Friday, November 9, 2012

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Mitt Romney for Losing the 2012 Presidential Election -- Or... Can You?

Last political-themed post of the year -- I hope.  (You probably do, too.)

ESPN used to do a series called The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... The idea was to look at sports figures who committed momentary in-game blunders, or made questionable in-game or business decisions, or courted controversy; and then to see if they were truly to blame for the bad things that followed, or if the other factors at work should be considered, possibly letting them off the hook.

The show would open with "the case of the prosecution," showing why, to use 3 examples from baseball...

* Harry Frazee was blamed for selling Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the Yankees in 1919.

* Walter O'Malley was blamed for moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957.

* Bill Buckner was blamed for the Red Sox losing the 1986 World Series.

Then host Brian Kenny would begin "the case for the defense" with, in his words, "a few reasons that did not make the cut.  We call them 'The Best of the Rest.'" Then ESPN would go to commercial, and Kenny would begin the countdown with Reason Number 5.  Usually, it wouldn't be very convincing, but it would make you think that, indeed, there were other factors that may have contributed to the competitive defeat or public-relations disaster.

Kenny would then say, "Have we begun to change your mind yet?" Or "Did that reason grab you? If not, here's Reason Number 4." It would usually be more compelling than Reason Number 5.  Then would come another commercial, and, upon return, Reason Number 3.  This would usually be fascinating, something that would either seem obvious in retrospect, but blatantly forgotten shortly after the fact; or something that didn't seem obvious at the time, but, once you thought about it, you realized, "Hey, yeah, that is a good reason that (such-and-such awful result) happened!"

Kenny would say, "Have we begun to change your mind yet? If so, here's more food for thought: Reason Number 2." And Number 2 would almost certainly be obvious, as in, "How could you have overlooked this fact?" ESPN would go to one more commercial break, come back, and recap Reasons 5 through 2.  Then Kenny would lead into Reason Number 1, and it would be terribly convincing.  Examples:

* The team that won deserved to win, because they were simply better than the team that lost.

* The disaster occurred in Game 6, when the losing team could still have rendered it meaningless by winning Game 7.

* The seeds of defeat were planted well before the big public event.

* A guy previously thought of as a hero, or thought of as a peripheral player, or even not thought about in connection with the event at all, is revealed to have been the biggest factor of all.  (Example: New York City construction czar Robert Moses was not actively involved in sports, but preferred to build a stadium in Flushing Meadow, Queens, rather than in downtown Brooklyn, thus convincing O'Malley that he couldn't stay in Brooklyn, and thus shouldn't stay in New York, so he might as well move to Los Angeles, where there was big money to be made -- but also leading to the stadium that became home to the Mets and the early Jets.)

Then, with Reason Number 1 seemingly completing the vindication of the blamed party, Kenny would say, "There you have it: The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame (the subject of the episode) for (whatever it was he did or caused to happen).  Maybe we changed your mind, maybe we didn't.  But, hopefully, we made you think about things in a new light." And the closing credits would be shown, with a brief mention of the aftermath of the event, including, if the blamed person was still alive, what he was doing now.  (The series ran from April 2005 to April 2007.)

The show had one flaw: It wasn't a true "trial." That is, it showed the case for both sides, but it presumed a verdict of Not Guilty.  True, in the American legal system, one is "presumed innocent until proven guilty." But, in some cases, the Top 5 Reasons were not enough to overcome the blamed person's true guilt.  This was true for the following installments, in chronological order of their having happened:

* You CAN blame Walter O'Malley for moving the Dodgers.  If he was such a "visionary" for moving his team to L.A., then he should have been enough of a visionary to find a way around Robert Moses.  O'Malley was only a visionary when his vision helped himself: His vision may have helped to make Dodger fans in Southern California, but it didn't help the Dodger fans in the city where they already were.

