Context watch: More on Romney’s awkward remark!


Rosenthal blusters forward: As noted below, a raft of bloggers noted that Romney’s comment was taken out of context yesterday morning.

One major liberal did not. Here’s the start of a post by Andrew Rosenthal, editor of the New York Times’ editorial page:
ROSENTHAL (1/9/12): Mitt Romney is not having a good time in New Hampshire. Apparently he really likes to fire people. And he’s actually willing to say so.

Mr. Romney babbled incoherently at Saturday night’s debate about Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that said states do not have the power to outlaw birth control, based on a constitutional right to privacy. He said the question was “silly.”

Then on Sunday, he talked about having worried about getting a “pink slip” at times in his wildly lucrative career as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital. That was silly, and Rick Perry, who’s skipping New Hampshire and campaigning in South Carolina, wasted no time jumping all over it. “I have no doubt Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips,” he said today, “whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out” at the companies Bain took over.

Actually, Mr. Romney seemed determined not to get past it himself. “I like being able to fire people who provide services for me,” he told members of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce. No, really, he actually said that.
Rosenthal had nothing to say about context. He dished the comfort food straight.

As we’ve said, we’re amazed that Rosenthal has the time to write this blog, given his rather major job. But it’s stunning to think that this is the guy who’s running the Times editorial page. Every liberal blogger on earth saw the problem with the way this remark was played.

Rosenthal, at the top of the chain, one hundred percent did not.

Tribal players will cheer. We don't think it’s a good strategy.


  1. I totally agree with this post and the one before it. I suspect what these people criticizing Romney are thinking (to justify what they're doing) is "what goes around, comes around." Just back in November Romney ran that ad with Pres. Obama's words taken out of context. Now the same tactic is coming back to bite him.

    One question: you note the list of liberals pointing out that Romney's words are being taken out of context and the criticism being unfair. Do conservatives do the same thing in similar situations? I don't recall a list of conservatives rushing to defend Obama from Romney's ad.

    Maybe this is one answer to the David Brooks question. Do liberals lose because many of us don't have the stomach to play the game? We bring a knife to a gun fight?

    1. '...One question: you note the list of liberals pointing out that Romney's words are being taken out of context and the criticism being unfair. Do conservatives do the same thing in similar situations?...'

      The Howler notes from time to time that liberals don't have the massive 'echo chamber' that the right has. For that reason, and for the reason that liberals must appeal to _reason_, the Howler seems to maintain that liberals cannot win using the same tactics as the right.

  2. Rosenthal is just doing what the mainstream media now regularly do, which is to report on the controversy, amplifying any "gotcha" or "gaffe" statements candidates make, without sorting things out. They don't unmask lies; they don't challenge narratives or scripts; they usually don't say that a candidate has changed positions or anything else--UNLESS another candidate or member of the "opposing" party does so. Then these "journalists" will do so.

    This is one reason Democrats are always at a disadvantage, because if you see any GOP operative and most of their candidates for whatever office, they will eagerly and readily and proactively say anything about Democrats, liberals and progressives without hesitation, always putting Democrats, liberals and progressives on the defensive and forcing them to react. Listen to David Brooks on the radio; he does this all the time. Listen to Michele Bachmann, or Gingrich, a pioneer at this technique, and on and on. They often will be quite vicious in their statements, really quite nasty, but if there's no counterstatement from a Democrat/liberal/progressives, the "journalists" just act like stenographers, and we know how rhetoric and discourse work: the hatefulness is out there, and proliferates.

    Repetition only makes it sink deeper into people's brains. On that tape of you and Brent Bozell, you saw how many people were convinced that Al Gore was a "liar"; think about how they kept hearing it over and over, how Bozell reiterated this "fact" over and over, and how you were unable to counter it. (You were far too reasonable, but that's another matter.)

    But most Democrats, liberals and progressives, save a few like Bernie Sanders, are never proactive in terms of advancing critiques, especially clear, simple, factual, but also emotionally gripping ones, against conservatives and the GOP. Democrats, liberals and progressives have one that they return to regularly, which is that the GOP is "racist." This is true of many of the party's strategies, rhetoric and candidates since Nixon, but when it becomes the only critique, it loses effectiveness. But then when you have technocratic neoliberals like Clinton, Obama, and many in Congress who identify with the rich, have bought into or are cowed by the GOP's failed policies, and who think that pushing the Democrats' traditional working and middle-class bases off a cliff if it'll protect assets, the banks, plutocrats, etc., you're not going to see people who'll the media will take seriously advancing those proactive critiques. Look at how they mocked Al Gore when he did so, and they'll find any reason to undermine many other Democrats who do so too. But it has to happen.

    Otherwise you end up with people in Iowa thinking that President Obama has been increasing regulations like crazy, when the reality is that under Cass Sunstein, his chief of the regulatory agency OIRA, Obama has gutted regulations at a faster rate than George W. Bush or any other recent president.

  3. While the Romney quote was taken out of context, he has liked firing people in his career at Bain Capital.
    It reminds me when in 2004, John Kerry's "I was for it before I was against it" was also taken out of context with no correcting by the media.

