Romney's Odd Reference to Hitler

Michael Crowley of Time says Mitt Romney faces a Catch 22: Be "scripted and fake" or "natural and weird". This, says Crowley, is the "eternal question for the non-gifted pol"--either come across as a robot or risk "tripping over your own klutzy feet."

I used to think Romney's klutziness was overstated. His much-ridiculed musing about how the trees in Michigan are "the right height"--struck me as a kind of earthily poetic way of saying that home always feels like home. But then three weeks ago BuzzFeed dug up a clip of Romney answering a question about energy policy and managing to drag Hitler in from left field:

Of course, there's nothing really wrong with this. To speak favorably about the energy policy of history's greatest monster isn't to deny he was history's greatest monster. Still, among the many don'ts that should be second nature to a first-rate politician is, "Don't say anything about Hitler that will let BuzzFeed go with the not-technically-inaccurate headline, 'One Thing Hitler Did Right, According to Mitt Romney.' " You know the old saying: If you don't have something mean to say about Hitler, don't say anything at all.

I don't deny that, as an Obama supporter, I'm happy about Romney's periodic exhibitions of tone deafness. But I don't agree with Crowley--or with this Politico piece--that Obama has a big edge over Romney in this department. When Obama said, after the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., that "the Cambridge police acted stupidly," he, too, showed a fairly shocking lack of conversancy with the politician's list of don'ts. Specifically: Don't ever render a negative judgment about police (or the military) unless an investigation has established undeniable wrongdoing (especially if you're a Democrat). And then there was Obama's bitterly-clinging-to-guns-and-religion riff. Though it came at an event that he thought was off the record, the fact remains that the judicious American politician (a) never says anything even implicitly negative about religion ever, anywhere; (b) realizes that in this day and age, whenever you're among more than a handful of people, you should assume you're being taped.

The truth is we have a race between two politicians who are generally capable but are both prone to the occasional epic lapse of judgment. This should be interesting.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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