* You CAN blame Art Modell for moving the Cleveland Browns to become the Baltimore Ravens in 1995.  Unlike many team owners, he never publicly threatened to move the club if he didn't get a new stadium from the City, County or State government.  He didn't point the gun at them and said, "Give me what I want, or I'll shoot!" He just shot.  He had money problems? With all the revenue sharing in the NFL, with all the League's TV money, with all the League's merchandising, I don't care what kind of stadium lease you got: If you're an NFL team owner, and you're losing money, then you're too stupid to own a professional sports team.  It's just like running a casino: Unless you're letting someone rob you blind, you shouldn't be losing money in that venture.  (You reading this, Donald Trump, you lying son of a bitch?)

* You CAN blame Bobby Knight for his outbursts.  Whatever good he's done, and he's done a lot, Coach Knight should have found ways to control his temper sooner.  Knight hit a cop during a tournament in Puerto Rico in 1979 -- he was 39 years old.  Okay, things happen: John Chaney was 62 when he burst into John Calipari's press conference following a Temple-UMass game and threatened to kill him and "kick your ass!" But we haven't seen Chaney do stuff like that time and time again: Either he doesn't, or he's been smart enough (or lucky enough) to keep it away from prying eyes.  So Knight did what he did at age 39.  Hey, I'm 42, and I lose my temper sometimes.  But Knight shouldn't have been throwing a chair across the court at age 44.  He should not have been choking a player at 59.  He should not have been hitting a player on the chin at 66.  Much sooner, he should have gotten help.

* Same with Barry Bonds for "being Barry Bonds." Whatever made him surly, he could have worked on it.  And he chose to cheat.  He could have said, "Look at McGwire.  Look at Sosa.  Now look at me.  I don't use steroids, and I won't.  I think they do.  Hate me for saying it, but I'm clean and I can prove it.  Can they?" Instead, he decided to start cheating the way they did.

* Same with Terrell Owens and his "over-the-top celebrations." They were a conscious choice.  Maybe they were merely an annoyance, not a harm, and thus we made a bigger deal out of them than we should have.  But he could have chosen not to do them, and he did them anyway.

* You CAN blame Charles Barkley for saying, "I am not a role model." Baseball star Bob Gibson once said, "Why do I have to be a role model for your kid? You be a role model for your kid." But shortly after Barkley's commercial first appeared, Dominique Wilkins wrote an opinion piece for Sports Illustrated, explaining why athletes, whether they like it or not, are role models, both positively and negatively.

* You CAN blame Anna Kournikova for not winning a singles title.  There was a lot of good competition at the time.  But, come on, no one's asking her to go from winning 2 majors to 3, as was the case for when this series looked at Greg Norman and explained why he couldn't be blamed for winning more "Grand Slam" golf tournaments.  (2 British Opens, plus 2 legendary Masters collapses.) It's not that Kournikova didn't win more majors.  It's not that she didn't win one major.  It's that she didn't win a single tournament on the WTA tour.  Ever.  You'd think the law of averages (which is probably more of a theory than a "law") would have worked in her favor one time: Injuries to some competitors, illness to another, a bad week to a couple of them, setting up a final between her and some previously unknown girl who's caught lightning in a bottle, and there's the opportunity, and she seizes it, and, boom, she's standing on the clay court at Roland Garros holding up the French Open trophy.  (The clay surface is another quirky thing that tends to derail players who are good on other surfaces, so that's why I chose it as the one that she might have won, given enough other circumstances.) But she didn't even get lucky.  Not even once.  Not one major, not one singles tournament of any kind.  True, it does say something for her talent that she won tournaments, including majors, in doubles.  But that's not what people are watching for.

At the end of the program, they should have had a "jury" of 12 sports experts -- ex-athletes, coaches and pundits, possibly an official (referee/umpire) or two, none of whom was directly involved and thus was impartial -- to deliver a verdict: No, you can't blame the blamed person or group; or, yes, you can.

