What constitutes a ‘career’ in politics

I wish Mitt Romney would stop saying things like this.

“Four years as governor does not make me a career politician,” said Romney, who served as Massachusetts governor from 2002 to 2006, but also ran for U.S. Senate in 1994 and for president in 2007. “I’ve spent 25 years in business.”

If the point Romney hopes to convey is that Newt Gingrich has been involved in politics for more years than he has, fine. That’s clearly true. I’ve never been altogether clear why that’s supposed to be an impressive selling point for a presidential candidate — if Romney wins the GOP nomination, he’ll be the least experienced major-party nominee in a generation — but as a matter of arithmetic, Romney isn’t wrong on this narrow point.

But this notion that Romney is some kind of political novice is just silly. It’s a talking point Romney is obsessed with repeating, but the facts keep getting in the way.

In 1994, Romney ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. In 2002, Romney was elected governor. Two years later, he formed his first political action committee, and two years after that, he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

In 2007, Romney abandoned his entire worldview and launched a presidential campaign, and in 2008, after failing, he created another political action committee. In 2010, Romney traveled extensively in support of midterm Republican candidates, just as he’d done in 2006.

I’d like to think we’re beyond parsing the meaning of the word “career,” but when someone seeks statewide and national office four times, serves as a governor, and heads two different political action committees and a national party’s gubernatorial association, that person has a career in politics.

Romney’s job, at this point, is to feel some sense of pride in his record, and convince voters of its merit. Pretending that record doesn’t exist is absurd.