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Romney has a Kerry moment
February 6, 2012 - Stephen Browne
I've been musing over the now-infamous Romney gaff and wondering what it says about us.
No I don't mean "us" as in the people of America and our attitude towards the plight of the very poor. I mean "us" as in journalists, the ladies and gentlemen of "The Fourth Estate."
During an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brian Romney stated, perhaps clumsily, "...I’m not concerned about the very poor; we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.”
O'Brian immediately jumped on him with an, Oh so you don't care about the poor? gotcha followed by a host of pundits both liberal, and conservative.
I want to point out something here, but I'm going to have to digress, lest people of one bent or another throw this down in disgust before they've read it all.
Whatever you think of Romney, he has not been treated fairly in this, anymore than John Kerry was when he made a similar gaff during the Bush-Kerry election campaign.
Remember Kerry's famous, "I voted for the bill before I voted against it,"? And how people who didn't like Kerry used it to portray him as a moron or a flip-flopping hypocrite?
Now again, read what I have to say about both of these before you throw a shoe through your computer screen. Whatever you think of Romney's statement, agree or disagree, it is perfectly reasonable when taken in context. And that's what's worrisome about it from a journalistic standpoint, I had to put a fair amount of effort into finding the whole statement directly quoted. You can find it, just google "Romney gaff." But you'll first go through a lot of sites, left and right, where only the one seemingly damning sentence is quoted, or where it's only paraphrased.
When Kerry said, "I voted for the bill before I voted against it," (and during all the flap over that remark did anybody even remember what the bill was?) he was referring to a basic reality of legislation. A bill is introduced in either the senate or House. It goes through at least one committee before being passed in one house and sent to the next, etc.
In the process it is changed and amended. Riders are added by parties who think they'll have a better chance of passing their pet projects if they are attached to a more popular measure than if they stood alone,
The end product can be something that is completely unacceptable to the original supporters, even the author of the bill.
Perhaps Romney should have said something like, "I'm not as concerned about the very poor as I am about the middle class. Because after all... etc etc."
Perhaps Kerry should have said something like, "By the time the bill I voted for was changed and amended it had become completely unacceptable to the intent of the bill as originally written because...etc."
But it's hard to guard every single word when you have to speak extemporaneously to often hostile interviewers for months on end. Everybody has slips of the tongue where they transpose opposites such as north-south, left-right, etc. Everybody speaks incorrectly in their native language at least 3 to 5% of the time (I just went back and corrected a pronoun-subject agreement issue.) Everybody has lapses of memory. And everybody probably wishes they could script their remarks before making them.
So are we going to ask intelligent questions that address the substance of the candidates' remarks such as: "Is the safety net really adequate to address the needs of the intractably poor? Is it really true the middle class has no safety net? Where did you get that 90 to 95 percent figure?"
Or are we going to hover like vultures over every utterance ready to spring on them with a "Gotcha!"?
And I'll make a bet with you. Somebody is going to read this and conclude I'm shilling for Romney, or Kerry.
Next: Could Washington, Jefferson, Madison, or Lincoln get elected these days?
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