*

Now... Barack Obama has defeated Mitt Romney to be re-elected President of the United States.  Assuming no medical or ethical calamity (either of which is possible, but neither of which is likely), Obama will serve out a 2nd term, and the 45th President of the United States will take office at noon on January 20, 2017.  Not on January 20, 2013.

Is it Romney's own fault that he lost? He lied, and when it was proven that he was lying, he doubled down on his lies.  He flip-flopped on issue after issue, domestic and foreign.  He let slip a lot of things he wished people had not heard him say:  He was "the gaffe that keeps on giving." And he seems congenitally unable to connect with people on a personal level.

And he turned his ability to make money -- notice I said "make," not "earn," because I don't think he's ever earned a penny in his life -- into a qualification for the Presidency.

Remember when Sarah Palin said she can see Russia from her house? Actually, no, you don't, because she didn't say that: That was Tina Fey in her impersonation.  What Palin said was that you can see Russia from Alaska.  Given good weather, and standing on a certain spot of land in her State, this is true.  But she made it sound like a qualification she had for dealing with foreign policy.  It wasn't.  True, being Governor of Alaska, you do have to deal with the closest countries: Canada on one side, Russia on the other.  This could, conceivably (if there were no overriding circumstances -- and, in her case, there were plenty of them), have qualified her to be U.S. Ambassador to Canada, or even Russia.  But she was not qualified to be Secretary of State, let alone President.

So it is with Romney's ability to make money: It qualifies him to be a CEO.  But Romney never grasped one essential fact: We weren't electing a CEO to run a business.  We were electing a President to run a government.  Businessmen can't run governments.  Michael Bloomberg has proven that Republican businessmen can't do it: New York City is worse off than it was when he became Mayor.  Jon Corzine proved that Democratic businessmen can't do it, either: New Jersey was worse off when he left the Governorship than when he came in.  Romney's business experience, even if it was completely moral (and it was far from that), was completely irrelevant to being President of the United States.

And his only previous experience in public office -- elective or appointive -- was one term as Governor of Massachusetts.  He had one accomplishment: A Statewide version of "universal" health care.  And he had to repudiate it because it was the basis for President Obama's Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. "Obamacare." "Romneycare," if not exactly the same thing at the State level, was practically the same thing at the State level.  And he couldn't be nominated in the Republican Primaries if he didn't repudiate it.  So he repudiated his one accomplishment as Governor.

And Governor of Massachusetts was a job he did so poorly that he didn't even run for re-election, because he knew he would lose to Deval Patrick, a black former U.S. Assistant Attorney General who was so much like then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama that they even shared a speechwriter.  If Romney had run for re-election as Governor and lost, his chances of ever becoming President would have vaporized 6 years ago, rather than 6 days or 6 weeks or 6 months ago.

True, Richard Nixon lost for Governor of California, and came back 6 years later to be elected President -- but Mitt Romney is not Richard Nixon.  Nixon had already been Vice President and served in both houses of Congress.  Nixon already had a national profile and a national following, whereas Romney did not.  Nixon's foreign policy awareness consisted of more than knowing where his money was stashed.  Nixon had the advantage of circumstances causing the Democratic Party to implode, whereas Romney ran against a Democratic Party totally united behind Obama.  And... Nixon was more honest than Romney.  True, Nixon told a lot of lies in the early phase of his career, but the bulk of the political damage caused by his lies destroyed his Presidency -- Romney's destroyed his chance at the Presidency.

Or... did they?

The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Mitt Romney for Losing the 2012 Presidential Election

Here's some reasons that didn't make the cut: The Best of the Rest.

* George W. Bush.  He will hang over the GOP like Jacob Marley's ghost for a long time to come -- like Jimmy Carter did over the Democratic Party from 1980 to 1992 (but not afterward, thanks to Bill Clinton, no matter how hard Republicans have since tried), like Herbert Hoover did over the Republican Party from 1932 to 1980, when Ronald Reagan finally liberated them), like Woodrow Wilson did over the Democrats from 1920 to 1932 (when Franklin Roosevelt exorcised the ghost), like the Civil War did over the Democrats from 1864 to 1912 (when Wilson moved them into the 20th Century).  Voters may believe that Obama hasn't done enough to restore the economy, but they know damn well he didn't cause the crash and the recession: Bush did.  Conservative businessmen did.  And Romney, as he kept telling us, was a conservative businessman.

