Political Animal


January 09, 2012 12:30 PM ‘I like being able to fire people’

By Steve Benen

Mitt Romney’s detractors in both parties are eager to point out one of the more glaring problems with the former governor’s background: he’s put thousands of Americans out of work.

And with that push in mind, Romney’s critics could hardly believe their good fortune this morning when he spoke to the Nashua Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire. Here’s the clip from the DNC:

It’s a line I guarantee voters will be hearing again: “I like being able to fire people.”

In fairness, the context makes an enormous difference. Laura Conaway reports this morning that Romney was talking about health insurance when he said, “I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.”

I think I see the point Romney was trying to get at, but for a guy with an atrocious jobs record, who got very wealthy laying off American workers, “I like being able to fire people” is a seven-word phrase that may prove tough to live down.

Dems were quick to send around the above clip, but let’s not forget that Romney’s GOP rivals noticed the quote, too. Jon Huntsman said this morning, “What’s clear is he likes firing people; I like creating jobs.”

Now, I suspect Romney and his team will insist that the line is being taken out of context, and when they make their case, the argument will have merit. But let’s not forget that Romney and his campaign have already forfeited any credibility on this subject — Team Romney’s very first television ad wrenched an Obama quote from context, on purpose, and when asked for an explanation, the former governor said he just didn’t care.

Indeed, just last month, a top Romney campaign official said all campaign messages “propaganda” and “agitprop,” so there’s no point in worrying about niceties such as context.

It leaves Romney in an awkward position: he thinks it’s acceptable to take others’ words out of context, but doesn’t want to be treated the same way.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • DRF on January 09, 2012 12:37 PM:

    I hope that the Democrats will stay away from this. It's clear from the context that he's talking about "firing" service providers who aren't providing good service, and I don't think anyone would disagree with this sentiment.

    To turn this into a campaign ad would require taking it out of context in a manner which is nearly as egregious as Team Romney's ad showing Obama talking about McCain. That would be highly inappropriate, and the Democrats should retain the moral high ground with respect to misleading, out of context ads.

  • Eeyore on January 09, 2012 12:38 PM:


  • SYSPROG on January 09, 2012 12:38 PM:

    Yes, his argument has merit. However, as he has shown with his SUPERPAC anything you say can be 'parsed'. My mama always said 'what goes around comes around'.

  • TR on January 09, 2012 12:40 PM:

    Sorry, DRF, but you're dead wrong.

    Democrats always lose because we play by the polite Marquis de Queensbury rules like a gentleman should, while the Republicans have no reservations about hitting below the belt.

    Romney has already set the boundaries for what's acceptable in this race, and this only plays to it. We don't have to ask if he'd use that quote out of context if the roles were reversed. He already has.

    Republicans win because they know they can lie with compunction and they know Democrats won't fight as hard. Fuck that.

  • DAY on January 09, 2012 12:41 PM:

    Context? CONTEXT? We don't need no stinkin' context!

    "I hate people who use the word niggers!"

    Edit the above for your own sound bite. . .

  • Another Steve on January 09, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Even being "fair" and taking the argument in context, it is an out of touch rich guy Marie Antoinette argument.

    My employer provides my insurance. I can't "fire" my insurer if it does a crappy job, only my employer can. And I rather doubt that the views of my employer and I are 100% in alignment about what constitutes a good job by a health insurer.

    Once ACA kicks in, I'll have no less choice, and may well have more, so it makes no sense on that level either.

    No, the only people who can "fire" their health insurers are people who are paying for their own insurance out of their own pocket, i.e. rich people.

  • c u n d gulag on January 09, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Hey Mitt,
    Turnabout is fair play, time!

    And what's good for the gander, is good for the golden goose, too!!!

  • RP on January 09, 2012 12:52 PM:

    I think it's fair to seize on his use of the word "like." His point is somewhat reasonable (although a little silly in the context of health care), but it's odd to say that you "like" being able to fire people.

  • Jimo on January 09, 2012 12:56 PM:

    Steve - just as egregious are Romney's words taken in context.

    Let's break this down a bit.

