For Mitt Romney, Tuesday night’s expected triumph in the New Hampshire primary will offer a tempting opportunity to gloat. Such unattractive conduct would no longer be surprising from the Republican front-runner, who is enduring the gradual disclosure of his personality.
The hot Romney video of the moment displays him telling the Nashua, N.H. Chamber of Commerce: “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” and went viral not because of its specific context, which wasn’t particularly damning, but because the public perceives the remark as a distillation of elite heartlessness. Every decent person who has had to fire someone knows that doing so — under almost any circumstances — is unpleasant, difficult and frequently wrenching. To boast that you “like to fire people” after observing years of economic pain among the jobless suggests a deep defect that, to most Americans, may disqualify Romney from the presidency.
Of course, that quote could have been a peculiar gaffe or a meaningless slip, but it wasn’t. There is no shortage of evidence, emanating mostly from his own mouth, that privilege, arrogance, and entitlement are major features of Romney’s character.
Sometimes the telltale comment has the additional frisson of weirdness, like his offer to bet “$10,000” that Rick Perry couldn’t prove Romney had said the Massachusetts health care reform should be a national model in a book he had written — or his more recent boast that he had forced the late Ted Kennedy to “take out a mortgage on his house” to defeat Romney in their 1994 Senate race. That quip about the Kennedy mortgage came during the final days of the New Hampshire primary campaign, during which Romney also recalled his father George telling him not to enter politics if he would need to win in order to “pay off a mortgage” — which seemed to mean that only those wealthy enough not to worry about family expenses should seek public service.
As the offspring of a millionaire car executive and Michigan Governor, Mitt Romney need never have concerned himself with that mundane concern. He talks frequently about the “freedom” that permitted him to succeed, without reflecting much on the simple luck of his birth, which ensured, among other things, that he avoided dying in the Vietnam war as a “missionary” in France. Mitt was born on third base, as the immortal Ann Richards once described another fortunate Republican son, and thinks he hit a triple, all because he accumulated even more millions at Bain Capital.
The issue of Bain Capital and Romney’s role there has exposed a degree of arrogance, as he tries to portray his company’s ruthless, single-minded and often destructive quest for super-profits as a noble effort to support American employment. Only a fool would believe the inventive claim that under his stewardship, Bain created a net 100,000 jobs, but Romney evidently takes us all for fools. In the same vein, his disgusting assault on the patriotism of Jon Huntsman, a man Romney has known all his life, betrayed a sense that he can deceive stupid voters into believing a patent untruth. And then there are his phony professions that he understands hardship and sacrifice, that he worked his way up, that he suffered privation and insecurity — which demonstrate only that he believes he can appropriate the experience of others to serve himself. This may truly be the ultimate in entitled behavior.
No doubt we will be seeing more of the real Mitt as the campaign wears on. By the end nobody will be able to say that in his own way, he didn’t try to warn us.