December 21, 2007

Mitthausen's Syndrome

Hatched by Dafydd

I've spent a few posts blasting Mike Huckabee for various infelicities and absurdities that have bubbled forth from his campaign; it's only fair that I go after Mitt Romney as well for his increasingly irritating (verging towards disturbing) tendency to take a kernal of truth and stretch it like taffy to make a political point -- a process I'm dubbing Mitthausen's Syndrome.

  • He called himself an avid hunter, while later having to concede he had only hunted twice;
  • While explaining the above, he said he frequently shot rodents in the woods with a pistol, clearly implying that he owned guns when he did not;
  • He recently claimed that during his 2002 gubernatorial election, he had been "endorsed" by the NRA -- when what he meant was that an NRA phone back supported his campaign, but he never received any formal endorsement.

The exaggerations are all minor; and the points they support are themselves reasonably accurate; but they open the candidate to distracting accusations and force him on the defensive.

The most recent example, of course, is that during his excellent "religion speech" earlier this month, he said (it seemed) that he had personally watched as his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, jr.:

"These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord's words: 'For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me...'

The Romney campaign subsequently clarified that, while Mitt Romney may never have personally witnesses such a march -- if it happened, it would have occurred while he was in class in high school -- that George Romney did, in fact, march with King through Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit, in 1963.

However, an ultra-liberal (and likely very anti-Romney) newspaper, the Boston Phoenix, claims that King never marched through Grosse Pointe:

Asked about the specifics of George Romney’s march with MLK, Mitt Romney’s campaign told the Phoenix that it took place in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. That jibes with the description proffered by David S. Broder in a Washington Post column written days after Mitt’s College Station speech.

Broder, in that column, references a 1967 book he co-authored on the Republican Party, which included a chapter on George Romney. It includes a one-line statement that the senior Romney “has marched with Martin Luther King through the exclusive Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit.”

But that account is incorrect. King never marched in Grosse Pointe, according to the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, and had not appeared in the town at all at the time the Broder book was published. “I’m quite certain of that,” says Suzy Berschback, curator of the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. (Border was not immediately available for comment.)

Berschback also believes that George Romney never appeared at a protest, march, or rally in Grosse Pointe. “We’re a small town,” she says. “Governors don’t come here very often, except for fundraisers.”

In fact, King’s only appearance in Grosse Pointe, according to Berschback, took place after Broder’s book was published.

That was for a March 14 speech he delivered at Grosse Pointe High School, just three weeks before King was assassinated. But there was no march, and George Romney was not there.

Contrariwise, Mike Allen at the Politico quotes a couple of witnesses, both residents of Grosse Pointe in 1963, who insist they clearly remember King marching there -- and Gov. George Romney "joining him in shirtsleeves":

Shirley Basore, 72, says she was sitting in the hairdresser’s chair in wealthy Grosse Pointe, Mich., back in 1963 when a rumpus started and she discovered that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and her governor, George Romney, were marching for civil rights -- right past the window.

With the cape still around her neck, Basore went outside and joined the parade.

“They were hand in hand,” recalled Basore, a former high-school English teacher. “They led the march. We all swung our hands, and they held their hands up above everybody else’s....”

The campaign posted citations quoting one author as writing that “George Romney made a surprise appearance in his shirt sleeves and joined the parade leaders....”

Another witness, Ashby Richardson, 64, of Massachusetts gave the campaign a similar account.

“I’m just appalled that the news picks this stuff up and say it didn’t happen,” Richardson, now a data-collection consultant, said by phone. “The press is being disingenuous in terms of reporting what actually happened. I remember it vividly. I was only 15 or 20 feet from where both of them were.”

At this point, pending further data, I have to conclude that the argument is inconclusive: I seriously mistrust such recollections of "my brush with greatness," but I also seriously mistrust the Boston Phoenix to do a fair job of researching a King march in Detroit that might have included an impromptu swing through Grosse Pointe.

However, Romney does now admit he did not literally witness his father marching with King, whether or not such a march actually occurred.

