11:42 AM:

    Sorry that should have read how far Romney is removed from the everyday life that 99.99% of americans are familiar with.

  • low-tech cyclist on June 19, 2012 11:51 AM:

    Following up on biggerbox, it would seem the real story here is about the USPS change of address form.

    Or stories, really. One's about the fact that apparently Romney's never had to fill out one of these things for himself; he always has an army of 'little people' to take care of stuff like this for him. So he has no idea that the form's actually the size of a largish postcard.

    Another's that he feels free to spread easily-checked glurge like this around as truth without so much as bothering to have a staffer verify it. It's not like he doesn't have staff.

    A potential President of the United States should have more than an incidental connection with reality. There's no reason Romney couldn't develop such a connection, but he doesn't bother.

    Kinda like GWB, he's pretty good at politics, but apparently too lazy to give a shit about policy. Which will work from the GOP POV, because all he'll have to do is sign whatever the GOP Congress sends him to sign. But it'll kinda suck for the rest of us.

  • thersites on June 19, 2012 12:06 PM:

    You know, the staffer that charged me overtime for filling out my change of address form last time we moved, telling me it was 33 pages and took him over an hour, is going to get a talking-to!

    Thanks for the heads-up.

  • c u n d gulag on June 19, 2012 12:17 PM:

    First off, having lived in PA and NJ, the Wawa is not anyone's FIRST choice for a hoagie - unless their town doesn't have a Mom&Pop, or Italian, Deli, that makes them.
    And those towns are pretty rare.

    I always go to the local joints, if I can, and have time.

    Now, WaWa's hoagies are very good, casting no aspersions upon them - but they're more for travelers, or workers, who want a quick hoagie for lunch, and don't want the wait that you might get at a popular local deli.

    Mitt might like to ask his Chef if they have a microwave oven at one of their mansions?
    Those come in handy when you're pressed for time, too.

    Mitt is a HORRIBLE politician.
    One of the stiffest, and most out-of-touch I've ever seen.
    Mitt's like Little Lord Flaunt-it-alot when he's faced with the riff-raff.

    And even John Kerry won't be able to do him justice when he'll be acting as Mitt in the practice debates.
    Kerry married into big money.
    Mitt was born into big money and power.

  • Tigershark on June 19, 2012 12:24 PM:

    Can't wait to hear Mitt's reaction when he finds out you can change your address with the USPS online!

  • T2 on June 19, 2012 12:27 PM:

    "And even John Kerry won't be able to do him justice when he'll be acting as Mitt in the practice debates." correct gulag, they'd have to embalm Kerry to make him seem as stiff as Mitt. And Kerry is not exactly Mr. Excitement.

  • Diane Rodriguez on June 19, 2012 12:37 PM:

    It's been evident for quite awhile that Romney can't pour piss out of boot without directions on the heel. I'm more concerned that he insists it is Dom Perignon as the media runs to fill its champagne flutes.

    During all the WAWA kerfuffle, where was the major outrage at Ann Romney's attacks on Michelle Obama for taking her daughters to Spain and lunching with the Spanish President. Even more ridiculous were her statements indicating the Romney family was somehow better than the Obama family by virtue of the fact they have numerous house in which to gather. Seriously, this woman is beyond hideous. The media allows her to attack a sitting First Lady with impunity. Do they teach those skills in the local Mormon madrassa? I shudder to think what would have happened if Michelle Obama had attacked Laura Bush during the 2008 election. Slavery would most certainly have been reinstated with alacrity.

  • Josef K on June 19, 2012 12:57 PM:

    I'm reminded of a similar pseudo-story back during the 1992 election, of GHW Bush going to a Wal-Mart or somewhere to "buy" four pairs of sports socks and expressing genuine surprise at the use of a laser scanner at checkout. He even asked "is that a new device?"

    That a sitting President is so clueless about current technology is more than a little frightening.

    I wish I'd paid more attention to the implications back then, as it might have had me thinking twice about wasting 3 years of my life inside the Beltway after grad school.

  • boatboy_srq on June 19, 2012 1:04 PM:

    @Diane Rodriguez: did you catch the NYT item on Ann Romney on Saturday? The woman's a mess. She recalls her first campaign for public office: she remembers the big issue, and that she won - but she can't be bothered to talk about where she stood on the big issue of the election. Winning really is everything to these people, and "the issues" are window dressing only.

  • exlibra on June 19, 2012 1:09 PM:

    R-money can be excused for not knowing how long the change-of-address form is, and not because someone else always fills it out for him. He doesn't change his address when he moves; he just adds the new one to the list.

