Friday, January 18, 2008

Mitt Romney and Bill Clinton are two peas in the same pissed off pod... When questions produce anger...

Quiz question: What do Mitt Romney and Bill Clinton have in common?

Answer: They both get pissed off when reporters won't play along with their bullshit.

Yesterday was awesome. Mitt Romney lost his temper after a reporter had the audacity to interrupt him, questioning him on his "I don't have a lobbyist running my campaign" statement. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton got a little testy with someone who dared to ask about the failed lawsuit filed by Hillary backers designed to kill the casino caucuses in Nevada.

Why was that awesome? Because it shows that people on both sides of the aisle are less than comfortable when someone challenges their statements.

Before I get into both of these incidents with greater detail, here's the takeaway for this post: Politicians are so comfortable in their ability to bullshit the public by means of the press that they actually get angry when reporters don't play along. I think it's reasonable to conclude that if more reporters would speak up when handed steaming piles of BS, we might see a drop in the overall level of BS. Just an idea.


Mitt Romney was on a roll. He was talking about the evils of politics as usual while patting himself on running a campaign that was not reliant on the love and money of special interest groups. He showed his disgust over a politics tainted by lobbying. He then reminded the crowd that he didn't have a lobbyist running his campaign. He was about to say something else distancing his campaign from those evil lobbyists when Glen Johnson interrupted him.

Glen thought the whole "no lobbyists" thing was sort of silly and a little less than honest. After all, Romney's campaign features many lobbyists in very public, if not downright critical, roles. Johnson expressed his reservations about Romney's statement by asking about Ron Kauffman, one of the lobbyists who does advise Mitt's campaign.

Romney, in turn, got a little flustered and a wee bit pissed off. Kauffman, you see, doesn't run his campaign. Romney reminded the gathering and Johnson that he said he didn't have a lobbyist running his campaign.

They went back and forth a little bit. The whole deal ended with Romney commanding, "Listen to my words".

In Mitt's defense, he doesn't have a lobbyist running his campaign. However, the argument that he was making during that speech was that he was above the fray and disassociated from the world of lobbyists. Though his precise statement was true, Johnson's observations certainly cut against the credibility of the larger argument.

Romney probably isn't as beholden to the special interest crowds as other candidates might be. I'll give him that. Of course, that probably has more to do with having more money than God than it does with Mitt's principles. However, pretending like you're anti-lobbyisust rings hollow when you have a collection of big-time lobbyists helping you on your way to the White House. I'm not just talking about Ron Kauffman here, either.

Here are a handful of the people working on the Romney campaign, lobbyists all...

Vin Weber. Weber is Romney's policy chairman. He's also one of the original "super lobbyists". The Washingtonian has him listed at #5 on the list of DC's most powerful lobbyists.

Warren Tomkins. Tomkins is Romney's South Carolina adviser. He's been on Mitt's payroll for months and there are questions about links between Tompkins and some political dirty pool involving Fred Tompson. (Note: why would anyone bother spending a dime to monkeywrench Thompson's half-assed non-factor of a campaign?)

Barbara Comstock. She's Romney's communication consultant. Comstock has a long history as a party hack and an equally long list of clients ranging from Comcast to Chiquita bananas.

Romney wants everyone to "listen to his words". If we do so with precision, we can agree that he doesn't have a lobbyist running his campaign. Folks like Tomkins, Comstock and Weber aren't tied for El Numero Uno on the organizational chart. If we listen to his argument, however, and then start looking at the people who are rubbing shoulders with him on a regular basis... Well, it doesn't really look like a candidate with a fierce opposition to lobbyists and their influence, does it?

My only wish is that Johnson had waited another ten seconds to interrupt Romney. I have a feeling that he was about to say something that would've complicated matters for him even more. He said "I don't have lobbyists who are tied--" right before the fireworks started.


Mitt Romney's incident wasn't the only mini-outburst of the day. President Bill Clinton, who lately seems enamored with the idea of making former fans dislike him, got a little surly, too. When a Bay area reporter starting quizzing him about the Hillary-friendly Nevada lawsuit that would have killed the at-large casino caucuses, Bill did a little of the ol' "he who doth protest too much" thing.