* Bill Clinton.  His Convention speech gave Obama a huge boost, and his campaign appearances in States like Ohio and Florida helped a lot.  If Al Gore had swallowed his pride and asked Clinton, then still President, to make one joint appearance with him in Miami in the first week of November 2000, Gore would have won Florida by such a margin that Jeb Bush couldn't have stolen it, and Gore would have been unquestionably victorious overall.

* Seal Team Six.  Upon Obama's orders, they killed Osama bin Laden.  If they had failed, it would have been Obama's "Desert One." (The failed attempt to rescue the hostages from Iran in April 1980.) It would have made the Carter-Obama comparisons a lot more honest.  Instead, Obama got a victory that, no matter what Romney and his surrogates said about Benghazi, essentially took foreign policy off the table, because they had no chance to beat Obama on the issue.

* Hurricane Sandy.  True, every State affected by it was going to go for Obama anyway.  But Obama's response, a polar opposite from Bush's on Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and his bipartisan work with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, made him look like a man who cared enough to help, was flexible enough to reach across the aisle, and competent enough to get things done.  Is Romney flexible? Certainly.  Is he competent enough? Possibly.  Does he care enough? Don't make me laugh, and if you think he does, recall "the 47 Percent Video." Obama's response to Sandy didn't turn a single State affected by it -- that was unnecessary -- but it helped him nationally.

* The Wives.  No, this is not a joke about Romney's religion.  His being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- the official name for the Mormons -- in the end, did not make him look like a loon.  (Mormons have some beliefs that I consider strange, but, heck, they're not Scientologists.  And not all Scientologists are as loopy as Tom Cruise or John Travolta.) No, Romney has just one wife, just as his father did.  (But not his grandfathers.) Nor did it make evangelical Protestants abandon him for Obama: I guess they'd rather vote for a Mormon than a black liberationist/Muslim/Communist-therefore-atheist.  (I wish they'd pick one lie and go with it.)

This is a reference to Michelle Obama and Ann Romney.  Ann may have helped "humanize" Mitt with her Convention speech, but thereafter, she acted like a petulant rich chick who thought everyone not rich was beneath her.  In contrast, Michelle Obama acted like a fun person who wants you to have fun, too -- and all she asks in return is that you eat right and exercise.  She won't force you, as was suggested.  Michelle acted like her life would have been complete if Barack loses, or if he'd lost in 2008, or even if he'd never entered politics.  Whereas Ann acted like she had to be First Lady.

We want our First Ladies to appear like living in the White House is nice, but they don't need it.  Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, they all seemed to be regular people.  Even Jacqueline Kennedy, who most certainly was not "regular people," didn't act like living in the White House was some divine right of hers.  Nancy Reagan, on the other hand, acted as thought it was her divine right.  Hillary Clinton often came off as someone who thought so; her softening of her own image was a big reason why Bill won in 1996, and why she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and came close to the Democratic nomination in 2008.  The far right tried to paint Michelle as an entitled woman, which turned out to be ridiculous.  Ann really is like that, and that only fed into Mitt's image as an out-of-touch rich guy.

Before I get down to the Top 5, let me take one potential reason off the table: Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan.  True, he didn't help bring his home State of Wisconsin into the Romney column.  But that's because, despite a lot of Republicans' hopes, and a few pundits bold predictions, Wisconsin was never going to vote for Romney.  Governor Scott Walker's survival of his recall was more of a backlash against the movement to recall him, for not wanting to wait until the next election in November 2014.  (Face it, the only reason Gray Davis was recalled as Governor of California is because of the celebrity of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  If Ahnold had never appeared in a movie, the idea of getting rid of Davis would have had some appeal, but once actual names were put up as potential replacements, he could have survived to serve out his 2nd term.)

