Debate II: Lord of the Ring-Binders
Mitt knows what it takes. At the second presidential debate, he said:
‘I know what it takes to get this economy going.’
‘I know what it takes to create good jobs again.’
‘I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve.’
‘I know what it takes to bring them back.’ [jobs]
‘I know what it takes to balance budgets.’
‘I know what it takes to make an economy work.’
‘I know what it takes to get this to happen.’
Mitt knows what it takes, but he isn’t sharing. Once he gets elected, he’ll tell us, he says, how he’s going to cut taxes by $5 trillion, add $2 trillion to the military budget, and balance the budget while still having some sort of federal government, besides the Pentagon, left to run. He’ll tell us how he’s going to create 12 million jobs, even though he believes, as he said at the debate: ‘Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.’
(A pause for fact-checking, a tedious necessity throughout the Tales of Mitt. The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorises about 22 million Americans as ‘government workers’, nearly 20 per cent of all jobs. This does not include the millions of private sector jobs that depend on federal grants or that result because of government programmes. [A construction worker on a bridge project is obviously not a government worker.] About a million of the currently unemployed are former government employees, laid off mainly by state and local governments. Most economists agree that, regardless of who is president, at least 12 million jobs will be added in the next four years.)
Mitt isn’t sharing, because Mitt is the Boss. He is the familiar figure of the nightmare boss, the one you have to smile at when he insults you – as Latinos, auto workers and elderly ladies with specially baked cookies have learned. He’s the one who cannot be told that it is difficult to follow his orders because yesterday he said the opposite of what he is saying today – as has become obvious to Paul Ryan and various surrogates. He is the boss who makes his own rules. (Other candidates may release their tax returns, but why should he?) He is the boss who cannot be interrupted, even by the president of the United States. (‘You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking.’) But he is not merely the boss in a Frank Capra movie – the one who lays off the employee with the sick kid the week before Christmas. He’s the boss in the age of leveraged buyouts, the one who closes down whole factories and businesses, and gloats like Scrooge McDuck over his bags marked with dollar signs. (Scrooge, at least, had the rascally nephews to puncture his pomposity. Mitt has his five cloned sons, one of whom, Tagg, later said that during the debate he wanted to jump out of his seat, ‘rush down to the stage and take a swing at’ Obama. ‘But you know you can't do that because, well, first because there’s a lot of Secret Service between you and him.’)
Mitt’s years as the Bain of Capitalists, he believes – and millions of voters bizarrely believe – qualify him to be Leader of the Free World, though one wonders how he is going to break up the United States and sell off the less profitable regions to China. He has two other qualifications that he continually reiterates. He was once an elected official, having served a term as governor of Massachusetts, back when he was briefly Moderate Mitt, before becoming ‘severely’ conservative. (His constituents have such fond memories of him that they now overwhelmingly support Obama.) And he successfully oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics, thanks to a $1.5 billion bailout from the federal government. This latter accomplishment is a puzzling endorsement: if organising a spectacle is presidential, then James Cameron is better qualified – producing Avatar and Titanic was far more complex than juggling schedules of ski jumps and curling.
In the Republic of Entertainment, watching the presidential debates has become a kind of civic duty, like buying a ticket to the latest Batman movie. More than 65 million watched the second debate (some 67 million the first) at home on their televisions; millions more watched in public places or on computer screens. It is the second – if a distant second – most-watched ‘live’ event, after the Super Bowl.
The substance of the debates hardly matters. (Who remembers that Kennedy and Nixon were slugging it out over Quemoy and Matsu? Who remembers where or what Quemoy and Matsu were?) In the first debate, what lingered was Romney’s aggression, Obama’s Zen detachment, and Mitt’s pledge effectively to roast and eat Big Bird. Immediately after the second debate, along with Obama’s ‘comeback’ feistiness, the punditocracy largely focused on Mitt’s stammering flub on exactly when Obama had called the attack in Libya an act of terrorism. But the sensational and enduring moment was, of course, the ‘binders full of women’.
It’s worth looking at Mitt’s words in detail. Asked to address the question of equal pay for women, he replied:
And – important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the – the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I – and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are – are all men? They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can't we – can't we find some – some women that are also qualified? And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of – of women.
First, in typical Mitt fashion, the story is not true. Before the election, a coalition of women’s groups had compiled a dossier of resumes and presented them to both the Republican and Democratic candidates, urging them to have more women in their administrations if elected. Mitt did not request it. Second, when asked about the reality and consequences of unequal pay for men and women, Mitt could only think of résumés. (What are people, after all, but a stack of CVs?) And third, gosh, Mitt went to Harvard Business and Law schools, worked in finance for years, was living in the country’s densest conglomeration of prestigious universities, and had campaigned throughout the state. In all that time he never met ‘some women who are also qualified’?
‘Binders full of women’ within minutes of its utterance became an internet meme and a Twitter festival, with the inevitable jokes linking Mitt to Hugh Hefner, Mormon polygamists and serial killers. But what he said next, though less ridiculous, was more telling: ‘I recognised that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible’ – specifically, that they must be home early in order to make dinner for the kids.
In the Mind of Mitt what women do is perform domestic duties and only women perform them. Men do not need to be ‘more flexible’ and go home. Therefore, ‘if you’re going to have women in the workforce’ – Mitt apparently hasn’t noticed that there are about 63 million of them in the US – a compassionate leader will realise that, more than equal pay, what women need is time to make the meatloaf.
For the debate, Mitt had to be coached on how to sit on a bar stool. The first time around, he told 27 lies in 38 minutes; this time it was 31 lies in 41 minutes. One wonders whether he knows they are lies or he simply inhabits his own reality. (At the debate, he described Bain Capital as a ‘small business’.) Last month, Ann Romney was on a plane that had a small fire; the cabin filled with smoke. That same night, at a $6 million fundraiser in Beverly Hills, Mitt told the donors: ‘When you have a fire in an aircraft, there's no place to go, exactly, there's no – and you can't find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don't open. I don't know why they don't do that. It's a real problem.’
Mitt Romney, as his supporters like to say, has real solutions to real problems.