Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mitt Romney, Gambling, Politicians and Forgiveness

The bet not taken (Perry was wrong, and it's a bet Mitt would win, but never should have offered)

Last night, Mitt Romney made a $10,000 bet he was right in what he'd said in his book about the individual mandate not being intended for nationwide distribution. It was all done in good humor, but Perry wisely declined to take the bait. For starters, Perry was wrong and Romney was right, and not everybody thought it was such a boneheaded play by Romney.

It was a stupid statement for Romney to make. First, because I'll betcha Mitt Romney is not by nature a gambling man. If he's ever dropped so much as a nickel in a slot machine, the internal "betting police" of the Church would have exposed him long ago. So why offer a bet for $10,000 that you're right, when you already know you're right? He was probably trying to put down Rick Perry's nonsensical repetition of an obviously flawed debate point. Perry really has worn this one out, but he succeeded in frustrating Romney with it this time.

In Mitt's case, it was just one of those stupid things people say. Ever heard somebody say, "I'll betcha a million bucks that's not's true?" That would have been laughable, but $10,000 sounded like a real bet. It underscored Romney's wealth. How many people in that hall at Drake University last night could make a similar wager? Not many.

Mitt would have been better off if he'd just said, "Betcha a milkshake." It would have been funny, and more in keeping with his scrubbed persona. But just like that, today there are 10,000 tweets out there giving 10,000 lashes with a Twitterwhip over a stupid gesture.

Mitt could just step up quickly and acknowledge it. Say something like, "That was stupid of me. I was just over-reacting to an obviously inaccurate representation on my position."

But don't hold your breath -- it won't happen. Politicians are notoriously slow to ask the public for forgiveness. Even Rick Perry went against type (to his credit) and lampooned his memory lapse in a previous debate the very next night on the Letterman show. That was refreshing, but his thirty-second pause was enough to sink him forever as the anti-Romney.

Here's the funny thing about political calculus when it comes to forgiveness. Take three recent examples. Mitt Romney has been bludgeoned for his "flip-flops" over decades. He's managed to get more conservative along the way. How's that any different than Ronald Reagan, who actually changed parties from Democrat to Republican and went on to win two presidential terms in record fashion and was beloved by all sides? On marital fidelity, it doesn't get any better than Mitt Romney, but for some reason he's still not "good enough."

Herman Cain was forced to withdraw from the presidential sweepstakes recently when the allegations about his sexual harassment and "possible" extramarital affair became unbearable. Had he merely acknowledged quickly and decisively his part in those incidents, and had he said, "My wife knows all about it, we have no secrets, and she has forgiven me, and I'm hoping the voters will too," then we may be looking at Cain as the front-runner today instead of Gingrich. Instead, he fumbled his chance for repentance, and we all learned something about how America really feels - there's just not much forgiveness for a black conservative, apparently. Cain, of course, vehemently denied it all, then withdrew, suggesting there might have actually been some substance to the "unsubstantiated and unproven accusations."

That brings us to Newt Gingrich. This is a man working on his third marriage, having committed (and admitted) adultery in both cases. He said last night he had sought forgiveness from God, is now a 68-year-old grandfather (presumably "reformed"), and he has moved into front-runner status without so much as a hiccup from the people who once thought he'd gone off the rails and were seeking to have him dumped as Speaker because he wasn't "conservative enough." Rick Santorum praised him last night as his role model, then admitted this morning on the Sunday talk shows that he and Lindsey Graham wanted him gone, along with others in the party. He is also guilty and was driven from office as the Speaker of the House for lapses in ethical conduct, and nevertheless continued to feed at the public trough, most recently giving advice to Freddie Mac to the tune of $1.6 million in consulting fees. But, avers Gingrich, consulting is different than lobbying. Well, okay, if you say so, Newt. Somehow, his past misconduct has boosted him in the polls to front-runner status. Go figure.

Apparently, Newt's repentance has been accepted by the voters for the moment. They are, after all, in search of a mythical David who can slay the untouchable giant Obama on the field of battle in a series of nationally-televised debates. Here is their champion who can go toe-to-toe with Obama and slay the armor-clad dragon of their political theater. They fantasize over a picture Gingrich has painted for them, and they've gone for it in a big way. The picture includes three "Lincoln-Douglas-style debates" - each three hours long - to debate the critical issues of the day. Gingrich's constituents are tantalized with the imagery he has slapped onto the canvas for them. They will forgive him everything just for a ring-side seat to that heavyweight bout.

But the problem is simply this: It is a myth. Obama isn't going to agree.

The high point in the debate for Gingrich (in my opinion) was when he channeled my thoughts to Reagan going against all the conventional wisdom and branding the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire and demanding that Gorbachev "tear down this wall" in Berlin. That was in response to Gingrich's recent statement about the Palestinians being nothing more than an "invented people." He said, "They're terrorists." Here's Gingrich saying to everyone, "I tell the truth." Others are compelled to agree with Gingrich from an historical perspective. Whether or not he becomes the nominee, his defense of his statement scored some debate points.

If Bill Clinton taught us anything, it should be that despite your flaws you can still ride off into the sunset flawed but beautifully human if you eventually ask forgiveness of your constituents. How soon we forget - Clinton was impeached for lying under oath while he was president. The rule of thumb on seeking forgiveness is sooner is better than later. Nixon was another who comes to mind. The cover-up was worse than the original break-in at the Watergate. Then there was Reagan and Iran-Contra. Better to fess up and take your lumps quickly. But politicians are, above all people, slow learners.

Mitt's best moment last night, despite his worst moment with the $10,000 wager offer, was when he began describing his role as "pastor" as a bishop and a stake president in Boston. For whatever reason, Romney has been branded as "stiff, aloof, out of touch and distant" from the real people. Talking about his pastoral role humanizes him, tenderizes and softens him, and the mainstream media is beginning to pick up on it. Romney has a life story worth telling. He isn't perfect, but he's the real deal. He isn't the perfect conservative, but he's clearly been moving in that direction for a long time.

He IS the Romney who all the would-be anti-Romneys would like to be.

Now, he needs to repent - and quickly - for gambling.

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