Now, this is not a "lie" in the ordinary sense of the word; even the Phoenix admits that George Romney had a strong pro-civil-rights record, leading his own 10,000-person civil-rights march through Detroit; it's virtually certain that George Romney would frequently have praised King in Mitt's presence. This, plus George's status as governor Michigan at the time, could easily give rise to a false memory of actually witnessing the two marching together... especially if they did so march, and if young Mitt heard all about it that night over the dinner table.

Still, it was unquestionably an exaggeration -- an instance of Mitthausen's Syndrome -- for Mitt Romney to say he saw his father march with King; he should have done some research first to make sure his memory wasn't playing him false.

Now, it is possible to read Romney's words somewhat more charitably -- that he "saw," as in knew that, his father marched, rather than that he personally stood there and witnessed it with his own eyes. Romney himself offered that explanation... which we all know, in PR terms, sucks rocks as a defense against the charge of being a serial exaggerater.

The basic point Romney was getting at in his speech was to refute the paralogical claim that, since the Romneys were devout Mormons, and since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had a racist policy at the time not to ordain blacks, that therefore the Romneys themselves must also have been racists; and indeed, George Romney's record (as well as Mitt's own) clearly refute that liberal canard.

Still, having worked so long on that speech, he should certainly have "bullet-proofed" a claim that he used as a central argument against the vile and false racism charge. As we all know -- including Mitt Romney, I must presume -- those on the Right simply cannot get away with exaggerations, evasions, circumlocutions, or fibs, no matter how trivial, the way those on the Left can.

Because of animus from the left-leaning press, we anti-liberals must scrutinize every word before we speak or write... because the nattering nabobs of negativism will certainly do so afterwards. Romney could simply have said "My father marched with Martin Luther King" or "my father led a march for civil rights" and left out the confusing bit about personally observing him.

Mitthausen's Syndrome is not an ethical failing, as was Bill Clinton's penchant for literally lying -- saying the opposite of what really happened, shifting blame from himself to innocent others, and bearing false witness against honest accusers; but it is a communications failure. This bothers me because the inability to communicate is the biggest failing of the Bush administration, starting during the campaign with Bush's failure to disclose his DUI arrest

I demand a president who can talk to the American people and persuade them to stick to the high road, the difficult road, the necessary road -- in economics (privatization of "entitlement" programs), immigration policy (reforming legal immigration to make it rational, just, and predictable), and especially in matters pertaining to the war against global hirabah.

My biggest objection to Mike Huckabee's strange ramblings is that they demonstrate disordered thought processes. Romney isn't that bad, but his serial exaggerations do demonstrate too great a willingness to "put a head" on a good story to make it just a little better. That is a quality highly prized in a raconteur -- but which can come back to bite a presidential candidate in the end.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 21, 2007, at the time of 4:59 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Baggi


I don't think what you're asking for is even possible, unless someone is a robot. And even though Mitt's detractors would have you believe he is a robot, the truth is, he's human just like the rest of us.

The only thing I can think to relate this to is my own work. I work on our nations border and one of the jobs we do is to inspect incoming vehicles from Mexico.

When I first started work in 1996 we used to stand out there "on the line" for 1 hour at a time, 4 out of 8 hours of your shift. By the 4th hour of the day "on the line" it was really hard to be at high alert. Each vehicle that comes up you have to pay very close attention. You have to observe all the little details and this takes a lot of mental concentration and staying power to be good at.

After a long day of work, and an even longer day of overtime, your mind starts to wonder to things like eating, being with the family, resting, watching your favorite television program, etc.

Translate that into conversation. When someone builds a rapore with us, after awhile, we tend to let our guard down. The MSM is great at doing this, building up a rapore so you will lower your guard. Our politicians who are on the campaign trail speak to the MSM many hours out of each day. They can't always be on their guard when it comes to watching their P's and Q's.

So saying things a certain way tends to slip out. Like saying, "I saw my dad march with MLK" when he really meant it figuratively.

It's easy for us to criticise and wonder what must be going through his mind when he says things the way he does, but I find such things easily forgiven.

