Commentary Magazine


Topic: Wimp Factor

The Bogus Wimp Factor Argument

Because the entire purpose of Newsweek’s cover now seems to be a) Generating stories for Fox News pundits to yell about, and b) Royals! Some editor apparently called up Michael Tomasky an hour before the magazine went to press and asked him to punch out a bunch of filler words to go along with the headline, “Romney: The Wimp Factor. “The result is a barely-readable 5,000-word blog post full of wisdom like, “Liberals, men of caution and contemplation, are obsessed with data” and “A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove” and “Harvey Mansfield must have swooned while watching that gripping 60 Minutes segment when Obama and others discussed how [the bin Laden raid] all went down.”

At the Daily Beast, David Frum compares Tomasky’s thesis with the claim that Obama is inspired by Kenyan anti-colonialism:

Michael thinks that Romney is insecure on the inside. Who knows? It’s possible. It’s also possible that Barack Obama is motivated by anti-colonial rage, or by a secret commitment to socialist ideas. It’s possible that George W. Bush was driven by daddy issues, and that Bill Clinton triangulated—not as a political strategy—but because (some) children of alcoholics become compulsive pleasers.

These beguiling theories can energize or console political partisans. They don’t answer the question for which we turn to political journalism: what will the politician do in office? Politicians are masters of appearing to be many different things to many different people. For this reason, the quest for the “real” Romney or the “real” Obama or the “real” anybody else is bound to lead nowhere unless it is bottomed on the hard ground of their record-to-date. Anything else evanesces into gas.

You can’t prove Obama isn’t driven by Kenyan anti-colonialism, just like you can’t prove Romney isn’t secretly insecure. Political bloggers and pundits are always going to try to get inside the heads of politicians. That’s what they should be doing, because it’s important for trying to understand what decisions they’ll make in the future. But Frum is right that it needs to be based on the hard facts of their records and statements.

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Because the entire purpose of Newsweek’s cover now seems to be a) Generating stories for Fox News pundits to yell about, and b) Royals! Some editor apparently called up Michael Tomasky an hour before the magazine went to press and asked him to punch out a bunch of filler words to go along with the headline, “Romney: The Wimp Factor. “The result is a barely-readable 5,000-word blog post full of wisdom like, “Liberals, men of caution and contemplation, are obsessed with data” and “A Republican president sure of his manhood had nothing to prove” and “Harvey Mansfield must have swooned while watching that gripping 60 Minutes segment when Obama and others discussed how [the bin Laden raid] all went down.”

At the Daily Beast, David Frum compares Tomasky’s thesis with the claim that Obama is inspired by Kenyan anti-colonialism:

Michael thinks that Romney is insecure on the inside. Who knows? It’s possible. It’s also possible that Barack Obama is motivated by anti-colonial rage, or by a secret commitment to socialist ideas. It’s possible that George W. Bush was driven by daddy issues, and that Bill Clinton triangulated—not as a political strategy—but because (some) children of alcoholics become compulsive pleasers.

These beguiling theories can energize or console political partisans. They don’t answer the question for which we turn to political journalism: what will the politician do in office? Politicians are masters of appearing to be many different things to many different people. For this reason, the quest for the “real” Romney or the “real” Obama or the “real” anybody else is bound to lead nowhere unless it is bottomed on the hard ground of their record-to-date. Anything else evanesces into gas.

You can’t prove Obama isn’t driven by Kenyan anti-colonialism, just like you can’t prove Romney isn’t secretly insecure. Political bloggers and pundits are always going to try to get inside the heads of politicians. That’s what they should be doing, because it’s important for trying to understand what decisions they’ll make in the future. But Frum is right that it needs to be based on the hard facts of their records and statements.

Tomasky makes no real effort to figure out what makes Romney tick, and he obviously didn’t delve into the subject with empathy or open-mindedness or an interest in truly understanding the man. It’s unfortunate, because Romney is so guarded, and it would actually be interesting to know more about what drives him as a candidate.

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