Thursday, April 19, 2012



Most of us (i.e., those of us who don’t spend most of our time anesthetizing our brains with situation comedies, celebrity news, and the like), and doubtless all of the readers of the Insightful Pontificator and its sister publications, Mighty Insights at Rant Finance,

are tired of hearing about such silliness as where the Romneys put their dog when they traveled (Though I have to admit, as a dog lover, putting a dog in its crate and affixing said crate to the top of a moving vehicle does trouble me more than a bit, but not enough to change my vote.), and Barack Obama’s youthful culinary preference for, or at least adventure in, dog meat. But yesterday, we were treated to what initially appears to be yet another of these piffles but that might say a lot about Mitt Romney, probably not something we didn’t already know but illuminating nonetheless.

Yesterday, while campaigning outside Pittsburgh, the GOP standard-bearer, Mr. Romney was meeting at the Bethel Park Community Center with a group of senior citizens. (I was happy to see that he was meeting with a group of senior citizens who are presumably retired and thus might have the time to serve as living, breathing props for bloviating politicians. Whenever I see a politician speaking in front of, to, or at, a group of (doubtless hand-picked) voters, I often ask myself whether these people have jobs and, if they do, how did they find the time to blow listening to some dandy on a mission of unabashed self-aggrandizement. When a pol meets with senior citizens, I at least have a possible explanation, though even most senior citizens I know have too much to do, and too much self-respect, to fritter away their time serving as extras for carefully staged campaign events, but I digress.) Commenting on the cookies that had been graciously provided for the event, Mr. Romney said to one of the women at the table

I’m not sure about these cookies. They don’t look like you made them. Did you make these cookies? You didn’t, did you? No. No. They came from the local 7-11 or wherever.”

This turned out to be yet another case when Governor Romney stepped in it; the cookies had been prepared and provided by Bethel Bakery, a very well-regarded small business in the area that apparently produces cookies that are a source of profound pride in the entire area. (I have to remember to stop by Bethel Bakery if I am ever around Pittsburgh again and compare it to the incomparable Iversen’s Bakery on Western Avenue next to the site of the old Lyric Theater in Blue Island. If Bethel is even close, Mr. Romney indeed pulled quite a gaffe. But, again, I digress.) By claiming, without even trying them, that the cookies from Bethel were of 7-11 quality, Mr. Romney indeed touched a nerve.

Why is this important? Wasn’t Mr. Romney just trying to say something nice to the women present, complimenting them on their cookie baking skills? Surely that was his objective. One could argue that such a compliment is rather condescending, but I would venture a guess that none of those present would take it that way.

The big problem is that Mr. Romney was trying to offer such a compliment, convoluted as it was, when none was necessary; i.e., he was quick to say something ingratiating when it was completely unnecessary. He was trying to hard to get people to like him. This is a trait with which I am familiar; I have been, and, hopefully and/or thankfully, to a lesser degree, still am, guilty of such a trait. Many of us are. We say nice things to people that are completely extraneous just so that we can show them that we like them and that we would like them to like us. It’s a common human trait, but it can get annoying. This trait is especially characteristic of politicians. Most of us, as we grow older, wiser, and, to use one of those trite expressions about which I am going to write in the near future, comfortable in our own skins, we less frequently feel the need for such extraneous ingratiation. When we like people, appreciate people, and like their company, we express it in our actions and in those words and expressions of affection that arise naturally; there is no need to come up with artificial, cloying expressions to cement the deal. If they also like us, that is wonderful. If they don’t, that is life. By engaging in such gratuitous activity or banter, we are expressing a troubling desperation to be liked.

This trait is not unique to Mr. Romney or to politicians; in fact, one might say that it is indeed necessary if one is to be a successful politician. But it is not a trait that one should find attractive in one’s leaders. A leader with such a desperate need to be liked is dangerous.

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