How Is Mitt Romney Like Ted Kennedy?

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    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    How hard can it be to refrain from saying some version of “I’m really rich and I’ve got nothing in common with you?”

    You’ve probably heard about at least some of this strange series of comments from Romney that seem to step into the same politically toxic pile again and again.

    (Just to provide the two most recent ones… Asked if he follows NASCAR, he replied, “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.” In speaking about his family and cars, Romney said that his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs.” But there are others. My personal favorite was his saying of his annual speaking income of $370,000 ==many times the annual income of the average American family-that it is “not very much.”)

    One would think it would be simple for a polished and disciplined candidate to steer clear of making comments that feed this damaging (and probably true) impression of the man as an out-of-touch and callous snob. But for Mitt Romney it seems beyond his ability. What does that inability mean? I’ve got a possible explanation.

    It reminds me of Ted Kennedy, who ran for president (challenging Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination) in 1980.

    Ted Kennedy’s most famous gaffe, if it can be called that, was his disastrous appearance on television with Roger Mudd of CBS News. Asked by Mudd, “Why do you want to be president,” Kennedy was startlingly unable to provide an answer, or even to speak coherently. His strength as a challenger went immediately downhill. By the time of the convention that renominated Jimmy Carter, Kennedy was back in top form as a master orator. And he was forever thereafter articulate and effective on the public stage.

    I had believed well before this that Ted Kennedy’s desire to be president was at most ambivalent. I’d seen evidence before this that, probably unconsciously, he was sabotaging himself to prevent his ascent to the White House.

    An unconscious attempt to defeat himself seemed a possible reason behind the incident at Chappaquiddick in 1969 (which led to the famous satirical mock advertisement in the National Lampoon that declared that if Ted Kennedy had been driving a more water-tight VW beetle that night, he’d be president).

    When I saw the Mudd interview in 1980, my hunch solidified: Ted Kennedy was pursuing the presidency because so many people were pushing him to do so, as the last surviving Kennedy brother; but while he was not able to defy those pressures, he subverted them with self-destructive behavior. After that 1980 race, the pressures on him to become president disappeared, and he proceeded to become one of the great Senators in American history.

    With Mitt Romney, I have no such fleshed out theory of his ambivalence. On the surface, he seems hell-bent (maybe literally!) on becoming president. He’s so ambitious for the Oval Office that he’s willing to say anything, to twist himself into any shape, to get there.

    But here he is sabotaging himself in this strange but obvious way. Is it not clear that some self-defeating impulse is operating here?

    As for why such a single-minded ambition as Romney’s would also be countered by another impulse to defeat himself, I simply don’t know. (I could speculate about a possible inhibition about surpassing his father, former Michigan governor George Romney, who tried and failed in a bid for the presidency in 1968. But I’ve no evidence to support that or any other theory.

    But there is that evidence right in front of us that something is going on. How else to explain the way this disciplined and experienced candidate making such repetitive gaffes of this particular, and particularly self-defeating kind? It seems almost like a compulsion.

    I’d say it’s evidence that Mitt Romney, like Ted Kennedy, is not of one mind about becoming president. (And it’s pretty good evidence of the existence of the unconscious.)

    My guess is that that of Romney’s apparently two minds, it’s the mind undermining his effort to become president that’s going to get its way next November.

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    Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  

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