Hot potato.

Hot potato.

Hot potato.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Aug. 31 2007 5:57 PM

Hot Potato

Republicans can't drop Larry Craig fast enough.

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Fortunately, Romney's voiceover clears up any confusion: It's an ad for Rosie O'Donnell and Hillary Clinton.

The text of the ad comes from a speech Romney gave at a Reagan gala in April, shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings. Romney cites a Wall Street Journal op-ed Peggy Noonan wrote after the Columbine shootings in 1999, which offered an extended metaphor about our polluted modern culture as "the ocean in which our children swim." "Your child is an intelligent little fish," Noonan wrote—four years before Finding Nemo—but the Columbine shooters "inhaled too deeply in the oceans in which they swam."


Republican candidates don't normally make ads about children emerging from the sea with gills. But Romney, to his credit, says he believes in evolution—so much so that his positions are evolving every day.

Noonan's post-diluvian vision offers one horror after another: "The dark genie is out of the bottle and swims in the seas." Romney and his ad makers drag her metaphor to new depths. He says he'd like to "clean up the water in which our kids are swimming"—by keeping pornography off their computers, drugs off the streets, and sex and violence out of television and video games.

It's safe to assume Mitt Romney didn't inhale. But before they made "Ocean," the Romney team should have taken a closer look at the speech and op-ed on which it's based.

Oddly enough, the speech starts out with a different aquatic metaphor. At the same time as the Virginia Tech shooting, the entire Romney clan was gathered at the family lake house in New Hampshire, looking out the window at "a grey day with record rainfall." Romney doesn't mention which ad they were filming. Perhaps "Ocean" will have a fresh-water sequel called "Loons."

In the speech, Romney asks, "What are we to make of what happened at Virginia Tech?" In three short paragraphs, his answer goes from Cain and Abel to Hitler and Ahmadinejad to Bill Clinton reducing the size of the military after the Cold War.

Near the end of the speech, Romney rolls out the Noonan riff, followed by yet another water story from his childhood. This time, he and a friend were about to inhale too deeply in the 4-foot waves of Lake Huron, when his friend's mother waded out in her dress, grabbed them by the arm, and dragged them both to shore. Romney's conclusion: "The most important work being done to strengthen America's future is the work that is being done within the 4 walls of the American home." Or vacation home, as the case may be.

The Romney ad is awash with ironies, but the biggest come from Peggy Noonan herself. The 1999 op-ed on which the ad is based gives social conservatives plenty of reasons to run screaming. It begins with a quote from Rosie O'Donnell: "I know it's an amendment. I know it's in the Constitution. But you know what? Enough is enough." O'Donnell was calling for a ban on gun ownership; Noonan makes no effort to rebut her. Instead, Noonan writes, "It occurs to me at the moment that a gun and a Bible have a few things in common. Both are small, black, have an immediate heft and are dangerous—the first to life, the second to the culture of death."

Romney would be in enough trouble for embracing a column that puts God, Rosie, and the pope on one side and guns on the other. But in a heartfelt reaction to the Columbine tragedy, Noonan throws in a constructive plug for Romney's worst nightmare:

I'll tell you who could make some progress though, maybe. Hillary Clinton. All the big media people, the owners and anchors, the studio heads and producers, the creators and disseminators, they all admire her. They support her. She could talk to them. She could ignite a "national conversation." She could get tough. She could take names. It might cost her--they give her money. But she's an important member of the community. And you know, it takes a village.