Political Animal


January 10, 2012 8:00 AM ‘It’s going to be absolutely huge’

By Steve Benen

When Mitt Romney talked to the Nashua Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning about his take on premium support in health care policy, he couldn’t possibly have known the mess he was about to create for himself.

By the end of the day, Romney’s “I like being able to fire people” had become quite a story, context notwithstanding. Jon Huntsman said the line makes the Republican frontrunner “completely unelectable.” Rick Perry’s campaign began offering a downloadable ringtone that plays Romney’s words “I like being able to fire people” over and over again. The DNC is joining in on the fun, too.

Had I even been in the room when Romney said this, I probably couldn’t have predicted the blowback.

What makes the line so potent? James Fallows, hardly a partisan bomb-thrower, had a thoughtful item on this last night. Fallows acknowledged the context, but said Romney’s choice of words hurts him because “it touches something so emotional and raw.”

It’s the word fire…. [P]eople with any experience on either side of a firing know that, necessary as it might be, it is hard. Or it should be. It’s wrenching, it’s humiliating, it disrupts families, it creates shame and anger alike — notwithstanding the fact that often it absolutely has to happen. Anyone not troubled by the process — well, there is something wrong with that person. We might want such a person to do dirty work for us…. We might value him or her as a takeover specialist or at a private equity firm. But as someone we trust, as a leader? No — not any more than you can trust a military leader who is not deeply troubled when his troops are killed.

Here’s a test: If you were making the point about the need for competition, can you imagine yourself saying, “I like being able to fire people…” ?

It’s very hard to predict what kind of political stories will have staying power, and I have no idea if folks will still be talking about this a week, a month, or a season from now. But The Hill reported late yesterday, “Democrats on Monday described the statement as one of several ‘silver bullets’ they plan to use in the summer and fall, if Romney becomes the Republican nominee.”

One labor official said of the planned advertising assault, “It’s going to be absolutely huge.”

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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  • maylib on January 10, 2012 8:07 AM:

    my personal view is, Romney is cracking. I think emotionally he's pissed he's not further along in his project to become president. The other candidates should press him harder. He's about to snap.

  • Vokoban on January 10, 2012 8:10 AM:

    Mr. Fallows has a point. Show me someone who likes to fire people and I see someone I don't want to have a beer with.

    And last time I looked that was the qualifying question whether someone is electable for president in the USA.

  • c u n d gulag on January 10, 2012 8:14 AM:

    And it SHOULD BE HUGE!

    Mr. :
    "I'm unemployed, too..." Yeah - 'cause you were born a rich douchebag, douchebag.

    'I almost go got a pink slip...' What, for your wife, you rich prick?

    "I like being able to fire people." Now THAT is the ONE true thing he's said in the 5+ years he's been running for President.

    It takes a special kind of asshole to say something like that. And Mitt, you've just admitted to being that special kind of clueless and cruel asshole.

    Hey Mitt, put down 'The Book of Mormon,' and read some Lincoln.
    He said something about it being better to keep ones mouth shut and let people think you're a fool, than open it and remove all doubt.

    The only question is, does your health care cover having a Podiatrist come and remove your Dolce&Gabbana shoe out of your mouth, or is that considered Oral Surgery?
    Oh, that's right - you don't need health care. You're a rich douchebag!

    BTW - I offer my apologies to douchebags and pricks, who deserve better than to be cast with Mitt.

  • Danp on January 10, 2012 8:15 AM:

    This line will probably have a gut reaction in many people, but it's just as important to counter the "context" argument with, "Give me a break. The context was that he thinks old people can just switch to a better HMO if treatment is rejected. Who is he kidding?" The flippancy of his remark is as damaging as the literal meaning.

  • jon on January 10, 2012 8:19 AM:

    I love the Donald Trump "huge" quote to go along with firing. It's popular when it's some celebrity or a bigshot college grad on some reality show, but when it's put in the context of what Bain did it seems odious and wrong. Life and jobs are reality, not reality television.

  • j on January 10, 2012 8:20 AM:

    The perfect place to insert this phrase spoken by Romney would be right at the end of the coming 30 minute film about him.

  • R on January 10, 2012 8:21 AM:

    Danp (8:15) is spot on. Too bad the MSM "analysts" are incapable of going that deep (meaning one inch below the surface).