He claimed that even asking him about the suit was "accusatory" because Bill & Hillary had nothing to do with it. He said that he found out about the lawsuit in the newspapers, again distancing himself from the filing. He then launched into a nicely packaged defense of the lawsuit and its merits. He followed up by telling the reporter that all of the people who supported the Nevada caucus rules had done so without really knowing how skewed the whole thing was. He concluded by arguing that anyone who had questions about the lawsuit needed to admit to being a giant asshole on TV.

Okay, that last part is a little exaggerated. Not much, though. Clinton actually told the reporter that if he was going to take a position critical of the suit, he needed to go on television and tell everyone that he didn't care about the home mortgage crisis and that he believed some people should get unfair opportunities and that those same people's votes should count five times more than anyone else's. Basically, as noted, he said "if you argue with Bill, you must admit to being a giant asshole".

Aside from the obvious flaws in President Clinton's argument (it is possible to care about ARMs and the housing market while simultaneously wondering if Hillary's campaign had a hand in the lawsuit), there are other problems with his reaction.

First, asking a question isn't inherently accusatory.

Second, even if it is an accusatory question, that doesn't mean that it doesn't deserve an answer.

Third, it does seem more than a little odd that Clinton & Clinton wouldn't have even known about the lawsuit unless the Hillary campaign is operated by dummies who don't pay attention to what's going on in states hosting quick-approaching caucuses.

Fourth, it seems strange that Bill knew nothing about the whole damn thing but seemed to be an Instant Expert when it came to the attitudes and knowledge of those who originally supported the state party's plans and the way that delegates would allegedly be distributed.

Fifth, the group that filed the failed suit has leadership that has publicly endorsed Hillary's campaigns.

Sixth, you can't possibly blame a reporter for asking the question when a Clinton-friendly lawsuit appears a few days before an election, seemingly out of the blue. I think the list could get longer, but you get the idea.

There are legitimate reasons to ask questions. Whether there is justification to get pissed and patronizing is another matter....


I'm not saying Hillary and/or Bill masterminded the lawsuit any more than I'm saying that Romney is in the pocket of powerful lobbyists. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere between their bullshit statements and outright conspiracy. What I am saying is that journalists have a right and a responsibility to challenge people on these statements and to attempt to find something approximating the truth. I am saying that politicians shouldn't act as if they are above being questioned and they certainly shouldn't get pissed off because when the press isn't willing to give them a bye on their stump material.

I'm reminded of Stephen Colbert's appearance at the White House correspondent's dinner a few years ago. He attacked the media by stating:

"Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!"

The media deserves plenty of criticism of this sort. Generally speaking, the news people are happy to accept the crap they're handed, working hard only when they have an opportunity to create silly horse race stories or to fan the flames of a red/blue war they're trying to promote. The proof of that tendency is illustrated in the Romney/Clinton reaction to harder-than-usual questioning. These guys are so used to controlling the agenda that they lash out when things don't go according to plan.

A note to Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney: You shouldn't wag your finger in the faces of those who aren't willing to accept whatever you say as secular gospel. You shouldn't expect to have everyone believe everything you say every time you say it. You shouldn't lecture the press on being accusatory. There's a better alternative: stop making weak statements designed to spin and disguise the truth.

Oh, and when people ask you questions... Answer them honestly and directly. Thank them for giving you an opportunity to clarify and to amplify instead of cursing them for recognizing the scent of bullshit. If you do enough of that, you might even see some elections working in your favor.


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  1. Holy shit, John. I just watched both of those videos. Clinton and Romney both get really defensive, you're right.

    That's what aggressive leadership looks like, by the way:). Just an aside:).