  4. Let's consider the context, then. Romney was apparently talking about the "services" provided by health insurance companies.

    So even if we're prepared to dismiss the strange and self-important use of "firing" here (anyone "fire" an insurance company lately?), and the peculiarly uninformed notion that a health insurance company counts as "people who provide services for me", we're still left with the preposterous claim that the sick can pick and choose their health insurance companies if they find the "services" wanting.

    All told, this comment remains highly reveailing -- far more so than Romney's canned podium responses.

    1. Interesting.

      And the infamous Chris Mathews pointed out tonight that MItt was panning Obama's 'class war' of defending the middle class, and Mitt said questions like taxes could be decided 'in a quiet room,' rather than by the people. Even dastardly CM opined it was an 'elitist' point of view.

      Same type of reveal methinks.....

  5. Actually, repeating "I like firing people" through "independent" PAC ads WILL BE good strategy for the Dems. Maybe ugly. But it will probably be quite effective, because --- even out of context --- it encapsulates something about Mitt that many people feel: that he's a jobs-destroying, self- and crony-enriching 1%-er. Just like "I was for it before I was against it" --- even out of context --- perfectly encapsulated Kerry's wishy-washiness. Just like, hate to say it, Gore's eye rolling and sighs encapsulated his condescension and poor political instincts.

    The humans operate about 70% emotionally and 30% rationally, according to behavioral economists and others.

    By the way, people LOVED LOVED LOVED Bill Clinton even when they knew he was lying to their faces ("I never had sexual relations...") Bill was the most popular and beloved president in a generation. The guy was and is just plain lovable and compelling, unlike his second in command.

    Humans are emotional creatures. Deal with it. Now, I fully expect a lot of high-minded, impatient, even condescending retorts. I'll file those under Pissing in the Wind.

    If anyone thinks Mitt's "I like firing people" won't do some real damage to him, and its repetition won't greatly help the Democrats' cause, you either haven't been following politics for, like, decades, or you live in this alternate universe where We the People carefully consider and weigh facts, subtle arguments, and context.

    There's the way things oughta be, Howlerati, and the way they are.

    1. "... The guy was and is just plain lovable and compelling...."

      Not to me. I always felt he was an opportunistic sleazeball.

      Still the Holwer's right about the press conduct.

  6. I agree with the last post. I hate these cult-of-the-offhand remark "stories" too. But he apparently DID "like" firing people at Bain, at least to the extent that it increased the profit margin for him and others.

    Romney has a big, big problem. He's beginning to the Al Gore treatment-- i.e. mocking, snarky, contemptuousness (see the last couple of Milbank columns). It's something nearly impossible to overcome, as its victims have shown again and again.

    Unlike Gore, Romney should go down, but on the merits, not this kind of snarky, vapid, misleading tribal nonsense.

  7. It's a wonderful idea, Anonymous, that We the People would evaluate candidates on the merits, on a reasoned, thoughtful analysis of their positions, their experience, their judgment, and the like.

    Now, back here on Planet Earth, let me reaquaint you with Nixon's 5 o'clock shadow; Muskie's "tears"; Ford's pratfalls; "There you go again..."; Dukakis' tank ride; George HW's mythic encounter with the supermarket scanner; George HW checking his watch; Bill Clinton biting his lip; Al Gore's sighs and eyerolls; Kerry's windsurfing; Bill and Hill's racism ("fairy tale")....

    The Howler thinks the media are to blame. But We the People have consumed and demanded this type of entertainment for decades. We the People want it no other way. If "the merits" made money, our capitalist media would cover the merits 24/7. (Let's see: How many millions watch Bill Moyers?)

    The Howler thinks this somehow began with "Clinton, then Gore." But it's been going on for generations, claiming candidates on both sides of the aisle. Some, like Clinton, have the charisma, smarts, and cutthroat instincts to survive and even thrive. Others take one of the greatest political inheritances of all time (peace and unpredecented prosperity, and working for one of the most beloved presidents in generations) and not only run from that inheritance (disavowing their popular boss, picking a running mate largely because of his sanctimonious, pious condescension toward his boss), but fumble the ball on the goal line.

    1. "....We the People want it no other way. If "the merits" made money, our capitalist media would cover the merits 24/7. (Let's see: How many millions watch Bill Moyers?)...."

      Sorry, I disagree. They run it because it's cheap to run. And there's nothing else on to watch. Quality TV has been very very popular in the past, and could be again. But the media is just plain awful.

      And you have to admit the war on Gore was absolutely beyond the pale. There was never anything like it before. It was absolutely insane. There are a number of insane things on Planet Earth, as you indicate. But that was one of the most damaging insane actions taken.

      The Howler has hit on a noble calling -- holding their feet to the fire. Because it's the point of the spear -- any impact there is magnified. And someday our children have to know, that somebody stood and called it out for the insanity it was and is.

