How the Olympic Romneyshambles Restored My Faith in Gaffes

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 27 2012 9:33 AM

How the Olympic Romneyshambles Restored My Faith in Gaffes

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US Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney speaks to the media outside 10 Downing street after a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in central London on July 26, 2012. US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made some undiplomatic criticism of London's preparations for the Olympic Games on July 25, expressing concern about Britain's readiness to host the event.

Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP/GettyImages

The most ironic place on the Internet this morning is Jim Geraghty's campaign spot blog. Scroll down for the last few posts, and you see an uncritical take on the RNC's bogus edit of the Obama "we tried our plan" video, a high-fiving link to a Romney video based on that edit, a similarly enthused take on the American Future Fund cutting an ad out of the Roanoke speech ("'You didn’t build that' is the gift that keeps on giving."), and then a mocking rundown of all the stuff Obama wants people to put in context ... oh, and how it's completely unfair to fuss over Mitt Romney's Olympics gaffe.

This is one of those moments where the 2012 debate feels too stupid to cover. I mean, really, give me some danger pay, boss. Here’s the video. Pick out the insult or the outrage.
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OK, let's step back and take a whiff of the bullshit. The last few gaffes that have captured our precious news cycles have been fabricated. That's not a pejorative statement, just fact. Democrats made sure that people saw Mitt Romney say "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," and "corporations ARE people, my friend." The Romney campaign, RNC, and Super PACs have skipped from clipped Obama quote to clipped Obama quote like Super Mario jumping from mushroom to mushroom. The GOP infrastructure has spent much more time and money on TV ads, making sure voters see this stuff.

And nobody thinks that these gaffes are entirely legit. Nobody believes that the outrage over them is real—because it isn't! Mitt Romney's campaign sets up stages for Job Creators boiling over with anger about the idea that the government helps then. Reporters point out that the Job Creators 1) have government contracts and 2) haven't read Obama's remarks. Campaign strategists are trying to find moments they can manipulate for attack videos, and hoping that reporters just "teach the controversy" and don't question the content.

Compare this to what the British press has termed the "Romneyshambles." By chance, I was in a BBC studio yesterday morning to do a radio interview with another outlet. Non-reporter staff—people who did not cover the campaign, much less work on it—were chattering about Mitt Romney. The general tone was that, yes, they'd had some problems staging the Olympics, but that was up to them to talk about, not some American who'd run his own Olympics 10 years earlier. As I waited, I saw Prime Minister David Cameron—who is, remember, the first Conservative PM since 1997—make a backhanded slap at Romney. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere," he said. Later, like everybody else, I saw London Mayor Boris Johnson—also a Conservative!make fun of "some guy called Mitt Romney" in front of a massive Olympics crowd.

There was no rival campaign cooking this up. There was no social media director making sure people tweeted it, or hashtagged it, or Google+'d it (if Google+ is still a thing). British Conservatives and media actually got pissed off at what they heard as an unhelpful insult. We've suffered through so many phony gaffes, we'd forgotten what a real one looked like.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.