  • SadOldVet on January 10, 2012 8:22 AM:

    Anyone who does the democrats should stay nice routine on this line is full of crap!

    This is a f*cking war and in war, there are damn few limits. If you don't think this is a war for the future of the American Worker, you have been AWOL since the month after Obama was elected and before he took the oath of office.

    The repukes declared the war! (see Mitch McConnell - December 2008) As much as I like seeing the populist side of Obama, I even more need to see the warrior side of him fighting back against the repukes.

  • Hedda Peraz on January 10, 2012 8:26 AM:

    Let's not be too hasty!
    There are LOTS of folks in popular culture who have the same "like to fire people" weapon in their tool box.
    Donald Trump
    Mr. Burns
    Dr. Evil
    Ronald Reagan (air traffic controllers)

  • JD on January 10, 2012 8:26 AM:

    I'm one of those foolishly honorable people who would usually have some qualms about using this obviously out of context quote. I have no such qualms with Romney, given his brazen willingness to exploit out of context quotes from PBO, even when the president was quoting someone else.

    He's made his bed, now let him sleep in it.

  • windshouter on January 10, 2012 8:29 AM:

    I think it is true that Mr Romney does in fact like to fire people. The remark in context or out of context defines him in that way and reenforces other impressions of Mr. Romney (not a genuine person , out for himself only) in a clear way. That's the essence of a successful political attack.

    I think Mr. Romney likes to fire people because of the evidence of his career and as Mr. Fallows says, you don't chose that metaphor unless you like firing people. I withhold my patronage from establishments that don't treat me right, but I don't "like" it (glad I can though) and I certainly don't view it as firing people.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 10, 2012 8:29 AM:

    With the firing statement taken out of context and all that shit, they all seem to be missing the larger point.
    So Mitt , you're going to "fire " your health insurance company.
    I guess it's no problem for a multimillionaire.
    If you're a working stiff who relies on his employer's group for affordable coverage it ain't quite that easy.
    If I quit my work provided plan I would SOL.
    I could not afford it on the open market.
    The ACA will help alleviate some of these problems , but it just goes to show how out of touch he is .
    Poor people's problems

  • c u n d gulag on January 10, 2012 8:30 AM:

    And there'd better be a g-d mint on that bed, or 'YOU'RE FIRED!'

  • rea on January 10, 2012 8:35 AM:

    It's not being taken out of context at all. His point was that he wouldn't mind firing an insurance company, because generally, he likes firing people. (Note, by the way, that he thinks insurance companies are "people," returning to an earlier theme).

  • the seal on January 10, 2012 8:35 AM:

    jon hit it above. Trump is a cheap joke people like to hear say "YOUR FIRED". No one takes him seriously as a leader of anything beyond his hair. A video mashup of Mittens Trump could be the new frothy mix.

  • jpeckjr on January 10, 2012 8:38 AM:

    What Romney did at Bain Capital was treat people like interchangeable commodities, fire people for purely financial reasons without much regard for their competence or contributions to the organization. The people who he fired are also citizens and voters and I bet they remember who it was who eliminated their jobs.

  • Kathryn on January 10, 2012 8:39 AM:

    Frankly, I'm sorry to see Romney floundering so soon, if the money people start backing Huntsman, game on as Santorum said. Hopefully, the zealous hater base of the GOP will glom onto one of the Ricks or Newt. Huntsman is formidable with the perfect family and the appearance of reasonable policy combined with actual patriotism. His appeal to Independents is obvious and since too many vote on appearance or gut instinct, he might get a pass on gutting Medicare and other right wing policies.

  • berttheclock on January 10, 2012 8:39 AM:

    Ah, the dream world of Mitt. One moment he plays "Walter Mitty" in believeing he has ever accomplished anything on his own. The next, he is George Clooney playing Ryan Bingham in "Up in the Air" travelling around the world firing people.

  • Alan on January 10, 2012 8:42 AM:

    @Steve: If you look at the full context, I think Romney's comment is a lot more important than you are making is out to be. It has been much in the news lately that Romney fired thousands of workers when he was at Bain. Certainly Romney knew about those news items, and then he turns around yesterday and says he likes to fire people in a context that was pretty gratuitous (no one else would use the term "fire" when it comes to choosing a healthcare provider). So IMO, Romney's comment was basically a big FU directed at the people who had been criticizing him for firing workers when he was at Bain. That is the larger context, and I think it is just as important if not more important than the immediate context.

