Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Romney Statement

I wasn't going to write about it--I really wasn't. As you ought to know, Romney criticized Obama's handling of the ongoing 9/11 (/12) attacks on our embassies that were touched off by a revolting, amateurish, and intentionally inflammatory YouTube video. You can read the chronology of events here.

Roger Ebert has some insightful comments on this here. He breaks the embassy's statement down line by line and analyzes it. He discusses the facts behind the video--still emerging--and concludes, as do I, that this is not likely the work of "An Israeli Jew" but seems to be the work of some Christian evangelicals who have caused problems before.

Romney went into the breach and his statement, embargoed until midnight 9/11--but released prior to midnight on that date, making it a political attack on Obama on the anniversary of the towers falling--condemned Obama for apologizing for extremists. While there are some tangles there around what exactly he meant (did he mean the embassy statement? Did he mean Obama's Rose-garden address--he pretty much couldn't have--but that was Obama's actual statement--) it drew widespread condemnation from ... the press.

Here is Romney's 3-day average on InTrade. Other betting markets are even worse.
If You Put Some Snow On It You Could Ski Down It.
I really wasn't going to write anything about this--but I think I will.

What Does This Mean?
Immediately after a gaffe there is "spin"--an attempt by the mouthpieces of each party to define/re-define the statement in the way that frames it in the best light for them. Team Obama tried to point out that "You Didn't Build That" mean roads-and-bridges (analysis of the exact quote, however, is unclear--and he mixes some stuff about how-bright-you-think-you-are with the people-need-roads argument that is at best necessary).

Like material in a centrifuge, "spin" tends to separate people into discrete layers or groups. In this case we see the conserva-blogs and Romney doubling down on the idea that the attack--maybe out at the wrong time (although there is never a wrong time to defend America)--is basically sound. It's the press that is responsible for the conversation.

On the other we see the pro-Obama pundits arguing that Romney just "lost the election" and "failed the Commander In Chief" test (I didn't know this was going to be on the test!). The press has made all Romney interaction about how much Romney regrets his statement ('a lot? a little--tell us Mitt!?') and "the press" (or, some of them anyway) was caught on-mike coordinating their questions around this.

Who is winning the war of spin? If InTrade is any indicator ... Romney is losing it.

What Do I Think?
What I decided to write about is "the press." What I think is that Romney has made a tactical error that, most likely, will cost him almost nothing by November 6th--but, if it does, it will be a massive unforced error on his part. I'll let The American Conservative do my talking for me:
The media focused on Mitt Romney yesterday because Mitt Romney asked them to.
If he had merely issued a formal statement expressing outrage at the mobs in Cairo and Benghazi, the media would have focused on the aspects of this ongoing story that Erickson finds so interesting — effectively, as Daniel Larison observed via Twitter, it would have done Romney’s work for him.
I suspect we will be learning a lot more in the coming days about how much the Obama administration knew about security threats to our embassies, and whether they should have acted more quickly to fortify them. If it turns out the administration was derelict in this duty, it will deserve all the subsequent grief it gets from the Romney campaign.
But that wasn’t the point of Romney’s attack, was it?
The point of Romney’s attack was to invidiously link Obama with the Egyptian and Libyan protesters — to imply that he doesn’t love America enough to stand up for values such as free speech. On that score, Daniel McCarthy already has dismantled the argument from free speech.
The point of issuing a press-release is to, well, get press. Romney has gotten press. It is not the press he wanted, to be sure and if that surprised anyone--anyone--it should not have surprised him. John McCain discovered that the press was not his friend in '08. To suggest that Romney doesn't know that by now would be lunacy--but then ... he lifted the embargo on the anniversary of 9/11 with a dead American diplomat in the field to suggest ... what? That Obama coddles Islamic extremists? Obama has been drone-murdering Islamic extremists for quite some time in greater numbers than Bush did. While he may well be losing the Middle East (or, if you prefer, "losing the Middle East") as the Arab Spring's free elections have predictable results when you see that a popular vote has a tiny percentage of college educated moderates vs. a huge organized force of far more conservative Muslims. But it is incorrect to ascribe this specific chaos to Obama's policy.

It is bad form to criticize the statement of embassy personnel surrounded by dangerous individuals when you have not stood in harm's way like that yourself.

It is unwise to ascribe those statements to the Obama administration without proof that the statement was issued by them.

Obama may well have been derelict of duty in providing amplified security for the anniversary of 9/11. That would be a phenomenal talking point but it isn't the one Romney made and it isn't the one he, as the article points out, wanted to make.

For Romney to land himself in that kind of hot water wasn't just stupid ... it was the predictable outcome of his actions.

EDITED To Add: This piece from conservative commentator Michael Medved actually makes some good points:

  1. A misunderstanding about the timing of the embassy press release (it was released before the attacks rather than after--and therefore was in no way an apology for them) was responsible for making a bad situation look worse.
  2. As the Romney response was written before anyone died, his comments were not "piling on the dead" but were rather interpreted that way when, in fact, it turned out that people (in Libya) had been killed.
These are decent points--however they don't actually change anything. We are all human and misunderstandings are a key part of our nature. Bad luck also, as the piece said, made a bad situation worse. That's the nature of the game though: if Obama makes a mistake (and he certainly does) Team Romney cannot be expected to go "oh, he screwed up--hey, we all do." When there's no benefit of the doubt ... there's no benefit of the doubt. Yes: the unfolding of events made it worse--but Obama's response about shooting and then aiming just seems that much more grounded looking at it that way. It's an own-goal no matter how you look at it.


  1. "As the Romney response was written before anyone died, his comments were not "piling on the dead" but were rather interpreted that way when, in fact, it turned out that people (in Libya) had been killed."

    Untrue. Romney's statement reads:

    "I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

    An American had already died, and Mitt took the opportunity to stab the president in the back with a divisive lie premised on racial dog-whistles (the president's a muslim, he's "other", he pals around with terrorists, he sympathizes with the muslim brotherhood, he attended a madrassa, etc.)

    That's what has got the media up in arms about this statement. It's everything that's wrong about the romney campaign distilled into once statement. It's

    A) an obvious lie that contradicts a factual timeline (the embassy's empathetic tweet is from hours before the attack)

    B) filled with coded racial language designed to make the president appear muslim

    C) crass and unapologetic and

    D) displays extremely poor taste and timing from a human and political point of view

    This is the Mitt Romney-est statement that's ever been issued. It's literally his entire campaign distilled onto one paper. It's so malicious and raw and Romneyish the media can't look away.

    1. Yeah--that's true. Clearly Medved didn't think this through and I should've checked that before quoting him. ...