Perhaps thats just me.

The above hissed in response by: Baggi [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2007 5:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: rasco

It seems Romney was speaking in general about "seeing" his father generally supporting Civil Rights throughout his child hood and young adult life. Examples of things his father did specifically with MLK can be seen at
Romney was old enough to "see" his father supporting civil rights with MLK even though he was not a each event.

The above hissed in response by: rasco [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 21, 2007 5:46 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

Oh for heavens sakes, this is just getting ridiculous. I do not think that either Romney or Huckabee are racists. I do not think that either of them has a disordered thought process either. And I do not think that either one of them is a religious fanatic, a socialist, a pacifist, or a horrid liberal disguising himself as a Republican.

They are also people who have actually won elections as Republicans.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 22, 2007 3:37 PM

The following hissed in response by: Seaberry

Personally, the Republican Party is too far left for me, which is why I register to vote as a Libertarian. If they go for a candidate any further to the left than Romney or Thompson, then they lose my vote. Well, perhaps I would even vote for Giuliani, but Huckabee and McCain will not get my vote.

The above hissed in response by: Seaberry [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 22, 2007 6:48 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I think you've got the wrong end of the stick here.

Unlike Democrats, Republicans do not simply vote for whoever is farthest to the Right (Left for Dems); we scrutinize each candidate, weighing one against the other.

And that requires teasing out the bad parts of each candidate as well as the good... especially those parts the candidate himself doesn't want people to know.

In the case of this election, my primary concern is the survival of the United States as I know it. My next most important concern is that we continue to move in the direction I want us to take.

I translate the first requirement as demanding that a candidate I will vote for understand why we went to war, what we hope to gain, what we stand to lose, and how we get from here to there. In addition, maintaining traditional American virtues, including individualism, Capitalism, traditional marriage, and so forth.

The second requirement is for a president who will set forces in motion to do those things that Bush was blocked from doing... mainly immigration reform (legal immigration, I mean) and privatization of "entitlement" programs and making them more rational (such as shifting from defined benefit to defined contribution).

Romney, Giuliani, and McCain for the most part meet both these two requirements; Huckabee fails both; Thompson is a tabula rasa to me.

I don't know if you meant me, but I have never attacked Huckabee for being an evangelical; I attacked him for having no understanding of why we went into Iraq, no understanding of why we did it with the troop level we did (Terrye, where would we get 450,000 troops today, after eight years of Clinton's evisceration of the military?) -- and such a wild misunderstanding of current Bush-administration foreign policy that I had to read it several times to make sure.

And of course, for covertly striking at Romney on the basis of his religion.

Then I hit Romney (my current favorite) for difficulty communicating caused by his penchant for taking a wad of truth and pulling it beyond all recognition.

I consider this a service: If enough people yell at Romney for exaggerating, perhaps he'll stop doing so. If enough people take a good look at Huckabee's plans and pronunciamentos, it's likely he won't even win Iowa.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 22, 2007 7:57 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

My bet is that King did march and that Gov. Romney senior marched with him.
Mitt is saying he 'saw' it in the sense he saw the process. This is completely different from clinton's falsely claiming a bunch of Arkansas churches being burned down when they flat out were not. Or Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia or Gore's fire fighting.
And I am not at all a decided Romney supporter.
This is a symptom of having a too long campaign season and too short a primary process. There is no time for candidates to develop their messages or their organizations, even though there is more time. All this leads to is deconstruction of candidates and a shallowing of messages. It provides minor candidates too large a stage. We need to go back to a 6 month primary season and a 13 or 14 month long campaign.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 23, 2007 5:12 AM

The following hissed in response by: Fritz

I have to agree that if more people would look beyond Huckabee's persona they would not vote for him. I might also say that the same might have been true for President Clinton and certainly true for President Carter. It is a shame that many people vote not on the basis of what the candidate stands for and would due, but on how good he looks or how nice he seems. No wonder we get the elected "Leaders" we do.

The above hissed in response by: Fritz [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 23, 2007 5:08 PM

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