Center for Strategic Communication

Picture him: shoulders hunched, body lurching forward, maniacal grin, eyes bugging out as if, Mormon elder or not, he was hyped on some powerful upper.  Add the voice, soft, sweet, calculated, the voice of a hit man sadistically caressing his opponent, who seemed to shrink in size as the bully attacked again and again, interrupting hapless moderator Jim Lehrer, interrupting the baffled and defensive Barack Obama.  Toward the middle of the encounter, realizing no doubt that he was well on the way to being declared the winner of the debate, Romney’s fixed smile turned into the more familiar smirk, the characteristic expression of the financial masters of the world (think Jamie Dimon) among whom the Bain takeover artist clearly believes he should be counted.

The Mismatch

Did anyone else notice a curious disjunction?  On the one hand, Romney’s aggressive body language and his determination to dominate the debate.  On the other, his claim of having been a model of amiable collegiality as governor of Massachusetts.  “I had the great experience—it didn't seem like it at the time—of being elected in a state where my legislature was 87 percent Democrat. And that meant I figured out from day one I had to get along and I had to work across the aisle to get anything done.”  So now, he says, he’s ready to play nicely with Democrats in Congress.  “We need to have leadership—leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done….I've done it before. I'll do it again.”

Ahem.  Do what again? Unfortunately for ex-governor of Massachusetts Romney, history isn’t totally malleable. According an extensively documented piece in the New York Times,  “no one else seems to remember Romney as a teddybear in those days.”  He was “aloof" and “uncommunicative” and “bipartisanship was in short supply.”  He vetoed innumerable legislative initiatives, and “statehouse Democrats complained he variously ignored, insulted or opposed them, with intermittent charm offensives.”

Which To Trust?

My conclusion?  Romney’s aggressive body language during Wednesday’s debate on economic policy is a better predictor of future behavior than his most recent charm offensive, his honied words, his amazingly successful (for now) effort to overcome his likeability deficit, despite his boorish insistence on having the first word, the last word and as many words in between as possible.  Maybe Americans like bullies.  Goodness knows, there are enough of them terrorizing America’s playgrounds.

But, you rightly ask, what did Romney say?  What’s his policy?  That’s the important thing.  Yes, it is.  And once again the debate exposed a glaring disparity between the torrents of smooth talk, reiterated falsifications and vague generalities we’ve become familiar with and the few bald statements that he put his heart and soul into. 

I won’t deconstruct the boilderplate here, but the barrage of generalities inspired the President to launch a zinger of an intervention.  “And at some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans [to replace Obamacare, etc.] secret because they're too good?” This is a great line.   Unfortunately, like most of Obama’s contributions,  it was so poorly delivered it had no impact. 

Truth Shines Through

However, quite without intending to, the newly charming, newly moderate Romney did let slip some of his deepest intentions.  There were three moments when he stopped hyperventilating and spoke simply, directly and with the explosive force of of genuine emotion.  Here are the words that were uttered during those fleeting moments:

“And, by the way, I like coal.”

“I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to — I'm not going to [borrow money from China to pay for such things]. That's number one.”

“If the president's re-elected you'll see dramatic cuts to our military. The secretary of defense has said these would be even devastating….I will not cut our commitment to our military. I will keep America strong.”

The Bottom Line

Does any one doubt that El Toro aka Mitt Romney, as president, will try to bully the world as if it were—oh!—1959, let’s say,  and not a proudly, defiantly, culturally-conscious,  post-colonial 2013, that he will give free rein to big energy while neglecting sustainability and environmental protection and that he will indeed “support” education by no longer subsidizing  the most successful (and—hey Mitt!—cost-effective) educational program in the history of television?  These things you can be sure of.  The rest was blither—or lies, oft repeated.