Monday, June 11, 2012

If Romney commits a gaffe in a forest, and nobody's around...

Did anyone hear Mitt Romney's gaffe earlier?  Pundits on Twitter are already breaking it down.  Will it hurt his polling numbers?  Was it  better or worse than Obama's "private sector" gaffe last week?  As for what Romney actually said, it was... well... it was something to do with firefighters, policemen, and... uh... Wisconsin, maybe?  Or firing people.  Or something.  Honestly, I have no idea.

Obviously, about two minutes of trawling through Google will rectify my ignorance.  But before I go do that, let's stop and take a second to think about how silly this whole exercise is.

Romney's apparent gaffe can't hurt him if nobody knows what it was.  And yet, here I am, a guy with a Twitter feed composed entirely of Washington cognoscenti and political commentators, a guy who works in the office of a fairly notable politician, and a guy who habitually refreshes the New York Times homepage, and I don't have the first idea what even happened.  In fact, I always learn about this sort of thing way after the fact, weeks later, as the actual statement is slowly being rendered into meaningless mush by the relentless churning of the he-said-she-said commentary machine.

Obviously it's always dangerous to generalize from personal, anecdotal experience.  I could be a fluke here.  But I doubt it.  These things always seem make a very big splash in a pretty shallow pond.  And I think the point is instructive: it's good to remember that if you're politically aware enough to talk about politics, you probably far outstrip the average voter.  The last couple of years have seen a lot of debate about the power of economic fundamentals to drive elections, as compared to campaign ephemera.  It's a point I find convincing--not because politicians' arguments aren't compelling or their gaffes aren't damning, but because "what Mitt Romney said today" is not something most people know or care about.  By way of comparison, you don't have to watch CNN to know the economy is bad.


  1. I happen to have learned about this gaffe shortly after it happened. But it came in the course of criticizing the Obama speech. That speech was apparently so gaffe-ridden, but I have completely failed to find out what that gaffe (gaffes?) was (were?).

  2. In the end, all gaffes are descended from a common ancestor: Otto von Bismarck's infamous Brussels salad fork faux pas in 1890.