SONS OF FLUBBER: Sons of flubber at play with their dolls!


Part 2—Bruni frisks Romney’s great grandpa: In recent decades, American pseudo-political discourse has largely been a study in flubs.

Consider what happened when Candidate Kerry made an imperfect remark.

At issue were two dueling proposal for funding the troops. Candidate Kerry supported Proposal A, stood opposed to Proposal B.

President Bush supported Proposal B, said he would veto Proposal A.

There was nothing strange in any of this. Two politicians took opposite stances on two dueling proposals. But uh-oh! Candidate Kerry then emitted a (very) minor imperfection of speech. His “flub” was flogged for weeks, then months. At the New York Times, reporters were too dumb to explain the dumbness of this campaign—too dumb, or perhaps too cowed.

People! Candidate Kerry was for it before he was against it! (Translation: He voted for Proposal A, then voted against Proposal B.) Because we’re all sons and daughters of flubber, this utterly pointless construction has now become semi-iconic. Wags and half-wits and Times reporters frequently sample this famous jest, right to the present day.

In those days, Stephanie Cutter was one of the Kerry spokespersons who didn’t know how to explain this nonsense away. Yesterday, Cutter was featured in Helene Cooper’s report in the New York Times—a report describing the way the Obama campaign is now on a constant “flub watch.”

Alas! We’re all sons and daughters of Flubber now! According to Cooper's report, rival campaigns scour their twitter feeds, praying for some slim imperfection of speech from the other side. When a “flub” of this type occurs, we engage in weeks of dim-witted recrimination against the flubber. The world is given silly accounts of what the flubber “said,” “suggested” or “meant.” And yes, our presidential elections do get decided this way!

This bad-faith, low-IQ nonsense substitutes for a national discourse. Very few people seem to notice the ongoing switch.

In part, the age of the flub is the age of Dowd. The nation’s never-ending “flub watch” represents the triumphant creep of the brain-dead culture Katherine Boo warned about in 1992 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/6/12). The values of an uncaring, upper-class “press corps” elite have come to define our discourse.

In part, this manifests itself in the culture of flubs. Then too, there’s the type of reasoning put on display in Frank Bruni’s Sunday column.

What would Mitt Romney be like as a president? A sensible person might take a look at what the gentleman did as governor of Massachusetts. He might even look at the major things Romney has said he’ll do if he gets elected.

A sensible person might consider these ways of discerning Romney’s values and “character.” But pundits today just want to have fun! In her own pitiful column this Sunday, Maureen Dowd had her big long nose back in the candidates’ underwear drawers.

Bruni decided to rummage around in Romney’s religion. And sure enough! It wasn’t long before we got to the “good stuff:”
BRUNI (2/5/12): At one of the debates just before the Florida primary, as he and Newt Gingrich jousted over the Latino vote, he answered Gingrich’s charges that he was anti-immigrant by calling them “repulsive” and declaiming, “My father was born in Mexico.” Many news reports mentioned the moment, casting it as an example of his newfound readiness to take the fight back to Gingrich.

But only a few of those reports recognized what an odd line of defense Romney had employed, given why his father was born there. The family lived south of the border because Miles Park Romney, Mitt’s great-grandfather, had fled the United States after the passage of an 1882 law that explicitly banned polygamy, which he practiced. He was reputedly instructed to till a polygamous Mormon colony on foreign soil.
Great-grandpa had several wives! Exciting! Not that a decent person like Bruni cares a whit about such things! Soon, the columnist was sliming Newt Gingrich for a “prediction” someone has made (see below), while he himself displayed the low-grade reasoning which has come to define the way we suss out a major pol’s “character.”

With apologies, we’ll quote four paragraphs as Bruni rummages in the religion drawer, dumbly playing the shrink while pretending to ponder Mitt’s character:
BRUNI: One longtime Republican strategist I talked with predicted that Gingrich would broach Romney’s Mormonism yet, with the aim of mobilizing the Mormon-wary evangelicals who vote in southern primaries on March 6, “Super Tuesday.”

That’s a regrettable motive. But there are valid reasons for the rest of us to home in on Romney’s religion, not in terms of its historical eccentricities but in terms of its cultural, psychological and emotional imprint on him.

His aloofness, guardedness and sporadic defensiveness: are these entwined with the experience of belonging to a minority tribe that has often been maligned and has operated in secret? Do his stamina and resilience as a candidate reflect his years of Mormon missionary work in France, during which he learned not to be daunted in the face of so much resistance that he won a mere 10 to 20 converts, according to “The Real Romney,” a biography published last month?

And what of his sometimes huffy expectation that voters accept his current stances against abortion and gun control, to name two flips, and stop fussing over so many contrary positions in the past? Does that track with Mormonism’s blithe reluctance, according to its critics, to explain controversial tenets that it has jettisoned, like a ban on black clergy members that was in place until 1978?
This is very stupid work. It typifies the way the mainstream “press corps” now tends to tease out “character.”

According to Bruni, Candidate Romney displays a “sporadic defensiveness” (our emphasis). And not only that! “Sometimes” (our emphasis), he displays a “huffy expectation that voters accept his current stances...and stop fussing over so many contrary positions in the past.” Can we talk? If this is the worst one can say about Romney, there is little to criticize in his “character.” Which modern White House candidate hasn’t been “sporadically defensive?” Who hasn’t been “sometimes huffy?”

