The political class, at least the political class that follows the 24-hour news cycle found out at some point yesterday (or still this morning) that yesterday morning, Mitt Romney took to Soledad O’Brien’s show (why, Team Romney, why?!) to talk about his victory in Florida.
Of course, Soledad didn’t want to talk about that, she never wants to discuss anything positive happening in the life of a prominent Republican, ever. So instead she wanted more nuts and bolts (not saying that she needed to give him a puff interview, it is journalism after all) from Romney and boy did he leave the “bolts” out, if you’re still with me…
“I’m not too concerned about the very poor, they have a safety net. Now if the safety net is broken and needs fixing, then I’ll fix it. Likewise I’m not too concerned about the very rich, they seem to be doing fine, my focus has been and will continue to be on middle-income Americans.” To the average Republican voter, who might have seen the clip live, they might think “no big deal.” Frankly, that’s what most should think, but most Americans aren’t in the political 24 hour news cycle crowd.
Romney was hammered all day, from all angles of the political spectrum, Jonah Goldberg wrote this PIECE from the right, and of course he was assailed for his “I don’t care about the very poor” more than sufficiently from those on the left. The right at least acknowledged the gaffe is a gaffe because it will be taken out of context, but furthered their frustration that this is the type of thing Romney is prone to.
I don’t disagree that Romney is prone to gaffes, and more specifically prone to gaffes relating to the whole “pulse of the people” narrative (see “I like firing people”, and “I made a little ($374,000) money on speeches”) as this most recent one demonstrates, but here is the angle I’m taking on this propensity to swing and miss on what it means to be compassionate and conservative at the same time. He’s modest, too modest.
In my first year of working in Washington D.C., I commuted into the city from Alexandria with several members of the LDS church, all of whom worked for Western MoCs. If asked to describe every single one of them (there were eight that I had met) in one word, it would be “humble.” You can’t find a more humble people than the Mormons. Meritocracy is an unwritten tenant of the LDS church, you do your work, you reap the benefits from your labor, and you put your trust in Providence, and you don’t talk to people about it, and you certainly don’t gloat.
In a situation like yesterday morning, Romney backers like myself wished Romney was wearing a party hat, blowing a noise maker, and making a mockery of Soledad O’Brien for focusing on anything other than the actual story of that moment which should have been, “Romney wins by 14 in the most important swing state, how do you feel, and how did you do it?”
I have no doubt that Romney’s intentions were good as he spoke this gaffe, because I’ve never met a Mormon who speaks with a bad intention. Nothing Romney said was incorrect, or should be the big deal it has become, and conservatives should just leave it at that. There are countless government programs available to the very poor, and the rich have a tax code that was built for them to expand their wealth. Since the focus of this election is on the middle class, that’s what Romney was saying.
I fully understand that this is another gaffe along the same vein of his previous gaffes and yes, that should be looked at as troubling. I have my own doubts about his oratory prowess when matched up against the greatest orator to hold the West Wing since Ronald Reagan. I too share a lot of other qualms about Romney’s general tenacity, and his obvious need to get more specific with my fellow “Establishment” types. But let’s remember one thing. This guy is Mormon that means that not only are his intentions exponentially nicer than yours, he’s exponentially nicer than you are on one of your “good days.”
Gaffes or no gaffes, I truly believe that Romney acknowledges that “Compassionate Conservatism” is a total bust, and those who are truly (and practically) conservative, believe that the two are separate, but not mutually exclusive. We need this. We need a leader who believes that conservative government is compassionate itself. I think Romney believes this, he just needs to do an exponentially better job of articulating it.