Political Animal


October 02, 2012 3:22 PM Verbal Sauce For the Gander

By Ed Kilgore

The ever-insightful Paul Waldman has a useful piece up at MSNBC today offering a personal typology of campaign “gaffes,” ranging from “The Head Scratcher” to “The Opinion Clearly Expressed, Then Later Retracted.” He goes out of his way to avoid partisanship, suggesting that Mitt Romney should get a mulligan for his “Corporations are people” remark, which, like Obama’s “You didn’t build that” riff, was taken far out of context. Waldman also suggests, a little less compellingly, that Tommy Thompson’s boast to a Tea Party audience that he was the perfect guy to croak Medicare and Medicaid was a “slip of the tongue” he should be forgiven on grounds that no pol is his or her right mind would say that deliberately.

But here’s the keeper in Waldman’s piece, in terms of who is responsible for the gaffe-a-ganza of Campaign ‘12:

If Romney fails to recover from his current position, commentators and historians will point to the “47 percent” gaffe as the campaign’s key moment. That may be less than accurate, and it may not be fair. Yet it’s hard to remember a presidential candidate who has committed as many gaffes of as many different types as Mitt Romney and simultaneously spent as much time and effort trying to draw attention to what he claims are his opponent’s gaffes. For a while, the entire Romney campaign reoriented itself around “you didn’t build that,” which became the topic of speeches, campaign events, television ads, and most of the Republican convention. So Romney can hardly complain that people are paying too much attention to something he said when he thought nobody was recording him. He’s as responsible as anyone for this campaign’s obsession with the offhand remark. And there’s still a month to do before Election Day-who knows what statement will get him in trouble next?

True dat.

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.


  • Danp on October 02, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Far more important than the hypocrisy is the fact that his 47% statement shows his total lack of empathy for the less fortunate, as well as the absurd disregard for all who would vote against him. To say that 47% are mooches is offensive, but his real argument was that those who don't vote for him are undeserving of representation.

    Unlike Biden't gaffes, which mostly arise from sloppily worded mitigating clauses, Romney's reflect his attitude, even if not intentionally: "I like to fire people", "Some of my best friends are ___ owners", "Corporations are people", China, Russia and others are our worst enemies, self-deportation, if I said it, it is true (even if I don't recall what I said and say opposing things all the time), etc. I'll give him a break on the size of trees in Michigan, though.

  • T2 on October 02, 2012 3:41 PM:

    I just don't agree that the 47% remark was a "gaffe". It was simply a statement by Romney on how the election stacks up in his view. He stated that 47% of the people were going to vote for Obama no matter what he (Romney) did. He then went on to explain his reason for believing this....which was that the 47% were mooching off the government and Obama was the enabler.
    That's not a gaffe at all. It's not even a mistake. It is simply Romney's view of the political situation, made seriously in front of a large group of people.
    It is the fact that this statement was not representative of that 47% that is key, as well as the fact he apparently thinks quite lowly of almost half of the general public. But a gaffe? no.

  • Peter C on October 02, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Romney does not get a pass from me for his 'corporations are people too' line, even in the context of saying that corporations are all owned by people. The essential difference is that corporations have legally limited liability and people don't. Rich people (who own corporations) slip on and off their corporate identity to benefit themselves in a myriad of ways. When corporations die, their owners walk away. Bain was especially facile at manipulating this distinction. As the corporation, they paid themselves (as the consultants) huge fees (using the value of the pension fund) but when their business was unprofitable, they went bankrupt, closed the factory, through the workers out of jobs and stiffed the pensioners (sorry, we're bankrupt, our liability is limited to our declared capital - all gone!).

    Corporations are NOT people; they are legal fictions with special privileges. They are a way for rich people to take huge risks without bearing the consequences. When the risks pay off, they get even richer. When the risks don't pan out, the owners (poof!) turn into blameless individuals.

  • Ted on October 02, 2012 3:48 PM:

    What T2 said. There's a Ralph Reed fundraising letter making the rounds of the internet that says basically the same thing. This is what he and the Republican Party really believe.

  • Ronald on October 02, 2012 3:55 PM:

    It wasn't a gaffe- it was the basis for an entire 40+ minute presentation!