    As for the WaWa kerfuffle: he may never before had a hoagie from there, but I bet the owner of the chain as well as the owner of the firm producing the miracle touch screen machines are his best buddies. You can't expect someone with such *lofty* positions to be current on every piddling, niggling, detail.

    BTW... As someone who had never been at a WaWa, either, I'd like to ask. When you assemble your sandwich via the touch screen... Do you get "whole wheat" when you press "rye"? IOW, are the WaWa machines made by Diebold?

    "$98,500 sagensho" And worth every penny, too, for sho, for sho.

  • DAY on June 19, 2012 1:15 PM:

    Anyone remember Bob Graham, who, as governor of Florida, worked one day each year at a different job, be it nurses aide, construction laborer, or soda jerk?
    I bet he could figure out "teh Wawas" pretty fast, even though they were called Piggly Wiggly in his part of the world.

  • Karhryn on June 19, 2012 1:59 PM:

    @ Diane Rodriguez, great post. Think Ann Romney is an obvious snarky out of touch snob just like her husband, she's just less awkward at being such. Love the Mormon madrassah reference. Obviously rich blondes get a pass but African-American Flotus isn't so fortunate and did anybody get a load of the questions and treatment by GOP tea party comgressmen of AG Holder, not to be believed. Also not to be believed was Washington Post reporting on the hearing, think a GOP staffer wrote it. I complained to Post Obudsman, doubt it wil
    matter.

  • N.Wells on June 19, 2012 3:17 PM:

    Biggerbox:
    Possibly, rotating between 8 different houses moving twice a month requires 32 postcards to cover the next six months of rich-and-famous lifestyle.

    I tell you, you can't imagine the difficulties of being a Job-Creator(TM)! Having to pay someone top dollar to fill out all those postcards and then stand in line at the post office! Little wonder they deserve better tax breaks.

  • N.Wells on June 19, 2012 3:21 PM:

    sixteen months (sorry, TDD: typing while distracted)

  • Daddy Love on June 19, 2012 5:07 PM:

    First, Mitt's a terrible campaigner, although I don't think we hear everything.

    But second, it's just not true that him saying “Wawa’s” (when it’s actually just “Wawa”) shows how out-of-touch he is. Many, many of the hoi polloi use just that construction regularly, as if every establishment is owned by someone who uses their name as a possesive every time. My favortite eaxmple that is local to me (in WA-08) is people who call Bartell Drug "Bartell's" or the Italian (-ish) chain Buca di Beppo "Buca di Beppo's" (that was a sports radio host). It's common as dirt.

    Third, it's not a simple card to change one's physician provider address with Medicare/Medicaid. It's 2 pages (not 33) and it's a bit more complicated because we're paying tax dollars and don't want to be defrauded. Apparently Romney's cool with medical fraud too.

  • TCinLA on June 19, 2012 5:08 PM:

    What was even better was his not knowing what to call a doughnut.

  • TCinLA on June 19, 2012 5:23 PM:

    Listening to Romoney and the morons going on about how nothing good ever came from the government, and noting the poster above who mentioned how the touch screen came about, I was just wondering if Romoney has ever wondered why the pre-stressed concrete of the freeways his bus is running on never crumble away beneath him? I mean, how does one know if a big piece of pre-stressed concrete is really solid, without busting it open to see?

    Back about 60 years ago, the government was getting ready to make new dams, using pre-stressed concrete in order to reduce costs, and they asked a government scientist at the Bureau of Reclamation (the folks who designed and built the dams) how they could be sure the concrete was solid enough to use. It turns out that the answer to the question involves "simple physics" as that scientist told me (put an electronic signal through it; you know how long the signal should take to get from A to B if it's solid, and the percentage difference between that known answer and the answer you get is the percentage of air between the two spots).

    When I told that story to a friend in the construction industry many years ago, he was immediately interested, and told me that the invention that scientist had created was the underlying piece of technology that allowed pre-stressed concrete construction to boom as it did.

    The scientist, a "worthless government employee" in Romney's view, was my father. Had he come up with that privately, my family would be pretty well off. But as Dad said, had he not been working for the government, no one would have ever asked the question.

    And no one in all the private industry that has benefited from that invention has ever had to pay a royalty for use of the technology stemming from the patent (one of 150 Dad was responsible for).

    But just remember, nothing government ever does is ever any good for anyone and can always be done better by private industry.

  • Robb on June 20, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Now that we all know that MSNBC edited the clip so as to remove Romney's point, do any of you wish to apologize? For both your comments and your network, I imagine.