Ryan is a far-right extremist.  He's a liar.  He's a top-level douchebag.  But he's not a reason Romney lost.  It was suggested that another "finalist" for the slot, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, might have made the difference.  No: Romney would still have lost the Electoral Vote if he'd won Ohio.  Same with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.  In fact, Romney could have won Ohio and Florida, and he still would have lost, in both the popular vote and the Electoral Vote.

And even if you think Ryan did hurt Romney, remember: Romney chose him.  He could have chosen someone else.  So if you blame Ryan, you should blame Romney, too.

Now, the Top 5 Reasons:

5. It's the Economy, Stupid.  James Carville's 1992 line for Bill Clinton still works.  As I said, people still blame Bush and other "conservative businessmen" for causing the bad economy, much more than they blame Obama for not getting back to where it was in mid-2007, let alone where it was in 2000 before the tech bubble burst.

And it was getting better, in spite of all the GOP's obstructionism: Unemployment, which Obama did not cause to go to 10 percent, was now down below 8 percent.  750,000 jobs lost a month became job growth for 32 months in a row.  The Dow Jones was down to 6,500 after the crash; it was double that, 13,000, on Election Day.

And people got it: "The massive debt" wasn't Obama's fault, not by a long shot, it was due to the tax cuts and the wars that Bush didn't pay for; and the debt that Obama did add on was necessary to clean up the mess Bush left.  Blaming Obama for the deficit was like blaming the Yankees' pitching for their 2012 Playoff loss: It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't the problem.

4. The Republican Base.  They're the ones who pushed Romney into disavowing his greatest (if not, as I've suggested, "only") accomplishment in his only political job.  They're the ones who pushed him into abandoning his pro-choice -- or, as Ted Kennedy called it in their 1994 Senate battle, his "multiple-choice" -- stance on abortion.  They're the ones who made him sound like Dick Cheney on foreign policy.  They're the ones who pushed him to the hard right on immigration and gay rights, when he'd previously been a moderate on the former and at least willing to discuss the latter.

Primary opponents Rick Perry, then Newt Gingrich, and finally Rick Santorum worked so hard to pain Romney as "Massachusetts Moderate Mitt" -- trying to make him sound like John Kerry or, God forbid, Michael Dukakis, and even invoking the State as the only won one in 1972 by the late George McGovern -- that Romney had to come out and not only act like, but actually come out and say he was, someone who was "severely conservative."

"Severely." That one word, more than "I like being able to fire people," or "47 percent," or "Ten thousand bucks?" or even "Let Detroit go bankrupt," may have doomed him.  You may not hear any other observer of the election say it.  But "severe" has connotations of "bad," "harsh," "harmful." You hear of a man in a hospital being "severely injured," a soldier being "severely wounded."

The lunatics who use religion as a justification for their greed, or as an excuse for bigotry, pushed Romney away from the center-right man he'd been, more or less continuously, from 1994 to 2008.  But since it became clear that McCain was not going to win in November 2008, he became "severely conservative" -- until that stopped working, because (as I'll return to later), Obama's campaign machine basically said, "Yeah, he is, and here's what that means." The last time Romney looked like he had a real chance to win was after the first debate, when Obama looked underprepared and Romney sounded like a reasonable, competent moderate.  If he'd been that from the moment he clinched the nomination onward, he would have had a very good chance of winning.  But if he'd been that during the Republican Primaries, he wouldn't have gotten out of New Hampshire with his candidacy intact.