  8. The liberal's first love is to be a contrarian, to show that his or her bretheren are "wrong" or "unfair". Righteousness above all. And so there is no shortage of liberals rushing to provide "context". But Romney made a gaffe: In Kinsley's famous formulation, he told the truth. “I like being able to fire people who provide services for me.” Sure the context was insurance companies, but that's not what he said he liked - he likes firing people that are working for him. That nasty formulation was his, not anyone else's. He could have said "I like being able to fire..." or "It's important to have the option to fire..." or some less harsh formulation. But no: he likes it. Reminds one of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Recall that "the Ugly" kills because he likes to.

  9. Amen Anonymous at 5:07pm. I'd add liberals prefer to be righteous than to win.

    Win first, then you can do righteous stuff.

    Also, I've about had it up to here with liberals shooting our own just to show how fair-minded we are.

    Mitt gave us --- yes, "us"; liberals; the Liberal/Democratic Tribe --- a gift. Let's run it into the endzone.

    Am I being tribal? Yes, proudly. Memo to the Howlerati: In Nov of 2012, as with every quadrennial Nov, voters will organize into two parties...or tribes. One tribe will be Republicans, the other tribe with be Democrats. Many of us have friends in both tribes, people we love and respect and admire in both tribes. Great. But we will organize into one tribe or the other.

    Some things will be good for one tribe and bad for the other, OK? Mitt's "Kinsley gaffe" will be good for our tribe, the Democratic tribe. In my view, righteousness will be more likely served if the Democratic tribe is in power.

  10. And the idea of "firing" an insurance company? What planet does Mitt live on? Oh, the 1%, I don't live there. Says to me that he is a guy who never has to worry about his insurance, his kids, nothing to worry about when you don't inherit some some bucks.

  11. Gee, Anonymous, I've "fired" lots of companies (using "fired" in the sense Romney did.) I "fired" a rug cleaning service because they make too may annoying telephone solicitation calls. I "fired" Safeway for some food items, because Trader Joe's are cheaper or better. I "fired" my local bookstore, because Amazon is cheaper and more convenient. I "fired" a particular Chinese restaurant because their quality deteriorated. I even "fired" some companies I worked for when I chose to move to a more desirable job.

  12. Geoff,

    You've got to realize that the Howler is dedicated to two propositions:

    1) no matter how much the other side lies and cheats, it's the duty of liberals to speak nothing but the literal truth. Repubs want to end Medicare, you say? Not so! Liberals must say "Medicare as we know it!" Otherwise the statement is the Lie of the Year.

    (Don't bother to protest that the American media simply won't report or broadcast nuanced or complex explanations. Too bad! It's far better to play nice and lose -- Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry -- than win with anything but the literal truth! I mean, it's working great for us, ain't it?

    2) The only racists in America are liberals who don't care about black kids. The continuing success of the Southern Strategy doesn't mean Repubs are being manipulated over racist resentment. I mean, damn, Tea Party types are really good people are heart! They only vote against their own economic interests because, well, liberals, oh hell, I forgot what liberals did to them....

  13. Hey David in Cal,

    Most people wouldn't think of themselves so seignorially as to regard a change of patronage from Safeway to Trader Joe as "firing" the former, but even if you've given to these kinds of ego fantasies, I challenge you or anyone, after to "fire" your insurance company, when it matters (i.e., when you're sick).

    Maybe you, like Mr. Romney, have the financial wherewithal to do so. But suggesting this option to the public generally is hilarious, whether it comes from you or Mitt.

  14. Anonymous, we Tea Party types think we're voting for own economic interests. In fact, we think we think we're voting for everyone's economic interest. We think Obama's huge expansion of government and unprecedented deficits put the country on the road to where Greece is today.

  15. David in Cal,

    At it again, eh?

    1) there *was* no "huge" expansion of government under Obama. The deficit is almost entirely due to 1) the Bush tax cuts, and 2) the reduced receipts and increased government payments of the Lesser Depression, which would have occurred no matter who was in power. If you want *real* instances of expanded government, you'll need to look to GWB's pharmaceutical welfare bill (the Medicare drug benefit), the Homeland Security Dept. and his off-the-book wars.

    2) Given the economic/deficit record of Republican presidents, might I trouble you not to vote for my economic interests again?

  16. Anonymous -- I agree with you that Bush did expand government in the ways you describe.

    However, when Bush left office, the federal budget was about $3 trillion. Today, it's about $4 trillion. That's quite an expansion in only 3 years.

    And, that's before Obamacare kicks in. As Obamacare is currently structured, it's cheaper for a company to stop offering health insurance and instead pay the fine. Many companies will choose this option. This will throw many millions of people into the government backup plan, meaning another big jump in federal spending.

    Incidentally, there is expansion of government even for private health plans, because these plans are now subject to many new government regulations.

  17. David in Cal,

    You're not listening. I gave you the reasons why the budget has increased under Obama (which you did not attempt to refute or rebut), even forgetting the expected budgetary increase due to inflation and the fact that the economy is bigger now than it was under GWB (we *are* still growing, albeit very slowly).

    If you were honest about all this, you would be comparing government spending in Bill Clinton's last year v. in Bush's last year, but of course that's of no interest to you....

    In any case, the budget is NOT bigger because of a "huge" expansion of government. Kindly put a lid of the disinformation.