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Romney’s foot in mouth disease

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Mitt Romney stepped in it again this week when he was recorded during a private campaign function telling wealthy would-be contributors that he is not going to worry about even trying to get support from 47 percent of the American populace – the percentage of people who supposedly don’t pay income tax and therefore must be on the public dole.

His campaign, if you can believe it, has been working very hard to defend their guy from his own words, apparently ignoring the fact that the percentage of people who don’t pay income tax also includes wealthy people who know how to use tax rules to their advantage so they don’t have to pay, seniors on low fixed incomes who don’t rely on public assistance, and people who are too poor to pay taxes but not poor enough to get on welfare. The latter two categories describe a lot of people here in St. Lawrence County.

I think he did a tremendous job alienating half the country and reinforcing the belief that he is way out of touch with the average American. I’d like to see him try to tell north country voters that “middle class” means making between $200,000 and $250,000 a year. By that standard, he must consider most of us to be poverty stricken.

I have been hearing a lot of national media types on weekend talking heads news shows wonder aloud whether the press is spending too much time focusing on Romney’s gaffes and not enough time focusing on his policy points. There have been good arguments on both sides of that question. But I don’t think anybody in press circles can disagree that this gaffe was way too big to ignore.

Sure, he’s not the best public speaker. George W. Bush wasn’t the best public speaker, either, and he had two terms in office. But even W would have known better than to say such a thing in an age when just about everybody has a cell phone with a camera that can instantly post a candidate’s unfiltered moments on the Internet for all to see. Romney might have thought he was at a private campaign fundraiser. What he is obviously the last guy to figure out is that technology makes it so there is no such thing these days.

Will this be the end for Romney? I don’t know. Voters in past elections have demonstrated that their memories are pretty short when it comes to individual missteps by candidates and that there is, indeed, nothing older than yesterday’s news. Besides, a lot of people aren’t crazy about the job President Barack Obama has done trying to fix the nation’s economic woes. A lot of voters in these parts are decidedly not happy with Obama for reasons too varied and numerous to list.

Obama’s campaign people have been lightning-quick to pounce on every little misstep by their opposition, though, and that’s a tactic that will only pick up momentum as the election nears. Even if this most recent misstep fades into a vague memory, Obama’s people are going to make sure voters don’t entirely forget that Romney at one point said he didn’t care about them. And they don’t seem to have to try very hard to convince people that Obama is the lesser of two evils.

Even though a lot of people I’ve talked to say they are disillusioned with the shiny new president they fell in love with in 2008, a lot of those same people tell me there’s no way they’d vote for Romney. They just don’t like him. They don’t have anything in common with him. He has the charisma of a damp sponge and doesn’t seem very genuine or even human. His selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as a running mate was supposed to reinvigorate his supporters and get him new ones, but that only got a lukewarm response among the conservatives the choice was supposed to win over. Even a few of the hard-core conservatives I know have said they aren’t that impressed. The post-Republican convention leap in the polls the Romney-Ryan campaign was supposed to get never really materialized. People just aren’t that excited about him.

A lot of the people I’ve talked to had a hard time figuring out why he ended up being the top Republican choice for a presidential nominee in the first place. Why couldn’t poor Jon Huntsman get any love?

On top of all the obstacles Romney faces in trying to convince people he is a human just like them, he keeps having to defend himself from, well, himself. He can’t keep his foot out of his mouth. The Obama campaign hardly has to lift a finger to make the guy look bad because he’s doing such a good job of it on his own.

Can he win over voters if he keeps asking the question about whether we’re better off than we were four years ago? Maybe. If he can keep his foot out of his mouth long enough to ask it.

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