Thinking he needed to appease the hard right may also have been a reason why Romney chose Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as the Vice Presidential nominee, instead of a more moderate conservative, such as Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, or Governor Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

3. The So-Called "Liberal Media." In 2000, they let the Bush team paint their man as honest and Gore as a liar.  The voices stepping forward to defend Gore and to expose Bush as the real liar, as an intellectual lightweight, as a man monumentally underprepared for the Presidency, were too timid, or courageous enough but without enough power to spread their message.  In 2004, the same thing: The media let Bush lie through his teeth about himself and Kerry, to the point where Kerry (rather than Bush) looked like the elitist who was unfit to command our troops, and Bush looked like an average guy with the strength to lead our nation (both bull).  In 2008, the economic crash made the media's job easier: The facts showed the GOP couldn't be trusted, and McCain's efforts to lie about Obama were halfhearted; he's just not that kind of guy, although the kind of guy he is, isn't someone I could ever vote for.

This time, Romney and his surrogates told lie after lie after lie, and the Obama campaign struck back, saying, "Here's the truth," and showing the truth... and the media told the story.  For half a century, since Nixon blamed the media for his 1962 loss, when a Republican loses, or thinks he's going to lose, he and his supporters blame "the liberal media." Usually for "taking him out of context." Even in 1964, a Barry Goldwater supporter was filmed yelling at a newspaper reporter, "Don't quote what he says, say what he means!" It never occurs to these candidates to not say things that they know are untrue, or represent their true feelings but could be taken out of context.  Instead of blaming the media for telling the story, try blaming yourself for making the story available.

Which leads directly to...

2. James Carter IV.  For 32 years, the GOP have been painting his grandfather, Jimmy Carter, as a political, military and moral weakling.  Yes, Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter is, in their words, a moral weakling, for letting the excesses of the 1970s be the excesses of the 1970s.  Never mind that these things began under Nixon, often as a backlash against his policies, and steamrolled under Gerald Ford.  Never mind that Carter could no more control what went on inside the doors at Studio 54 and Plato's Retreat than he could control what went on inside the doors at OPEC meetings.

That's been the line since 1980: Carter is a Democrat, and he's weak, therefore Democrats are weak, they're soft on immorality, soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on defense, soft on Communism, soft on terrorism.  Reagan is a Republican, and he's strong, therefore Republicans are strong.  It was easy to compare Walter Mondale to Carter in 1984: He was Carter's Vice President.  The Carter years were fresh enough in 1988 to make Michael Dukakis "another Jimmy Carter" and have it work.

But after 8 years of a highly (though hardly completely) successful liberal Democratic President, Bill Clinton, the comparison of Obama to Carter, endlessly repeated in conservative opinion pieces, was stupid.  Especially since Carter's attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran failed, while Obama's similar attempt to kill Osama bin Laden succeeded.  If either 2012 candidate was "Ronald Reagan" when it came to defending this nation, it was Obama.  (Never mind that Reagan's arms sales made Osama bin Laden's rise possible.) No, Romney was no Reagan: Reagan was likeable, Romney is not.  And, as Seinfeld's George Costanza taught us, "It's not a lie if you believe it." Reagan said a lot of bull, but he seemed to believe it; Romney couldn't convince people to believe his lies.  So Romney was no Reagan, and Obama was no Carter.

So it was appropriate that James Carter, a freelance filmmaker, was the one who filmed that banquet at which Romney denounced "47 percent of Americans" as moochers who he couldn't reach and didn't have to care about.  It became the Internet equivalent of the late-in-the-campaign banquet in 1884, attended by James G. Blaine, finally winning the Republican nomination on his 3rd try, after being branded as corrupt as hell (which he was).  A speaker at that banquet was the Rev. Samuel Burchard, who denounced the Democrats as "the party of rum, Romanism and rebellion." Meaning they would not stand for prohibition, they were led by Catholics, and most of the Confederates in the Civil War were Democrats.  That word got out, and it cost Blaine New York, which that State's Governor, Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland, might not have won after a sex scandal had damaged his campaign.  It made all the difference, and Cleveland won.