    'gaffe' is when something is said unintentionally that, especially when pulled out of context, sounds far worse than it actually was.

    Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have had 'gaffes'

    But the 47% tape? Theres no dissembling that. There's no 'that was taken out of context'. There's no 'pieced together soundbites'.

    The problem was that most everybody who saw that tape can agree- that was as close to the 'Real' Mitt Romney as anybody is every likely to see on the campaign trail- and that is what makes it so bad.

  • c u n d gulag on October 02, 2012 3:59 PM:

    "You didn't build that," fits is nicely with his disdain for the 47% - "they" didn't help build that either!

    Now, if he'd only include the remaining 52.9% of non-"Job Creaators" in that, his victory would be assured!

  • Peter C on October 02, 2012 4:12 PM:

    The 47% comment was not a Romney gaff either; it's been the standard Republican talking point to counter the 99%/1% rubric of the 'Occupy' movement.

    Under the 'Occupy' rubric, the 1% has benefitted disproportionally while the 99% have suffered. In this rubric, the party of the 1% (the Republicans) are outnumbered. If/when the 99% realize that (in a democracy) they have the power to redress the situation, the wealth of the 1% is threatened. It's a powerful concept, because it is easy to tell which group you are in. "Do you have a car elevator? No? Your in the 99%."

    To confound the issues, the Republicans invented and pushed the '53%/47%' rubric based upon paying their (payroll tax excluded) version of income taxes. It's a clever ploy. Most people can imagine themselves in the 53% (who are a majority, and thus should RULE). It sorta echos the partisan divide (given an optimistic view of the world on Republicans part). So, maybe what it really means is "Republicans are the 53% and Democrats are the 47%". And, it give the excuse of those who are just barely in the 53% to side with their big brothers (the 1%) and support policies which give 'our side' big tax breaks for the super-rich.

    But the "53%/47%" frame only works in a FOX echo-chamber where the assumptions go unquestioned. It is not an argument for general consumption, both because it is disdainful of 47% of the populace, but because it is obviously a distortion and a lie that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

    Payroll taxes are taxes on income. Social Security and Medicare are EITHER general budget items bankrupting the country OR fairly sound fiscally isolated government entities OUTSIDE the federal budget and unable to be the cause of a budget crisis. Since the Republicans have been saying that the budget defecit is the primary problem with the country, then payroll taxes are exactly the same as income taxes.

    Romney did not invent the 53/47% concept; that's been percolating on FOX for since the beginning of the 'Occupy' protests. The problem was he let the cat out of the bag. He blabbed the "FOX ONLY" message to a crowd who still had some critical-thinking capacity. He forgot to keep the audience all IN FRONT of the magician and a bunch of the audience members saw how the magic trick works. Now, that set of audience members don't believe that the magician can really do magic, and magic is all they have to offer.

  • Anonymous on October 02, 2012 4:15 PM:

    " he should be forgiven on grounds that no pol is his or her right mind would say that deliberately."

    Assumes facts not in evidence. First, we don't know that Thompson is in his right mind, by historical definitions of that term. Second, the radical modern GOP is all about rewriting things we used to take as established truths - I hear their candidates saying absurd things deliberately every day!

  • thebewilderness on October 02, 2012 5:00 PM:

    It is a sad commentary on the corporate media's toxic influence when a moment of truth telling is now dismissed as a gaffe.

  • Catherine on October 02, 2012 6:07 PM:

    I don't think that the 47% moment was so much the turning point, as it put into words (directly from the candidate) the unease a lot of the country has had about Romney. He has continually tried to define himself as someone we should WANT to have as our president (because the other guy is so horrible, mostly - and the economy sucks), but this made real/concrete the sense that this guy SO does not get 90% of the country (not just the 47% of which he speaks). It was the aha moment that explains the gut hesitation we've had all along.

  • Anonymous on October 02, 2012 10:13 PM:

    Ironically, 47% is likely to end up as Romney's number on 11-06-2012.

  • John on October 02, 2012 11:09 PM:

    Off topic. It's no longer MSNBC. MS sold off their share. Now it is NBCNEWS.