    1. "The insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy." This just isn't true except perhaps for short-term. Sure, if you have a cold, your insurer has an incentive to take easy (a/k/a, inexpensive) steps to keep this from developing into pneumonia. But as anyone with actual experience with health insurance can tell you, insurers have little to no economic incentive to invest in long-term health programs for their insured because of the long-term churn in who is insured with any one insurer. Why make your customers healthy if they're just going to dump you for your competitor? Put another way, if a health insurer could capture the benefits of keeping their customers healthy, wouldn't we see programs to encourage and provide financial rewards through extensive monitoring of diet and exercise?

    Compare this to a single-payer, who would have overwhelming economic incentives to adopt any scientifically valid means of lowering long-term expenses via prevention programs.

    2. "It also means if you don�t like what they do, you can fire them." It does? Wow. This is a surprise. The last time I checked my employer was the party that retained exclusive control over "hiring" and "firing" health insurance providers.

    3. "You know if someone doesn�t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I�m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me." Of course, health insurance is notoriously non-competitive. Many states are dominated by a single provider. Insurers are exempt from the normal prohibition on sharing data with each other, for good reasons, but also with one negative result -- conspiracy to set rates and practices in a non-competitive manner. So, it is unclear what Gov. Romney thinks would be achieved by dumping one insurer only to get the same service from every other insurer.

    Something leads me to suspect that Romney has never really had to deal, either personally or as a "private sector" executive, with the harsh downside to existing health insurance market inefficiencies.

  • Maritza on January 09, 2012 12:57 PM:

    Because the context matters, I doubt Democrats will use this line in attack ads in the Fall.

    However, if Romney's team starts taking Obama's quotes out of context and use them in attack ads then I say GAME ON.

    The Obama team doesn't have to use it. 527's and Super Pacs can use it instead to go after Romney.

  • Kane on January 09, 2012 12:58 PM:

    The quote "I like being able to fire people" will remain long after the context is explained.

    As Romney likes to say, this ain't beanbag.

  • Anonymous on January 09, 2012 1:00 PM:

    It's clear from the context that he's talking about "firing" service providers who aren't providing good service,...

    That's not clear to me at all. Romney could have ended his diatribe with the line "It also means if you dont like what they (health insurance companies) do, you can fire them." But he didn't. He backed up and espoused a more general application that not only applies to health insurance companies, but to anybody. In my humble, reminding voters of the "I like be able to fire people" line is entirely reasonable.

  • Josef K on January 09, 2012 1:10 PM:

    It leaves Romney in an awkward position: he thinks its acceptable to take others words out of context, but doesnt want to be treated the same way.

    Of course he doesn't. He's rich, and therefore expects to be exempt. Its just how things are done with him.

  • Kane on January 09, 2012 1:14 PM:

    Romney could have said, "It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them," and left it at that. But instead, he went off script and once again showed himself.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on January 09, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Above: Democrats always lose because we play by the polite Marquis de Queensbury rules like a gentleman should, while the Republicans have no reservations about hitting below the belt.

    But i don't think the question posed above is whether it's ethical to punch below the belt (although that too is a fair question), but whether punching below the belt will cause the "judges" to downgrade us on their scorecards. Never mind that our opponent does it too; is the benefit to our side worth the cost?

  • Gandalf on January 09, 2012 1:20 PM:

    There's a reason why most of us here are democatic voters and it's because the difference between dems and current repubs is stark. If the dems start acting like repubs i.e. taking Romney qoutes out of context then why the fuck should we vote for them because they obviously would be no more deserving of our trust than Romney and his ilk.

  • estamm on January 09, 2012 1:20 PM:

    "No, the only people who can "fire" their health insurers are people who are paying for their own insurance out of their own pocket, i.e. rich people"

    Well, no. My employer provides insurance... but since I telecommute, and my employer (and insurance) is in a different state, I buy my own insurance. I'm a bit over 50, but fortunately, I'm healthy and my insurance is about $200/mo (with a big deductible that gets bigger every year). I've actually 'fired' a previous insurance company when the premium skyrocketed.

    That said, Mittens has put out dishonest taken-out-of-context ads, so I say run this 24/7 everywhere possible until either the November election or until it is clear that Mittens doesn't get nominated. This dicktard should never be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

  • SYSPROG on January 09, 2012 1:21 PM:

    Thank you 'another Steve'...it's easy to forget the bottom line. Yes OF COURSE 'we' (the 99%) can't 'fire' our insurance companies because the 1% decide which companies we HAVE. So in or out of context, Romney shows ONE MORE TIME his 'let them eat cake' philosophy.