In fact, Romney has engaged in gigantic flips in major policy areas; few modern candidates have flipped in so many large ways. Those giant flips should be an obvious point of concern—but Bruni want to fumble around in that thrilling religion, and so he starts asking silly questions about the way Romney got to be like this. What explains his “sporadic defensiveness?” Is it explained by the fact that his “tribe” “has often operated in secret?” What explains his decade of flips? “Does that track with Mormonism’s blithe reluctance, according to its critics...”

Well—you can read the rest of that sentence, a sentence which reveals a complete inability to reason, think, conjure or cipher.

Bruni is playing with dolls at this point, just as Dowd did in her own Sunday column. He even wonders if Romney’s “stamina and resilience as a candidate reflect his years of Mormon missionary work in France!” There’s an obvious answer to that pseudo-question: Who gives a flying fig if it does? Does it matter where Romney’s traits arose, especially since no journalist will ever be able to answer such pseudo-psychiatric questions? Does it matter where Romney’s resilience arose? Where he got his sporadic defensivesness? Why not just describe his traits and pretty much leave it at that?

The answer is fairly obvious: Modern pundits just wanta have fun. They like to rummage in underwear drawers. They like to rummage around with religion, especially if this lets them muse about great-grandfather’s wives. Absent-mindedly, they’ll forget to tell you what Romney has said about these ancient, ancestral practices. They’ll forget to tell you what he has said about the ban on black clergy members which ended in 1978.

This is a very low-IQ game. On Sunday, Dowd was off in the underwear drawer once again. But that’s where Bruni was too.

In recent decades, this is the way the “press corps” has explained the candidates’ “character.” They don’t stoop to the level of describing a candidate’s actual policy proposals; that is hard, boring work. Instead, they take out their dolls and they start to play—perhaps even putting their doll of a dog up on the roof of their shiny toy car! Or they have fun with a candidate’s flubs! And as they imagine the candidate’s soul, no anecdote is too dumb to consider. As he continues, Bruni dreams of a highly revealing moment—a highly revealing moment which occurred in the summer of 65:
BRUNI (continuing directly): A tactful desire to avoid any sensationalizing of Romney’s faith has created a tendency not to give it appropriate due. To read “The Real Romney,” which represents an exception, is to realize the utter centrality of religion in his life. One of the book’s most arresting passages describes a moment when Ann, his wife-to-be and then a Protestant, asks him what Mormons believe. His detailed explanation moves her to tears, perhaps because it’s so heartfelt, perhaps also because he’s so nervous about her reaction.
Does that “arresting passage” in that book help us see “the utter centrality of religion” in Romney’s life? Please. Bruni refers to a single paragraph in The Real Romney (page 30) in which Mitt Romney, age 18, explains one part of the Mormon faith to his high school girl friend, age 16.

It was the girl friend who shed those tears, not our leading-man, Romney. (The book explains why she did.) But so what? From this fleeting anecdote, Bruni draws a sweeping view of who Romney “really” is. Alas! To read Bruni’s account is to realize the utter centrality of silly bullroar in Frank Bruni’s life.

Romney has made a set of proposals which are bat-shit insane. They hand large sacks of cash to the very rich—to the very people Romney says he won’t be focusing on. Romney says quite a few things which aren’t true—and his reversals define a new standard. But so what? We now live in a culture of flubs—and in a culture of pseudo-psychiatry. Here’s what you won’t see from Maureen Dowd’s spawn: The sheer insanity of Romney’s proposals described and explained.

Maureen Dowd doesn’t do explanations of policy; such explanations are boring. For his part, Bruni heads for great-grandfather’s underwear drawer, savaging Gingrich in advance just in case he does the same.

They play with their dolls and they toy with their “flubs.” Remember when Kerry made his funny statement? This is the shape of your “press corps” culture—the culture which handed you Bush.

Tomorrow: Describing that latest flub


  1. Thanks very much for this post. I wish I could find anything in it to disagree with.

  2. You knew he was "rummaging" but he covered his tracks better than most, since his psychoanalytical evaluation of Romney led him to some neutral or positive conclusions. Bruni is trying to get on the record as fair and balanced, but by election day he will be solidly in Obama's camp and try to convince us it's about issues.

  3. And the Emperor still has no clothes.

  4. I wonder if we'll hear about either one of Obama's flip flops today. Flipped on PACs and flopped on the contraception mandate (new york times reports white house has announced they are seeking a "compromise")

  5. I almost want to frame this.

  6. Someone should tell Frank Bruni that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is considered "Protestant." There is the Roman Catholic Church, the mother Christian Church; the Eastern Orthodox Church, which separated from Rome but is ancient as well and draws its lineage from the Petrine foundation; and there are the Protestant Christian churches which arose over the many centuries thereafter. Mormonism is a Protestant Christian church.

    Frank Bruni is an idiot.

  7. Well, I say a candidate's religious beliefs can be important. If a person believes bizarre religious dogma, are they susceptible to disproved economic theory?
    There is a big difference between respecting a person's right to religion, and respecting their beliefs.
    Some religious belief is just plain crazy, and I don't mind saying so!