Romney's Consistent Miscommunications with Regular People

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Several stories looking into Mitt Romney's pre-politics life that have been published this week have a common theme: he has a remarkably consistent history of being puzzled by regular people. ABC News' Emily Friedman reported Monday how Romney likes to guess people's ages and whether they're related, which is not how must humans make small talk. The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz reported that as young Mormon leader in Boston in the 1970s, Romney had trouble understanding other people. And on Tuesday, Reuters' Peter Henderson illustrated Romney's occasional tone-deafness when he took over the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. 

From Horowitz's piece it looks like there are a couple kinds of people Romney didn't understand:

  • Women: "As the local bishop, Romney conducted annual interviews with all the members of his flock, and he used his time with the newcomer to express both his disapproval of divorce and to remind the middle-aged woman, who had begun dating again, about the church’s opposition to premarital sex." The woman, Carolyn Caci, explained to Horowitz, "I told him it was none of his business and he said it was."
  • Feminists: A reform movement within the church was dismissed by Romney. "He thought we were just a bunch of bored, unhappy housewives trying to stir up trouble," one of those women, Barbara Taylor, told The Post. Nancy Dredge recalled an episode in which Romney found a different way for women to be liberated: "He said, ‘I’ve got a great job for you, to write up the notes for the men’s meetings!’ He didn’t get it... He thought we would be thrilled."
  • Poor people: "During one meeting with the church’s women’s relief society, he encouraged the wives of his peers to look after less fortunate families in the congregation, but advised that the culture shock might be difficult for them. "'Sometimes, people are wearing polyester in Medford,' Dredge recalled Romney as saying. 'I thought, 'Oh my.'"
Reuters' story, on the other hand, shows that while Romney earned great reviews for turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics, he didn't quite get how regular people react to certain displays of self-regard:

Detractors point to a collection of Mitt Romney lapel pins as the essence of his self-promotion. One pin shows Romney in a superhero cape, another, for Valentine's Day, has his square-jawed, smiling face in a heart with the slogan, "Hey Mitt, We Love You." A third, shaped like a baseball glove, says " Mitt happens."

Romney's closest advisers say they don't recall who decided to make the pins. Fraser Bullock said Romney might have approved them as a scheme to help the budget, because Olympic pins are big sellers.

But despite appearances to the contrary, there are quite a few not-so-perfect regular people in Romney's family, Politico's Ben Smith reports. Ronald B. Scott, a former Time reporter and distant Romney cousin, writes in a little-noticed book that the Romneys have actually experienced family struggles familiar to many Americans -- messy divorce, in vitro fertilization -- but are looked down upon by the church. Romney's oldest sister backed liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer. Older brother George Scott Romney's ex-wife ran for Senate, and he backed her opponent. Smith reports, "The timing of George Romney’s second marriage and the birth of the first child in that marriage, Scott writes, was a religious transgression that resulted in an official, if temporary, separation (excommunication or disfellowship) from the church."

One more Romney meme that isn't true? That he doesn't understand human humor.  WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer's spoke to Romney's Harvard classmates, who said Romney did indeed get jokes:

"Mitt was not a quipster," says Janice Stewart, one of a small number of women in Romney’s business school class. "He did laugh. I mean, he had a beautiful smile and he laughed, but he wasn’t a humor leader. He would never be the one to think of the quip, but if somebody else made a good quip or a good line or something in class he’d laugh at it."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.