  • Jay C on January 09, 2012 1:22 PM:

    Jeez, even given that Romney's "I like firing people" line is likely to/probably will be taken and cited out-of-context, even in context, it reads astonishingly tone-deaf and disconnected from reality.

    Does Mitt Romney actually believe that many (still less most) Americans think of their health-insurance carriers in the same way as, say, a housecleaner who doesn't mop up to one's liking, and can be so casually replaced? Yes, "shopping" for health insurance is always a good idea - but as Jimo points out @ 12.56, given the realities of healthcare in this country today, few of us even have the ability to "shop"; that the astronomical costs of the underlying healthcare system that insurance is supposed to subsidize make HCI such a prohibitive expense that (many?most?) families really don't have much of a choice in the matter. And for those that do, I'm not sure what provisions of the PPACA that Mitt and the GOPers are so avid to repeal would interfere with that in any case.

    "Out of context"? Maybe: but when the context is framed as "elitist rich-guy cluelessness about real life" it makes a little more sense....

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on January 09, 2012 1:28 PM:

    "I like to fire people". Paging Dr. Freud!

    Sure, play it a few times but don't overdo it, it might just take on a life of it's own, given Mitten's record at Bain.

    Hey, just catapaultin' the propaganda!

  • Mudge on January 09, 2012 1:29 PM:

    Romney says, "I want individuals to have their own insurance.", which implies that he does not favor employer supplied insurance. His phrase about not liking what they (the insurance companies) do is laughable. By and large folks only object to their insurance company when it rejects claims. Good luck finding a new company when sick.

    I have a vision of Bane taking over a health insurance company, gutting its assets, firing everyone and going bankrupt, leaving all of the customers high and dry.

  • estamm on January 09, 2012 1:33 PM:

    Gandolf, it will take a LOT more than dishonest ads before the Dems even start to look like Repubs. As long as Repubs are ready willing and able to air completely dishonest ads (and the news media fails to call them on it), saying that Dems should not do the same is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. You may look noble, but you'll be dead. I will never forget the 'purple heart' band-aids that were worn during the Repub convention back when Kerry was nominated. I will never forgive anyone who wore one of those. They are scum, just like the party they belong to. If using Mittens own words can help bring that bastard down, then so be it.

  • T-Rex on January 09, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Karma's a b!tch.

  • paul on January 09, 2012 1:48 PM:

    A line like that is absolutely about the privilege of the very rich. I can fire my insurance company -- if I want to scramble to find another one that does business in this state and has my doctor and the kid's doctor and my spouse's doctor in network. And doesn't have some kind of horrific fine print. Oh, wait, I'll just have one of my personal assistants work through all that.

    I would love to fire my mobile phone company, but guess what? Termination charges. I would love to fire Mastercard and Visa, but guess what? Duopoly. I would even love to fire our local grocery store for halving its fresh-vegetable section and revamping all the aisles so the dried fruit is under the "organic tea" sign. But unlike Mitt, I can't buy a new one out of petty cash.

    Maybe I can fire my republican presidential candidate? Nah, not that either.

  • John Corzine on January 09, 2012 2:04 PM:

    A terrible person, that Romney.

  • Koen on January 09, 2012 2:16 PM:

    Let's hope Obama has another change because the mess he had to clean up takes more than three years. Although he made mistakes to concerning buy outs if you ask me.

  • Peter C on January 09, 2012 2:58 PM:

    We can start referring to him as "Mitt "I like to be able to fire people" Romney. It has a nice "1%" ring to it.

  • Joseph Dooley on January 09, 2012 3:04 PM:

  • President Lindsay on January 09, 2012 4:10 PM:

    I dare say that establishing the meme of everyone just calling him "1% Romney" would be sufficient to kill his chances of ever gaining the White House.

  • MissouriConservative on January 09, 2012 6:17 PM:

    Much ado about nothing. Slow news day.

    This goes all the way back to Sam Walton who talked about Wal-mart needing to take care of customers the right way. Walton said it pretty much this way " I can fire everyone in a company from the CEO on down simply by taking my business somewhere else."
    Romney believes in market based solutions where the individual has just that right. Plain, simple and powerful.

  • I Like to Fire People on January 09, 2012 6:24 PM:

    Too. Effing. Funny.

  • TJ Walker on January 10, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Great ad on mocking Romney "I like being able to fire" quote: