While a solid skewering of a powerful person is usually fun, Newsweek's case that Mitt Romney is too insecure to be president -- "the wimp factor," as the cover says -- is deeply unsatisfying. The evidence Romney is lame is, well, lame. Let's examine the case made by Michael Tomasky:
Claim: "He's kind of lame."
We rate the strength of this claim: Weak. All politicians are kind of lame.
Claim: "he's really... annoying." (Elipses in the original.)
We rate this: Weak. Politicians must be annoying, because they have to repeat the same lines over and over and never offend anyone, especially moms, who are some of the funnest people to offend.
Claim: "He keeps saying these... things, these incredibly off-key things." (Ditto.)
We rate this: Strong. Examples abound.
Claim: "Then he apologizes immediately-with all the sincerity of a hostage. Or maybe he doesn't: sometimes he whines about the subsequent attacks on him. But the one thing he never does? Man up, double down, take his lumps."
We rate this: Weak. You can't be lame for both apologizing and not apologizing. And right now, on one of the biggest issues of the campaign -- Romney's taxes -- he's doing plenty of manning up. Tons of Republicans have called on him to release more years of tax returns, and so has the New Hampshire Union Leader, a key conservative newspaper in an important swing state. Romney's not budging. He's taking those lumps.
Claim: Romney "spent his war (Vietnam) in—ready?—Paris. Where he learned... French. Up to his eyeballs in deferments."
We rate this: Weak. Romney is no war hero, but Tomasky is rating Romney by a metric he doesn't even believe in. The author is among the many, many liberals who mocked the weird French-hating of the Bush years. The Bush administration scarred Tomasky so that he was making references to "freedom fries" in 2010 and 2011.
Claim: "Where Reagan saddled up a horse with the masculine name of El Alamein, Mitt saddles up something called Rafalca-except that he doesn't even really do that, his wife does (dressage)."
We rate this: Weak. Seriously? Romney is a wimp because his wife's cartoonishly-named horse is girlier than Reagan's cartoonishly-named horse?
Claim: Romney is a wimp because he let his wife drive the jet ski on vacation.
We rate this: What?
Claim: "There’s another conservative yardstick on which Romney comes up short: he’s too smart, as in clever or book-smart, to be a real Republican candidate. All those stories about how intensely data-driven he was at Bain, or as governor? Weird."
We rate this: Total crap. Again, Tomasky is judging Romney by a measure he obviously doesn't believe in.
The article produced so much skepticism that even Democratic strategist Joe Trippi tweeted, "Newsweek calls Romney a whimp as [Robert] Gibbs calls him a prep school bully. Can both be right?" Well, obviously. That's the point of every movie about bullies -- A Christmas Story, for example. The article barely grapples with this evidence. But the point is probably not to really make the case that Romney is too insecure to be elected, since you can tell Tomasky barely believes in his riffing. The point is to remind everyone that 25 years ago, Newsweek said Vice President George H.W. Bush was fighting "the wimp factor," and the cover "created a famous hubbub," as Tomasky says. The struggling magazine would love to look less weak by showing it can create a hubbub again.
Nevertheless, calling powerful people weenies is always fun. What could provide conclusive proof of Romney's wimpyness? A few potential avenues of investigation:
1. Does he require prior approval of all Facebook photos he's tagged in?
2. Does he always request mild salsa?
3. Does he feel nervous walking past a pack of teenagers?
4. If he was offered a cigarette, would he cough with the first puff?