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Politics by gaffe is stupid, but it probably works

The gaffe of the moment is Mitt Romney, caught on tape saying "I like being able to fire people..."

In a better world, this would be a non-event. Taken in full context and understood as Romney meant it, the remark is something with which most people would agree. The fair translation would be something like this: In an economy based on free enterprise, it's a good thing that customers can choose whose products or services to buy. In the case of health care or health insurance, if a customer doesn't like the care or service they are getting from one provider, they ought to be able to switch to another provider, which amounts to "firing" the first and "hiring" the second.

The question of how much health care/health insurance is susceptible to this simple let-the-customers-choose principle is complex, and our political discourse doesn't handle complexity well. But that's beside the point. At the very moment that Mitt Romney is being skewered (ironically by his Republican live-free-enterprise-or-die opponents) for his record at Bain Capital — a record that includes a lot of jobs being destroyed while Bain's investors reaped obscene profits — we can now watch tape of Mitt Romney saying that he likes being able to fire people.

p.s. Daniel Gross of Yahoo Finance does a nice job of describing a problem that I passed over parenthetically above., namely the difficulty of fitting individual health insurance policies into the normal paradigm of consumer products and services. I've always gotten my insurance as part of a group, but Gross has some experience of shopping for it as an individual.

Mitt Romney
REUTERS/Jim Young
Mitt Romney

Again, the context in which he is saying those words has little or nothing to do with his career at Bain. But notwithstanding that small irrelevancy, we can expect to see those three seconds of tape a lot. A very big lot.

In fact, I first learned about the three second from my favorite aggregator, Taegan Goddard, who headlined his post of the gaffee "High Fives at DNC Headquarters." And the full text of his entry, other than the video clip, was: "DNC officials can't believe they have Mitt Romney on video saying he likes firing people."

Turnabout is fair play, I guess. There was a perfectly rational explanation for John Kerry's unfortunate I-voted-for-the-$87-billion-before-I-voted-against-it. Any Republican who wants to whine that Romney is being quoted out of context should be asked to produce evidence that he expressed the same concern about the incredible field day Repubs had with Kerry's quote. Don't hold your breath.

The power of the Kerry gaffe was that it fit so neatly with the (fundamentally false) Repub meme that Kerry was a flip-flopper. And now the same is true for Romney's gaffe. As Brad Phillips, who writes under the nom de blog of "Mr. Media Training," said yesterday: "Gaffes that reinforce an existing narrative about a candidate are almost always the most harmful ones, and Gov. Romney is already enduring increasing attacks from opponents and Democrats alike for being more of a job “cremator” than job creator during his tenure at Bain Capital.

By the way, Romney's dad, former Michigan Gov. and Republican presidential frontrunner George Romney, also committed one of the big early gaffe's of the TV age when he said he had been "brainwashed" by the pro-war military and diplomatic officials who guided him around when he visited Vietnam.

And in those days, there was no such thing as embedding a video so everyone with access to a computer could share the moment. But now:

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Comments (10)

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Ever wonder why the canned speech is rolled out so often? Ever wonder why the responses to most debate questions turn into the same prepared 30 second or one minute blurb?

It's because the human mind can be a dangerously creative thing, creating speech that can be separated into fatal sound-bites.

What's unfair is that I got to see the clip of Barack Obama saying he had campaigned in all "57 states" exactly once before MSM reference to it disappeared from the face of the earth.

As Paul Krugman pointed out in his New York Times blog today, with respect to health insurance, the issue isn't whether we fire them, rather it's whether and under what circumstances they get to fire us. Where insurance is concerned, and this is particularly true with health insurance, we don't really know how good it is until we need it, and good, bad indifferent, the moment we need health insurance is precisely the time we are no longer able to fire our health insurer.

Only the 1% or a few people paying cobra-like payments for poor individual coverage get to "fire" their health insurance. The rest of us feel lucky to work at employers who offer coverage.

Dennis--
Maybe a slip of the tongue with no political implications isn't news.
In Romney's case, talking about firing people is directly relevant to his talk about job creation.

There is a lot in the Romney quote that is just plain crazy. Why would anyone "like" finding out they don't get the service they thought they were buying, forcing them to go back out into the marketplace to try to find a good service provide?

Also, the insurance companies don't keep us healthy, they pay our medical bills when we get sick, but staying healthy is my own business. Having health insurance doesn't make me any less likely to get cancer or hit by a bus.

The guy is just making random noise and people are accepting it as wisdom.

I took a look at some background on Bain Capital today. As with all enterprises, its business was business, finding a way to make a buck. There's nothing wrong with that. But that doesn't mean Mitt Romney can claim to have been a job creator; nor should he necessarily be labeled a job killer. Bain invested in or bought companies it thought stood to show a profit, by whatever means worked best. Sometimes that was by injecting cash, others by reducing employees or otherwise modifying operations.

From what I've read to date, Romney was not a business man so much as he was a finance guy. There's a big difference, one which he apparently prefers to gloss over at the moment.

"Why would anyone "like" finding out they don't get the service they thought they were buying, forcing them to go back out into the marketplace to try to find a good service provide?"

Because that's the essence of the free market. Consumer choice.

The frustration comes from not being able to fire your cable TV or power company because they're the only game in town.

The joy comes from knowing you can fire your phone company or your satellite tv provider or your car insurance company and go with a different one.

I think what he was saying was, with the right political leadership you could fire your health care insurer and hire a different one also.

"...Also, the insurance companies don't keep us healthy, they pay our medical bills when we get sick, but staying healthy is my own business. Having health insurance doesn't make me any less likely to get cancer or hit by a bus...." -- Thomas Eckhardt, #6

Whoa! A comment which is not merely simple and insightful, but also true and unexpected in this particular forum (!) -- although there may be many who frequent the MinnPost to add their comments who might bitterly contest this suggestion of personal responsibility.

I'm uncertain as to how you found your way to this forum, Thomas Eckhardt, but congratulations & many happy returns.

Actually, having health insurance WILL make it less likely that you die from cancer. The data show that the insured seek medical care sooner than those without insurance, and are more likely to catch progressive diseases in time for effective treatment (and at a lower long term cost, which is my mandatory/universal health insurance is cost effective for society).