    Yeah, and the journalists questions need some kind of honest concession on the part of the candidates in both cases. Especially the Clinton case, in my view, which is a much more serious charge - that the Clinton campaign may be behind or in league with a lawsuit that would keep folks they know support their major rival from caucusing - than lobbyists being involved, even at high levels with your campaign (the journalist in Romney's case didn't even sound like he was charging that lobbyists ran his campaign; he was just making the point that they work his campaign, it sounded like to me, which is true and should be conceded, with a nice discussion and then making the point that they don't run the campaign but he gets the reporters point).

    Yeah, it's really not fair to the journalists, involved, that these candidates both get so defensive and aggressive, and, in the case of the Romney campaign, have a staffer get in the face of the reporter for having the audacity to contradict the candidate.

    The journalist talking with Clinton, at least - to be honest, I couldn't hear the journalist talking to Romney, very well- may have been somewhat provocative which, given a nicer approach, might not have gotten a dramatically more honest answer from Clinton, but might have gotten an answer that was modestly more honest and much less confrontational with Clinton's hackles up less and less on the defensive, more comfortable, and jawing more freely, as he is likely to do. Just as a practical matter, it might have gotten more information from him that the reporter and the audience, just as we had to do anyway, would have to dissect later.

    This is why aggressive leaders are often a mixed bag. It's great that they care enough about the issues to work on them with such passion and to, at times, get assertive and/or aggressive when that is needed. But that is often abused too, as it was in both of these cases, it appears. Aggression also gets used to avoid uncomfortable questions, challenges, dissents, disagreements, subjects, and other things that such leaders want to avoid. That's why dictators become so dangerous. Because it becomes a habit that they don't like to give up.

    My principal, last year, could be very personable and charming, when she was in a good mood. Other times she was terribly aggressive and very hard to talk and reason with. And that is a particularly difficult thing to contend with when someone doesn't reason too terribly well and when you're pretty sure that, in general, they don't reason as well as you do. That's why I've always said that, if I had to choose, I would rather work for someone who was less ambitious/intelligent but more decent to me than someone who was more ambitious/intelligent but who treated me like shit. But the latter makes it more difficult for me and for them to learn and grow and to deal with problems more effectively, no matter how smart or ambitious someone is.

    Brandi and I struggled with this all throughout our relationship because we were both ambitious, intelligent and aggressive people, who also happened to be fairly nice folks, as well. Brandi understood all the dilemmas that come with that situation better than most people I know, which is why she and I were so close. But it also meant two people, and me in particular, constantly being verbally aggressive with one another in situations where it not only didn't do any damn good but it was just being defensive about stuff that defenses didn't resolve or make go away.

    On the other hand, without a capacity to be more assertive and/or aggressive, when I've needed to be, I couldn't be a very effective teacher with kids who are seriously aggressive, either. There are teachers who do a passing job without being comfortable with aggression. But they aren't as effective as I would like them to be.

    So I, personally, am on both sides of this issue, enough, to know that the only fair way to get through all this complication is to have a more patient, less provocative, less aggressive (as least aggressive as possible) conversation about issues, with, hopefully, some humility and a sense of humor, and work through them and discuss them as decently and reasonably as possible, with sensitivity to the interests and concerns of others as well as ourselves.

    Everything else is just more of this bullshit. And all of the threats produces a similar if suppressed version of the same thing. It may not be said out loud. But it's there. And it's not good for reasoned discussion, I don't think.

    In the meantime, Clinton and Romney are responsible for their own defensiveness and need to chill out and reflect a little on their outbursts. It's kind of amazing, really, to watch candidates be so aggressive/defensive so openly. Maybe we're entering an era where people are finding it harder to contain their emotions, no matter how hard they try. Maybe that'd be a good thing for Mrs. Clinton. It's probably a good thing for all of us.

    Or maybe not. I should put that disclaimer at the end of everything I write or say. Maybe I'll get a T-shirt.


    1. David Pescatore is an Anglophile. Saw him (that is what he is most comfortable with) at National Gallery with a security guard by his side when I went to London to try & speak with him. He did not speak. Out of nowhere four more guards appeared and I was asked to go elsewhere within the building or to leave altogether. I left. I was shaken up abit.