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.
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.