  • worcestergirl on January 10, 2012 8:47 AM:

    Actually, I think this is more important than it seemed at first blush.

    Fallows opened his piece recalling how Kerry was painted as a monumental flip flopper over a truly insignificant sentence taken out of context. He voted for a bill in committee and against the floor version because it didn't contain funding - hardly the stuff of a supposed character flaw. In fact, when reading the original quote I marveled at just how devious you have to be to see the potential for taking such things out of context.

    Anyway, the media could have put this Republican line of attack in context (as they could have defused the whole swift boat crap) but they didn't. They wanted George Bush to win.

    What is really significant here is that the Village is not coming to Romney's rescue. So now Romney is lacking three out of four supports - Limbaugh, right wing evangelicals, and assists from the media. He just has the big money boyz, formidible, yes, but they need the red meat crowd to get the votes.

    GWB was the last person to hit all four simultaneously. McCain had huge media support (remember Katie Curic's helpful cutting and pasting?), but the evangelicals and Limbaugh were only luke warm.

    Romney is in serious trouble and he doesn't even have the nomination. I am just hoping that this terrible wreck of a party is finally collapsing. Yeah, I have been hoping this for years, every since Nixon's odious Southers Strategy, but please God, let this 2012 election be the last time we have to put up with all of this.

  • stormskies on January 10, 2012 9:01 AM:

    VULTURE CAPITALISM anyone ? it speaks for itself ..

  • Shelly on January 10, 2012 9:04 AM:

    I think he meant that he doesn't want the government to tell him who he can and cannot fire. It's a regulations thing, a liberty thing, and a capitalism thing, and it will resonate with people whose thinking we can't comprehend.

  • dr2chase on January 10, 2012 9:10 AM:

    I recommend the remarks of danp, sick-n-effn-tired, and rea above. Context doesn't help; none of us has the practical option of "firing" an insurance company; we're usually much more worried about our ability to hire a new one or keep the current one from quitting on us. And corporations-as-people, always good to know that's how he thinks.

  • Ronald on January 10, 2012 9:11 AM:

    This is going to be a story, no doubt.

    The look on his face, the way he's dressed, the tone of his voice, and of course, that great line 'I like being able to fire people' make it a great sound bite.

    For a US Presidential candidate whose made his career firing people, yet tries to talk up how many jobs he thinks he's created?

    That makes it a perfect storm.

    I could listen to that all summer long. One of the Bain victims, then that clip, then a family, then that clip...

  • berttheclock on January 10, 2012 9:21 AM:

    Most posters are not aware of the medicare supplemental plans used by many seniors to cover areas not available on basic Medicare. Vision, an extremely limited useage of chiropractic care, dental and extra financial coverage for care. However, this past year, you had to choose which plan you wanted by December 7, 2011. After that, you can change your plan by February 4th of 2012, but, only if you change to a higher locally rated plan. After that, there is no "firing" of your carrier until next December.

    But, to add to Ronald's point - Donny Box versus his Firer. A veteran who served his country contrasted with one who said he only served his country by fighting opposing ideologies.

  • Tyro on January 10, 2012 9:21 AM:

    Mike Huckabee had this right: "I believe most Americans want their next president to remind them of the guy they work with, not the guy who laid them off."

    Mitt walked right into this one. The context isn't even the point-- "I like to fire people", in any context is a window into the way the man thinks. I can't imagine those words escaping my lips in any context.

  • Brenna on January 10, 2012 9:23 AM:

    Romney is a control freak, maybe even has God envy. I can't remember if it was Steve who ran the story about Romney telling a woman, as a Mormon abortion counseller, he couldn't give his approval for her to have an abortion even though it was imperative to save her life.

    Come on, it's weird enough to like firing people, but he even believes he can counsel people to live or die. This guy is scary.

  • Oh my on January 10, 2012 9:28 AM:

    He's made his bed, now let him sleep in it.-JD

    What was it a Romney campaign spokesperson recently said? Something about the manipulation of facts is fine because campaign ads are just "propaganda".

  • SYSPROG on January 10, 2012 9:38 AM:

    'This ain't beanbag'...go go go...

  • JD on January 10, 2012 9:47 AM:

    After reading the above comments, I retract my statement that the statement was out of context. The context is Romney's entire career. Based on that nefarious life's work, one can only conclude that Romney likes to fire people.

