Romney Has Asked For It

As Ben Jacobs said here yesterday, and as Mark Kleiman said at Ten Miles Square on Friday, criticisms of Mitt Romney’s offshore investments, like other questionable aspects of his business record and personal finances, seem to be having a relatively strong effect on public perceptions of the putative GOP nominee. And the efforts of the Romney campaign and conservative gabbers to call these criticisms “disgusting” or “irrelevant” or “demagogic” aren’t deflecting the arrows because Mitt has undertaken such an over-the-top attempt to make his Jehovian status as a job-creatin’, numbers-crunchin,’ efficiency-dispensin’ titan the centerpiece of his entire presidential bid. If he was campaigning on his record as governor of Massachusetts or his policy proposals or his ideas or–God forbid–his party’s ideology, it wouldn’t matter nearly as much.

As others (including, to give the devil his due, William Kristol) have suggested now and then, Romney has made the same mistake that arguably did in John Kerry in 2004: making his message so totally dependent on a positive spin of his biography that any negative interpretation of it undermines everything. But in reality, Kerry was a paragon of transparency, on both the personal and policy front, as compared to Romney; if anything, Kerry may have talked too much about policy minutiae. For all we know, Romney has a third-grader’s grasp of an awful lot of subjects that he resolutely refuses to talk about as he sets his lantern jaw and stares into the camera and demands that Obama be sent to the principal’s office for failing to fix the economy.

Until such time as Romney comes clean on his agenda for the country, and owns up to the many promises he’s made to the crazy people in his party, then of course every single thing about his business career and the fabulous wealth it has earned is fair game. Politicians who stand for something bigger than themselves don’t have to be perfect. But those whose message is essentially “Ecce Homo”–Behold the Man!–must be held to a different standard. Romney had better be ready to defend every wrinkle in that perfectly tailored suit and every shadow in that born-to-rule profile.

In every way you can imagine, he’s asked for it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.