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Can You Help Us Find A Binder Full Of Sincerity?

The old political maxim goes that sincerity is the secret of success; once you can fake that, you’ve got it made. Well, Mitt Romney has a long way to go on the fake sincerity front. He may smile and frown at all the right places in debate, he may have mastered the Ronald Reagan diction, but the effect is not the tiniest bit real.

And that, I would suggest, was never more obvious than in the second Presidential debate of 2012.

<p>SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty</p>


Mitt Romney and Barack Obama duel in the feisty second presidential debate at Hofstra University, New York.

We didn’t see it so clearly in the first debate, probably because we were distracted by the unaccountably disengaged performance of the man he is challenging, Barack Obama.

I don’t know about you, but I spent most of that first debate wondering about Obama. Was it some tactic, badly misjudged? Was he on medication? Did he just want to get back to Michelle, on their anniversary night? Was some national crisis of which we were unaware occupying his thoughts?

And sure enough, most of the media analysis and popular attention after the event was on Obama’s misfire. Even the performance of the host of the first debate, the hapless Jim Lehrer, was apparently subject to more analysis than Romney.

Anyway, it may forever remain a mystery where Obama went during the first Presidential debate, but the fact is today he was back.

He was animated, he was prepped, he was combative, and he made Romney look like the fake he is.

I don’t make this as a partisan point. All politicians gloss over the negatives and accentuate the positives, they all to some extent modify their message according to their audience. They are all selective with the truth. But can you think of one who is as sincerity-challenged as Romney?

Looking back over the more recent Republican Presidents. Reagan came across as genuine, or at least a peerless faker. George Bush senior was stiff and patrician, but genuine. George Bush the younger was genuinely dumb.

But Romney comes across as an entirely insincere product.

His ethos changes to suit the circumstance: the amoral ethos of the corporate raider who strips companies and offshores jobs, the moderate-liberal ethos of the governor of progressive Massachusetts, the Tea Party ethos for the Republican primary campaign, the exclusionary elitist of the fundraising circuit who disparages 47 per cent of the population, and the pretender to the middle ground now.

Lots of people have pointed out Romney’s contradictions; the odd thing about the first Presidential debate was that Obama let slip the chances to do it.

But not this time round. This time Obama got him, good. Time after time.

He got Romney on his attitudes to gun control. The governor, he noted had been in favour of a ban on assault weapons before he came out against it, while courting the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

Romney had been a moderate on women’s reproductive rights until he had to appeal to the Tea Party.

When Romney promised to get tough on China, for taking American jobs, Obama whacked him for being one of those who invested in companies which exported jobs.

And when Romney tried to whack back, saying his investments were managed by a blind trust, and suggested Obama should look to the investments of his own pension plan, the President got the only decent laugh of the show, quipping that his pension was nowhere near as big or interesting.

When Romney attacked Obama over the decline in the coal industry, the President quoted back Romney’s words when, as Governor of Massachusetts he stood in front of a coal-fired power plant and said “this plant kills” and shut it down.

[For the record, the decline of the US coal industry is due to electricity generators switching from coal to gas, which is not only cleaner but now vastly cheaper.]

Obama tied Romney to the punitive policies of his party on immigration; he pegged him as more extreme on social policy than the Bush administration.

When a woman member of the audience asked the two men what they would do about equal pay for women, Obama pointed to his record in the Lilly Ledbetter case, in which the Supreme Court denied justice to a woman who had been systematically underpaid for years, compared with men doing the same work. A new fair pay act in her name was the first Act Obama signed into law.

Come Romney’s turn to respond, he talked about binders. When he became governor, he was distressed at the absence of women’s names among those potential appointees in the binders he was given. He asked for more. Women’s groups brought him “whole binders full of women”, he said. By the end of the debate, a Binders Full of Women Facebook page had 100,000 “likes” and was heading for 200,000 a few hours later. A Tumblr blog dedicated to a binder-based meme appeared instantaneously.

Other than that, his only answer was his generic one: more labour flexibility in a stronger economy.

Above all, Obama got him on the centrepiece of his pitch to voters: lower taxes.

He totted up the cost of Romney’s tax cut promises and got to USD8 trillion, to be mostly funded by closing tax loopholes. But, he noted, Romney had not itemised the loopholes, and had offered no other specific spending cuts “beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood”.

[Big Bird being a reference to Romney’s promise to cut funds for public broadcasting.]

No-one who had seriously looked at Romney’s plan could find a way to make it add up, he said.

His attack was all the more effective for being unarguably right; no serious analysis can make the Romney maths work.

Now it must be said Romney had some powerful arguments going for him too, mostly related to the under-performance of the US economy on Obama’s watch.

But pointing out what’s wrong is not the same as offering a solution. Romney touted a “five point plan” of aspirations, but no hard maths.

And Obama derided it as really a one-point plan: looking after the rich folks with low taxes.

Given the state of things in America, you would normally expect an incumbent to lose, even to a challenger running on a policy of no more than “trust me”.

But this debate showed why this election remains so close, nonetheless.

You have one guy who clearly stands for what he believes, even if it has not worked as planned.

And another who stands for… what exactly?

Sincerity will decide it, I reckon.

20 comments on this story
by a don

One thing corporate raiders are good at is using emotions in negotiations to obtain an advantage and to distract the the other side from the real issues. They get in a pack and hunt like vociferous wolves. Romney is well trained in this.

October 17, 2012 @ 7:33pm
by Anthony Element

Romney has been forced by the Republican Right into going with extreme policies, many of which are based on Friedmanism which policies have been utterly discredited by their hopeless failures in those countries that seriously tried them; notably in South American nations.
To support Romney is to be completely ignorant both of basic economics and mathematics.
Which still appears to leave plenty of punters.

October 17, 2012 @ 8:19pm
by Jill Leger

I don't know how you can call yourself Independent Journalism for independent minds and then produce a typical left leaning media article like this. Obviously in this article and your others you can tell your political ideologies and it is not aligned with the US Rebublican party. This article reads like the sophomoric rantings more appropriate to a high school newspaper than something I would expect to see in the Global Mail. Very disappointing indeed, especially the link to the Obama campaign site.

October 17, 2012 @ 9:06pm
by Sam Polacek

I agree with Jill. Despite having a preference toward Obama, it is clear to me that this article is highly biased. Romney certainly defeated Obama on at least a few points, none of which are mentioned here.

October 17, 2012 @ 10:57pm
by Anthony Element

Watch the debate again, but this time, sans the ideological goggles and with dispassion.
And then do the math.
You can only conclude that the article is entirely justified.
It's not a matter of being Left leaning.
It's a matter of observation and dispassionate analysis.

October 17, 2012 @ 11:01pm
by L Porter

Jill, were you and I reading the same article? Unlike so many clearly biased articles in the MSM this piece doesn't try to insult, make fun of, or smear Romney, his policies or his party. It doesn't rely on soundbites from celebs or politicians to paint him in a bad light. Nor does it glorify Obama. It doesn't even point out how ridiculous Romney's 'binder' comment was (and it was, hence social media grabbing a hold of it so quickly). Trust me, if Mike Seccombe wanted to write left-leaning 'sophomoric rantings' to convince his audience that Mitt Romney is the bad guy, there is a lot of ammunition out there he could have seized upon. Most of it supplied by Romney himself (the 47% comments are still haunting him).

Instead this article presents the facts of the debate and points out Romney's weak answers, and Obama's counterpoints, and I feel it did so in a balanced way. Mike isn't even critiquing Romney's policies themselves (Obama did that for him, as recounted in the article), just how ineffectively he performed in the debate and how his changing and generic policies make it unclear what he actually stands for. It's possibly the least biased article I've read on the presidential debates so far.

Also, I've clicked every link in the article and none of them took me to Obama's campaign site? Did TGM remove the link?

October 17, 2012 @ 11:35pm
by Bill

Jill, firstly, there is no link to an Obama campaign site in the story. Secondly, "independent journalism" means journalism not beholden to any cause or creed but the public interest, broadly defined. It does not mean looking at the current state of the Republican party and pretending, for the sake of some absurd, artificial "balance", not to detect the stench of extremism and corruption.

October 17, 2012 @ 11:53pm
by James

Jill, and Sam, You may notice, this article has been filed as a blog. i.e. it is an opinion piece.

October 18, 2012 @ 8:58am
by Lynda Hill

Fantastic piece! Thanks for stating the bleeding obvious (that so many can't see - what a mystery that is.... jeez)... great article.

October 18, 2012 @ 10:22am
by Pat Sharp

Oh I spotted Romney's insincerity in the 1st 2 sentences. It made me sick to my stomach. ......but then I ran a business for 20 years............profit depended on intuitively reading the clients.

October 18, 2012 @ 10:58am
by Nigel Lendon

If the following comment (from another conversation) is true, Romney claim is a timebomb: "Romney didn’t call for more women in his cabinet. A bi-partisan group of women’s organizations called MassGAP developed a list of qualified women applicants for high office and public service, long BEFORE Romney was even elected. They brought the initiative to Romney, and public pressure essentially forced him to accede to their demands. Further, the number of women in his administration steadily DECLINED over the course of his term!"

October 18, 2012 @ 12:33pm
by A. Cowie

I didnt see the debate, just heard the news report. Thanks for presenting it so clearely. Thanks also for expressing a reasonable opinion honestly and backing it up convincingly. Obama has disappointed, sure - but Romney has nothing to offer.

October 18, 2012 @ 3:47pm
by Babs

R u mad! Start looking at the substance of the man rather than the outward trappings. He has outstanding business acumen, a great grasp of economics and he has run big businesses. He has proven himself to be a leader and a thinker. Americans are disenchanted with Obama and next to Romney yesterday he sounded like an amateur.

October 18, 2012 @ 4:33pm
by Hugh

Further to Nigel's point, the full text of a statement from the non-partisan Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, released in the aftermath of the debate.

"At the presidential debate last night, questions arose regarding how women candidates were identified for potential appointment to leadership roles by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. What follows details the process that was created by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus in 2002 to maximize opportunities for women to be considered for key roles in Massachusetts government.

The Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) was founded under the leadership of the MA Women’s Political Caucus in 2002 to address the issue of the under-representation of women in appointed positions in Massachusetts government.MassGAP brought together a nonpartisan coalition of over 25 women’s organizations to recruit women to apply for government positions within the administration, and recommend qualified women for those positions.

Prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election, MassGAP approached the campaigns of candidates Shannon O’Brien and Mitt Romney and asked them both to commit to: (1).“Make best efforts” to ensure that the number of women in appointed state positions is proportionate to the population of women in Massachusetts; (2). Select a transition team whose composition is proportionate to the women in the Commonwealth; and (3). Meet with MassGAP representatives regularly during the appointments process. Both campaigns made a commitment to this process.

Following the election, MassGAP formed committees for each cabinet post in the administration and began the process of recruiting, interviewing, and vetting women applicants. Those committees selected top applicants for each position and presented this information to the administration for follow-up interviews and consideration for appointment.

Prior to the 2002 election, women comprised approximately 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in Massachusetts government. By 2004, 42 percent of the new appointments made by the Romney administration were women. Subsequently, however, from 2004-2006 the percentage of newly-appointed women in these senior appointed positions dropped to 25 percent.

MassGAP is proud to have the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus as our lead sponsor and we are grateful to all of the women who have devoted their time and energy to making this project a continued success. The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1971 to increase the number of women elected and appointed to public office and public policy positions and to maximize the participation of women of all ages in the political process."

October 18, 2012 @ 4:36pm
by Babs

Excuse me... But Jim Lehrer is NOT hapless. As an American who is familiar with the Lehrer Report I take umbrage at this snide remark.

October 18, 2012 @ 4:37pm
by George

Babs, you need to calm down a little. Mike's reference to Jim Lehrer was related to the fact that he was NOT in control of the debate as Moderator. As reported in USA TODAY "Clearly, Lehrer lost control, early and often." Poor Jim (who I admire greatly) was ignored by both participants, that is the deinition of hapless - Mike wasnt being snide, he was calling it like it was - and how it was reported everywhere.

October 18, 2012 @ 7:46pm
by P

Jim Lehrer is a brilliant journalist... but during the first debate, 'hapless' describes his performance as moderator.

So at that time, yes, he was hapless.

October 18, 2012 @ 10:39pm
Show previous 17 comments
by M Ryutin

It is a blog and it is an opinion piece. Okay with all that. However, nothing is more obvious than the prism through which the author saw that debate and neglected to do any failsafe checking to see if his initial opinion was soundly based. Or, if he did, I rather think that I will not be taking his analysis unless it exactly coincides with my own - one day maybe. One sees that even mainstream media polling seemed to show that Romney impressed far more on economic issues (58-40%),health care 49-46% taxes 51-44%,deficit 49-36% and even strong leader 49-46%. So thats one idea of what the US people saw in that debate. Some 'Obama got Romney' !

Now I question the perception of anyone who could possibly call Romney or Bain Capital as a corporate raider unless, like 'mysogynyst' a new definition has been announced. The main point is that none of us should take a first impression as gospel in anything, let alone analysis of a debate such as this. The spinning, fact checking has only just begun (and doesnt look good, even though the laughable statement of this author that "His attack was all the more effective for being unarguably right; no serious analysis can make the Romney maths work” makes me wish we had one here). We know that the Andrew Sullivans of this world have been taken off suicide watch since the second debate eased his panic somewhat but surely the Global Mail hasn't got columnists of that category?

Australia suffers by such shallow analysis. Luckily there are multiple alternate sources with which to get facts.

October 18, 2012 @ 11:04pm
by Norman

Yawn, yet another entirely predictable Seccombe rant against a conservative politician. And he's not trying to make a partisan point? It's laughable.

October 20, 2012 @ 11:42am
by tif

another biased sneering view of anything other than his view of the world i.e socialist

October 28, 2012 @ 3:50pm
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