  • Shelly on January 10, 2012 10:16 AM:

    Romney isn't running for office; he's applying for a job. He doesn't want to be President, at least not our president. He wants to run the country for the point-one-percent. He is talking to them, not us. When he says he likes to fire people, he is scoring points with his new bosses. They can certainly hire and fire insurance companies, and anything else.

  • Ohioan on January 10, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Romney's fatal two part mistake act goes a little like this.

    Romney: "Corporations are made up of people"


    Romney: "I like being able to fire people"
    People: "What?!"
    Romney: "No, I meant firing corporations, not people"
    People: "But aren't corporations made up of...."

    And.... SCENE!

  • RT on January 10, 2012 10:43 AM:


    "The flippancy of his remark is as damaging as the literal meaning."

    Yes, Romney's remark has a "Let them eat cake" quality to it.

  • zandru on January 10, 2012 10:44 AM:

    Romney Reinforced the "Story Line"

    So, a month ago or thereabouts, Romney gets headlines for insisting that "corporations are people (my friend)". Later, "Newt" Gingrich comes roaring out to attack Romney's job destruction credentials via Bane Capital. The interviews with folks fired by Romney blanket the airwaves.

    So then Willard REINFORCES these stories and ties them all together into a consistent portrait of himself by phrasing that he is glad for the opportunity to be able to change corporate healthcare providers in these words: "I LIKE TO FIRE PEOPLE"?!?

    Back to the storyline that he's actually an alien inside a prettified plastic shell...

  • mikem on January 10, 2012 11:20 AM:

    it dovetails nicely with the Republicans' belief that public-sector job losses is a GOOD thing.

  • biggerbox on January 10, 2012 11:26 AM:

    Romney's camp contends it was taken out of context, but even in context it's kind of weird. When I switch between big corporate service providers, I don't think of it as "firing" one and "hiring" another. (Not that I'm in a position where I can choose one health insurance company or another - my employer gets that choice and I live with it.)

    But for car insurance, I don't "fire" Allstate and "hire" Geico. I might "dump" Allstate, and "buy" Geico. Or "leave" Allstate and "go with" Geico. I'd understand someone who said they'd "fired" Allstate, but it would sound a little funny. And no one I know revels in their freedom to "fire" their car insurance provider.

    Romney deserves all the flak he gets for this.

  • Marko on January 10, 2012 11:55 AM:

    "I like being able to fire people"

    Sure it was taken out of context. But phrases like this are on the tips of bullies' tongues. Just like he whipped out that $10,000 bet with Perry. Rather than making a logical argument, he just bullied his opponent into submission with cash. Doesn't really impart a sense of fairness, which is something you would look for in a presidential candidate.

  • Anonymous on January 10, 2012 12:12 PM:

    "I think he meant that he doesn't want the government to tell him who he can and cannot fire."

    Of course that's what he meant. But it's not what he said. Romney talks like his his audience is composed of rich business owners. He doesn't have a clue how jarring it is to hear someone talk flippantly about firing people when the economy is running at 8.5% umemployment and voters are either in fear for their own jobs or for the jobs of their children or other relatives.

  • Shelly on January 10, 2012 1:04 PM:

    His audience IS composed of rich business owners. He doesn't care how jarring it is for us to hear him speak like that. WE aren't going to hire him to run the country, rich business owners are. If ever a time existed for the .1% to openly BUY the presidency, this is it.

  • charlieromeobravo on January 10, 2012 1:05 PM:

    I have to say that I find this whole "I like to be able to fire people" thing to be a BS situation. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Romney but the only way that phrase coming out of his mouth could be that damning is if it's purposefully used out of context. There are plenty of ridiculous things he's said in the last few days that are much more serious that could be used in context to impeach his credentials and credibility. His whole rap about having started at the bottom, his dad's advice about not going into politics unless you have your personal finances taken care of, the crack he made about being glad he forced Ted Kennedy into taking out a 2nd mortgage to fight him in the '94 senate election, etc... Those are all legitimately stupid statements that show you just how distant this guys is from working people. The DNC and Obama should steer clear of the "I like being able to fire people" thing because eventually the context will get around and it won't make them look any better.

  • Jim Keating on January 10, 2012 6:10 PM:

    In the days of yore when people wanted to get ride of other people they set their house on fire thus the origin
    of the word to fire someone.