Higgins: Campaign 2012: Open mouth, insert footWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
To the surprise of few, Republicans candidates for president seem little able to make an acceptance speech for a primary victory without sticking their foot in their mouth. Admittedly, they haven’t had a decent orator since Ronald Reagan, and so may be forgiven for not understanding that communication skills are important.
Newt Gingrich seemed to have great debate skills, but lost the crowd (and maybe the nomination) when he announced that he wanted to build in houses on the moon at a time when no one can buy the houses in the U.S. This fumbling reach for a goal reminiscent of Kennedy’s moon effort of the ’60s showed that Newt’s golden wit is paired with a tin ear.
It was perhaps no more tone deaf however than Sen. Rick Santorum’s January stumble with regard to entitlement reform, when he said he wanted to make black people’s lives better by giving them the opportunity to earn money rather than by giving them someone else’s. His no doubt intentional verbal gambit to say that providing everyone an equal opportunity to succeed is good became lost after he stepped into a verbal minefield where entitlements became a racial issue.
Not to be outdone (he is, after all, the front runner) Mitt Romney stumbled from one explosive device to the next by dismissing the $374,000 he made in speaking engagements as “not very much,” before confessing in a CNN interview that he wasn’t concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. And though he went on to talk about the need to provide a better safety net for a middle class that’s key to economic recovery, no one could hear him over the sound of the detonations.
For those of you thinking that I, like most of the media, am ignoring the candidacy of Ron Paul; let me say that nothing could be further from the truth. I simply note in passing here that it doesn’t matter what Rep. Paul says (and he’s had a gaffe or two of his own); the media would call him crazy if he recited the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.
Too many in the mainstream media (and some pundits in the local one as well) are focusing on these verbal faux pas to make it seem these errors are the only public statements that these candidates have made. The obvious intent of this focus is to use such mistakes to prove the inadequacy of these men as presidential material.
Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps the greatest ability that a man can bring to the presidency is that of a great communicator (rather than oh say, strength of character or leadership). Before using verbal miscues as final judgment on a commander-in-chief’s fitness however, they might want to look a little closer to home.
The Democratic opponent that one of these four will face is after all, the candidate who campaigned in all 57 states on the way to his first term in office. This is the teleprompter wizard who after bowling a 129, had the tact and sensitivity to say that his performance was like one in the Special Olympics. This is the great orator who stumped for his signature health care reform package by saying “the reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system.” This is the verbal virtuoso who one month later made the case for government-run health care by comparing the Post Office to FedEx and UPS.
And lest we confuse rhetorical brilliance with the requirement to have such rhetoric actually mean something, this is the leader who promised bills passed by Congress would be posted online for 72 hours before he signed them, that his presidency would be the most transparent in the history of the office, that he would keep lobbyists out of the White House, and that he would seek bipartisan compromise and end the party wrangling in Congress (something he apparently planned to do by extolling both parties to work with him while throwing both under the bus).
Make no mistake however; this year’s presidential election will be much like recent ones … and perhaps more so. It will not be about the records of the candidates (in or out of office), neither will be about the detailed proposals that either of the candidates have for bringing this nation out of economic doldrums (if they have one). Instead, in fulfilling its mission to feed an audience addicted to “American Idol” and “The Biggest Loser” (both curiously apt), this election will once again be about well-written, well-rehearsed teleprompter rhetoric, and the inevitable “open mouth, insert foot” blunders that go with getting off-script.