James Carter, standing in for his now 88-year-old grandpa, like Banquo's ghost at Macbeth's royal feast, captured the moment, and spread it, and Romney looked like a different Massachusetts man: Charles Emerson Winchester III (played by David Ogden Stiers on M*A*S*H), who once told an investigator for a McCarthyist Congressman, "Sir, I am so conservative, I make you look like a New Dealer." "Cholls" was rich, elitist, bigoted (he openly detested the Irish and the Italians), and thought the slightest hardship was beneath him.  And he had the ego to match.

As the series wore on, he became a bit more human and less of a caricature.  (Which was Larry Linville's reason for leaving his role as Winchester's predecessor, Frank Burns: He didn't want to be an unlikeable sanctimonious far-right hypocrite forever.  As with Stiers, the other castmembers have said Linville was a great guy offscreen.) Romney isn't a very intelligent man, but he has enough brains to realize he didn't want to sound like Charles -- or like another rich guy to whom he was often compared, Thurston Howell III (played by Jim Backus on Gilligan's Island -- and at least he would occasionally loan nice things to the other castaways and rewrote his will to include them).

It deeply offends Romney when people attack him for having gobs of money, or question whether he got it fairly.  But he figured out that he couldn't look like the guy who writes off 47 percent of the country: "I care about 100 percent of Americans." He had to say it.  Even though he didn't believe it, and the vast majority of that near-majority didn't believe it.

But if James Carter hadn't been there to film that moment, we never would have known Romney said it.  It would have been as if Nixon's Oval Office tapes had never been revealed until after he completed his 2nd term in January 1977; instead, the tapes were revealed in July 1973, Nixon was forced to hand them over in August 1974, and he had to resign almost immediately thereafter.  And, unlike Nixon, Romney didn't have the option to "burn the tapes." He never had possession, let alone ownership, of the clip.  But now, he will have it stuck to him for the rest of his life.

So that's two ghosts: George W. Bush, as that of Jacob Marley; and Jimmy Carter, as that of Banquo.  You could add a third, that of George Romney, the late former Governor of Michigan, whose 1968 run for President short-circuited, but who really was a moderate Republican -- and released his tax returns in full, unlike his son.  We may never find out what Mitt was hiding -- but now, it doesn't matter, because he's lost.  Now, it only matters to the historians, if they're curious enough.

Of course, none of the above factors would have made a damn bit of difference if it wasn't for Reason Number 1.

1. Barack Obama.  Whatever you think of him, personally or politically, he ran a great campaign.  He defined Romney before Romney could define him.  He demolished Romney's attempts to define him as socialist, as weak on foreign policy, as someone who "doesn't believe in America," as somehow is "not really one of us." Moreover, it's very hard to beat an incumbent President, even with an economy that is still growing slowly.  "The Rose Garden strategy" didn't work for Ford in 1976, or the elder Bush in 1992; but it did work for Reagan in 1984, Clinton in 1996, and the younger Bush in 2004.  It worked for Obama in 2012.

Obama not only campaigned to keep his job, he continued to do his job.  Whether it was on keeping the government running, or keeping the auto industry afloat, or passing health care reform, or ending the Iraq War, or killing bin Laden, or biding his time instead of diving right into the Arab Spring, people saw him do what Presidents do.  Individual observers didn't have to agree with what he was doing, but they still saw him do it, still saw him "be President." Romney looked like a President, for sure; but he didn't act like a President.  Obama was able to show what Michael Douglas (whose wife I still love) said in The American President, after Richard Dreyfus (a liberal in real life) spent most of the movie playing a stand-in for Bob Dole, and closing every speech with, "My name is Bob Rumson, and I'm running for President!" Near the end of the film, Douglas defended his actions and those of his girlfriend, Sydney Ellen Wade, played by Annette Bening, closing with, "This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your 15 minutes are up.  My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President."

If Obama hadn't defended himself, and gone on offense, like Clinton -- if he'd rolled over like Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Mondale, McGovern and Hubert Humphrey -- he'd now be packing for Chicago and Honolulu.  Instead, Romney is unpacking, and staying in Belmont and Park City.

