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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.

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
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.

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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: