Part 3—Explaining Mitt Romney’s non-temper: With great prescience, Katherine Boo complained about the “creeping Dowdism” all the way back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was still a governor. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/11.)
Twenty years later, the fatuous mind-set Boo decried suffuses America’s “press corps.” At our dumbest newspaper, the New York Times, one of Dowd’s fatuous “research assistants” is currently spreading the nonsense around, by-lined as a reporter. You’re getting your creeping Dowdism straight when you read silly blather like hers.
The piece was written by young Ashley Parker. The piece appeared this Monday morning, right on the Times front page:
PARKER (11/28/11): Moments before the start of a recent presidential debate at Dartmouth College, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain flung open the doors to their closet-size green rooms and ran into Newt Gingrich.Parker didn't observe these pointless events; she attributes her account to "a witnesss." Whatever! This was the start to her front-page “Political Memo” about friendships among the Republican candidates. As the fatuous youngster proceeded, she gave readers a pile of provisional knowledge about the various bondings.
“Oh my God,” Mr. Gingrich marveled. “I’m looking at the ticket right now.”
Then he went in for the kill. “I just don’t know how you’re going to feel about being vice president, Governor Romney,” Mr. Gingrich deadpanned.
Was that gentle teasing among friends? Full-out mockery? Or was Mr. Gingrich taking a dig at Mr. Romney, whom he is now battling in the polls for the top of the field?
"Mr. Perry and Mr. Huntsman are perhaps closer than any other pair of candidates," we are told (our emphasis). And not only that: "Mr. Cain is perhaps closest to Mr. Gingrich." Meanwhile, "perhaps because [Gingrich] has been a party stalwart for so long, he seems to have developed relationships with all the candidates."
As Parker continues, she keeps telling us how things seem and what is perhaps the case. Early on, she offers the requisite justification for all this front-page blather:
PARKER: So don’t always believe what you see. Politicians are, well, politicians, and their charm and glad-handing is sometimes driven more by expediency and ambition and less by true friendship. But having some sense of how candidates relate to one another can offer clues for the future—especially if one is elected president.In a post-journalistic age, a person like Parker must be skilled at explaining why she's dispensing 1500 words of piddle. In this case, we are told that her observations may offer us “clues for the future,” apparently about presidential appointments. We are then offered a murky anecdote about Obama and Biden, complete with a “famous” statement by Biden—a statement so famous that we ourselves don’t recall ever having heard it. And no, she never answers the question which ends the passage we’ve quoted:
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. said, famously, in 2007, that Senator Barack Obama was “not yet ready” for the presidency. But a year or so later, Mr. Obama pronounced the two of them fast friends from their days on the Foreign Relations Committee and picked him as his running mate. Was the choice based in friendship, calculation, policy passions—or maybe some sort of combination?
Does that alleged former friendship explain why Biden is now vice president? To this day, Parker has no idea. And yet, the empty child goes thrashing about, pretending that she is seeking new “clues” to such future transactions.
In truth, she’s wasting our time with this silly twaddle because it’s so silly, such fun. This is the essence of the Dowdism which has crept all through our world.
That said, the Dowdism has crept far and wide in the days since Boo introduced the complaint. For a taste of the inanity which pervades our nation’s “election coverage,” consider Alex MacGillis’ remarkably Dowdist report in the current New Republic.
Kevin Drum rolled his eyes at this piece at the start of the week (click here). The piece in question helps us see that the Dowdism hasn’t just crept. By now, it has burrowed, quite deeply.
The piece in question bears this headline: “Temperamental Journey: The peculiar anger of Mitt Romney.” As he starts, MacGillis describes the recent non-event in which Romney tried to make Rick Perry stop interrupting and talking over him at a debate. After recalling this pointless event, MacGillis provides the requisite rationale for the nonsense which is to follow:
MACGILLIS (11/23/11): Moments later, Romney returned to his usual stiff good cheer. Still, a flush lingered, as did the questions swirling among political commentators. What had just happened? How could Perry have so easily provoked the polished former CEO known for his robotic self-control?Good lord! Have voters and journalists “completely misread” Candidate Romney’s temperament? Having advanced this provocative premise, MacGillis proceeds to burn up thousands of words discussing the “several times over the years” when Romney has “found himself in embarrassing situations” due to his troubling temper.
The confrontation hinted that perhaps there was more to Romney’s emotional makeup than the reserved, overly programmed manner that is usually ascribed to him in the press. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that Romney has a genuine temper. “I’m always very surprised when people talk about Romney as stoic, because I never saw that,” says Brian Lees, the former GOP leader in the Massachusetts state Senate. “He got very animated about lots of things, impassioned, and sometimes angry.” Romney himself has acknowledged as much. In a June interview on CNN, he said his sons had come up with a name for any flare-up involving their father: They call it a “Mitt-frontation.”
A certain level of passion is a perfectly normal thing, of course. Yet Romney (whose campaign did not respond to questions for this article) has several times over the years found himself in embarrassing situations, ranging from confrontations with law enforcement officials to an altercation with a hip-hop star. These incidents raise the question of whether voters and journalists have completely misread the temperament of the likely Republican nominee.
The key phrase is “over the years.” MacGillis’ first example occurs in June 1981, when Romney was 34 years old. He then skips forward some twenty-one years, to a thoroughly pointless, undocumented event at the Salt Lake City Olympics. If we accept MacGillis’ account of these two events, this would mean that Romney has had two bouts of troubling temper over the past thirty years. (According to MacGillis, these are “the most extreme indications that Romney might have a temper.”) But should we accept MacGillis’ accounts? Eventually, we get a look at his reportorial method in the case of the Utah incident:
MACGILLIS: In the days after the incident, the state’s top law enforcement official decided against an investigation. But the officer in charge of security at the downhill site, Weber County Sheriff’s Office Captain Terry Shaw, said a police sergeant from Colorado working under his command had corroborated Knopp’s account, and Shaw demanded an apology from Romney.For unknown reasons, MacGillis has interviewed Shaw, who didn’t witness this pointless incident but is willing to "speculate." MacGillis hasn’t interviewed the two people who actually witnessed the incident, nor does he explain why he didn’t.
When I reached Shaw, who has since retired, he told me that he had not witnessed Romney’s fury; by the time Romney made it to Shaw at the front of the traffic jam, he had calmed down somewhat, though Shaw speculated that Romney’s softer tone may also have had to do with Shaw’s higher rank. Shaw told me he later demanded the apology anyway to back up his subordinates. Romney was initially unrepentant. “I won’t say it was exactly an apology. Things were left undecided,” Shaw told me. Subsequently, Romney attended a meeting with Shaw where he expressed regret for having lost his cool but still denied Knopp’s version.
(For the record, Knopp was 18 years old at the time—and he seems to have said that Romney used the F-word! With the emphasis on seems to have said.)
Why didn’t MacGillis interview Knopp, or the Colorado lieutenant, about this troubling matter? No word! The scribe did interview Fraser Bullock, a Romney associate who witnessed the non-event. Did Romney actually use the F-word? MacGillis gives us a thrill by quoting the old reports in which Knopp seems to say that he did. But he oddly fails to tell us what Bullock said about this central question.
This is Dowdism, pure and simple. And no—this isn’t “reporting.”
To which far planet do news orgs go to hire “journalists” of this type? In the case of MacGillis, TNR went to the Washington Post, a planet to which the Dowdism crept a good long time ago. At famous “newspapers” like the Post, “journalists” learn to compose such blather—silly twaddle in which they pretend to examine a candidate’s “temperament” or “character.”
You’ve seen this silly stupid shit through many White House cycles. It’s the artifact of a low-IQ, upper-class cohort which has replaced what was once called the “press corps.” You’ve seen Al Gore’s “character” thrashed in these ways; you’ve seen Dowdists worry why Candidate Obama would ask for orange juice in a bar. Why in the world did Candidate Kerry order Swiss cheese on his Philly cheesesteak? Why would he go windsurfing? You’ve seen this silly shit extended to almost all who walk on the stage, with especially low standards observed in the case of targeted candidates.
That said, MacGillis’ piece represents some of the purest Dowdism you’ll ever encounter. After wasting everyone’s time with his tiny number of alleged incidents, he then wastes your time some more, listing seven (7) different theories for Romney’s temper—the temper which has gone on display three or four times in the past thirty years. (Or not.)
How low is the IQ of this “press corps?” How low is our IQ as a nation? As the Dowdism creeps and surges and burrows, the question is asked by very few people. Even in the “liberal” world, it’s exceptionally hard to insult our intelligence, a fact we seem intent on displaying. And sure enough! In the massive dumbness which fills the news hole, our failing nation keeps sliding down Dowd’s Hill toward the wine-dark sea.
Tomorrow: Creeping Gail Collinsism
Seven attempts to explain: What explains Romney’s explosive temper? In a brilliant display of long-form Dowdism, MacGillis lists seven (7!) theories. We’ll give you a taste of each:
“One centered around his adolescence.”
“Another school of thought centers around Romney’s fixation on decorum.”
“There is the repression explanation.”
“Birmingham and others also point to another theory: the entitlement of an executive.”
“I heard a slight variation on this theory from someone who was a high-level Romney appointee in Massachusetts.”
“There is one final theory that might explain Romney’s occasional outbursts: He may simply be a genuinely quirky person.”
“This time around, Duprey says, Romney seems determined to stand up for himself...'He’s less programmed about letting it show, whether it’s anger or humor.’”
The Dowdism just keeps getting dumber. Few seem to notice or care.