*

Well, there's the evidence for both sides.  What's my verdict?

Guilty.  Romney had his chances to win.  And he threw them away, because he wasn't man enough to standup to the right-wingers, and be who he really was: Bill Maher's kind of Republican, "a mean old man who's going to watch my money," not one who'll let bigotry run free, let polluters write environmental laws, and throw our soldiers' lives away in stupid wars.

Those who say Obama doesn't really have a mandate are wrong: As their own beloved Rush Limbaugh used to say, "A one-vote victory is a mandate."

But if Obama doesn't have a mandate, then neither do they.  Their candidate lost.  They blew a chance to take control of the Senate.  And while they held control of the House, they lost seats, their majority cut in half.

There was little McCain could do in 2008.  The disaster of the economy ruined any chance he had.  Had McCain been 62 then, instead of 72, he could have gone to the GOP and said, "I took a bullet for you.  You owe me another shot." (Worked for Tom Dewey in 1948 -- through the Convention, anyway.  Same for Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1956.)

But there were so many things Romney could have done differently.  He made his choices.  As Billy Joel would say, "Don't look for answers.  You took your chances.  Don't ask me why."

Romney should give due credit to Obama.  But he should also blame himself.  Not the media (including, in a way, James Carter).  Not his party's base.  Not his staff.  Himself.

This election was won.  But as the GOP's last President (for a long time to come?) would say, "Make no mistake about it." This election was lost.  In November 2010, in July 2011, even, possibly, as late as early October 2012, it was Romney's election to lose.  And he lost it.

Fair and square.  Not because Obama was fair and he was square.  But because Romney turned himself from a candidate with a lot of potential into someone who refused to make the question on that Time cover go away.

Or to put it another way, there's a story that President Clinton told about an old woman named Pearl.  (Also quoted by Stephen King, somewhat altering the Bible's story of Job.) Pearl knows she's going to die soon, and she says, "God, I lived a good life.  I didn't drink.  I didn't smoke.  I didn't use drugs.  I didn't gamble.  I honored my parents.  I was good to my brother and my sister.  I stayed a virgin until I married my husband.  I never cheated on him.  I took care of him when he got old and died.  I raised our children well.  I taught them to love You and keep Your Commandments.  I gave to the poor.  I went to church every Sunday.  But now, I'm an old woman, and I'm going to die soon.  I'm poor.  I have just a few dollars in the bank.  Social Security isn't enough to live on.  My children never come to see me, and go against everything I taught them, living wicked lives.  All my friends are dead.  I have nothing left.  Why, God, why? Why me?" And there's a clap of thunder, and out of the sky comes a basso profundo voice with an echo, saying, "Well, Pearl, there's just something about you that pisses me off."

Even for those people who don't think that Mitt Romney is a liar, or an elitist, there seems to be something about him that pisses them off.

Whereas, even those people who think that Barack Obama hasn't been a good President, a lot of them still like him.

Democrats used to get mad at people who voted for Ronald Reagan, or George W. Bush, even though they disagreed with those men's policies, because they liked them.

Bill Maher said it when Bush ran in 2000: "People like Al Gore's ideas, they just don't like him." And it was the same way in 2004 with John Kerry.

In 2008, even people who tended to not like Republicans tended to like John McCain.  It's probably the only reason he didn't suffer a Mondale '84, McGovern '72, Goldwater '64, Landon '36 type loss, not just a landslide but a mudslide.

Sometimes, Presidential opponents make up, and even work together afterwards.  It helps if the winner is now out of office.  Wendell Willkie worked with Franklin Roosevelt.  Gerald Ford worked with Jimmy Carter.  George H.W. Bush has worked with Bill Clinton.  Even McCain has voiced support for Obama on an issue or two.

I can't imagine Obama and Romney wanting to work with each other.

Because I think there's something about Willard Mitt Romney that just... pisses... Obama... off.

See? Barack Hussein Obama really is one of us.  A true American.

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