by Benjamin J. Kirby
If you think about it, you really can't be surprised by what the theme of this presidential election will inevitably be: bullying.
Yes, this is the Bully Election.
This first hints of the theme actually first emerged before the last election, five years ago when the Boston Globe published the story of the Romney Family dog tied to the roof of a car for a road trip. Think what you will about animals, love dogs or hate them, can you imagine anyone but a near-caricature of a bully doing that? Again, whether you think Romney is in the wrong on this particular story or not, you certainly cannot deny that the powerful imagery persists even today.
Then the meme appeared to resurface several months ago, back in the thick of the GOP Primary, when Mitt Romney said he "likes" being able to fire people.
To be fair to Romney, it was widely acknowledge that the line -- "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." -- was largely taken out of context. But the damage was done.
Later, Romney would express his lack of concern for the "very poor."
"I’m not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there," Romney told CNN. "If it needs repair, I’ll fix it."
It wasn't a gaffe. It was his explanation of his campaign's strategy. A picture of who Mitt Romney is and the kind of campaign he was going to have was beginning to appear.
Then in early May, the Washington Post featured an in-depth story of a young Mitt Romney, a high school senior at the prestigious Cranbrook School, who not only apparently maintains no real friends from that time (certainly not many who would defend him), but who also apparently held a classmate against his will and cut his hair with scissors.
John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.
A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.
Though Romney offered an unhelpful apology later, again, the damage was done. Something more that just a picture of a campaign with a mean-spirited message was now beginning to develop.
"He [Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."
Picking on these public sector employees goes beyond bad campaign tactics. Frankly, these are more than just the words of a guy who "doesn't get it." But more on that in a moment.
There is news out today that Bain Capital, the company run by Mitt Romney, moved American jobs overseas.
Mitt Romney’s financial company, Bain Capital, invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India.
During the nearly 15 years that Romney was actively involved in running Bain, a private equity firm that he founded, it owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas call centers and factories making computer components, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Is outsourcing American jobs bullying behavior per se? Probably not, but it certainly doesn't help what we have to say is a very real image problem for Romney.
Of course, this has gone beyond Romney. In fact, it may be that Romney, the candidate who simply outlasted the competition and for whom the GOP base simply settled, is the perfect choice after all. In what other moment could Newt Gingrich actually fire up the base by calling President Obama the "food stamp president"? In what other campaign could Texas Governor Rick Perry actually make executing people in his home state an applause line? When else could the Republican audience in a GOP debate cheer the idea of letting a man die simply because he didn't have insurance?
This is the campaign of interrupting the President during an address to Congress.
This is the campaign of threatening to throw acid on women Senators.
This is the campaign of using your power to throw legal voters off the rolls for no other reason than they may not vote your way -- or look like you.
Bullying, of course, has transcended politics (and in fact, was gaining momentum as an issue long before political types like me were talking about it; for more about bullying as a national phenomenon and what it means, go read my friend Shelba's blog, here.).
Most folks were transfixed by the awfulness that New York bus monitor Karen Klein had to endure.
There's even a movie out this year about bullying. I have not seen the film, but I don't think there's much to do with politics.
And that's too bad, because they could have almost assuredly used the clip of idiot doofus Neil Munro interrupting President Obama. Though I think it may be tough to "bully" the President of the United States in the traditional sense -- What are you going to do? Take his lunch money? -- the intensive verbal degradation of America's first black President is very obvious and very real.
But before we declare President Obama the hapless victim of the Big Mean Bully GOP, let's think about what Obama was doing during those remarks where he was interrupted:
As I said in my speech on the economy yesterday, it makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans -- they’ve been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country -- to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents -- or because of the inaction of politicians.
Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.
He's not the victim of bullying -- he's the guy coming in to rescue you from the bully. He did it with his action on immigration. He did it with the public sector employees. He's doing it with health care (though next week we'll find out if the Supreme Court will take up the bullying mantel and throw millions of young people off health insurance rolls, or take away the coverage of those with pre-existing conditions by overturning health care reform.).
As a campaign strategy, this is the best Obama can do. As America's top government official, this is the right thing to do from a policy perspective.
From an anti-bulling point of view, calling out a bully on his bad behavior is absolutely the right thing to do. (The first sign you're doing the right thing is when an avowed bully accusses you of bullying.)
At this rate, you'll have to wonder if there will be anyone left for Romney to represent. That is, aside from other privileged bullies.