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08.01.12

Mark McKinnon: ‘Wimp’ Attack on Mitt Romney Out of Line

How does flip-flopping, committing gaffes, whining, and allegedly being a ‘weenie’ make the presumptive GOP presidential candidate a ‘wimp’—or different from the president? Why Michael Tomasky’s attack on Romney is unfair and sophomoric.

It is not my intention or desire to beat up on the mothership or my colleagues at The Daily Beast, but as a Republican who is trying to bring a shade of conservative balance to the site—even though to most movement conservatives I am a RINO (Republican in Name Only) or a squish (soft Republican)—I feel compelled to speak out when I think basic standards of fairness, balance, and decency are abridged.

My fellow columnist Michael Tomasky recently wrote that Mitt Romney is “a spineless, disingenuous, supercilious, race-mongering pyromaniac who is poorly intentioned.” Incendiary stuff which you would think, given the heat of the charge, was motivated by some credible evidence. Yet, Tomasky’s fuel for the ugly flame was that Romney said the word “Obamacare” at his NAACP speech—a term embraced by Obama and his supporters, and with which the president’s campaign raises money.

Hardly chastised, perhaps emboldened in the search for controversy and outrage simply as a means to drive traffic, Tomasky in a column this week brands Romney a “wimp.” And in the article, he says Romney is “kind of lame, and he’s really … annoying.” (Why the ellipsis? Is that a pause as if to say, “I have to think about this. Then, aha! Yes, annoying?”) Tomasky continues, accusing Romney of having “all the sincerity of a hostage,” being more “weenie than wimp,” displaying “political cowardice,” being “nasty and whiny,” being “weenie-ish” even, and, worse, “a weenie Republican.”

The headline for the Newsweek cover accompanying the photo of Mitt: “Romney: The Wimp Factor—Is He Just Too Insecure to Be President?” For those who remember, this is a knockoff of the famously controversial Newsweek “Wimp Factor” cover in 1987 ridiculing George H.W. Bush. Ironically, Tomasky declared the 1987 cover “not entirely fair.”

Video screenshot

Michael Tomasky talks about his Newsweek cover story on Mitt Romney.

But now, it is.

As proof-points for Romney’s “wimpiness,” Tomasky cites gaffes, whining, and flip-flopping. One could argue that President Obama would also qualify as a wimp as measured by these criteria, and, yet, we hear no such invective hurled toward the incumbent.

To criticize Romney for changing his position on issues is fair game. That he has been “for” some policies before he was “against” them would be a statement of fact. To point out the president has similarly “evolved” on hot-button issues would also be true.

I won't use the word Tomasky writes, but I can guess what he would have called a Republican president who appointed two commissions to figure out fiscal solutions then didn't have the fortitude to adopt any of the findings.

It’s not the virility of the candidates we should be debating; it’s the strength of their ideas.

The unfortunate thing in my view is that the name-calling obscures what is in many aspects a very good article by Tomasky. Many of the points he makes are valid; on many of them I agree. And so too, I think, would many other independents, and even conservatives. But because of the sophomoric, schoolyard-taunting approach Tomasky takes to get attention, I believe he is turning off many thoughtful readers who might be persuaded by many of his arguments that, when stripped of their acerbic and acidic approach, have some merit.

No wonder America is tiring of media and politics. We can no longer disagree, we must destroy.

I know. Many will say I’m acting the old man shouting, “Get off my lawn.” And many will just say, “That’s the way it is these days. Politics is ugly, and the media is uglier.” Well, maybe so. But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore it or accept it. Because when we do, we endorse it. And when our silence encourages the worst in us, the worst gets worse. Then, where does it stop?

I've slipped on occasion into the realm of irresponsible invective, but I try to avoid it and generally recant when I fall short. Because name-calling does nothing to improve understanding or move the political debate forward.

So, I’m not shutting up.

The nation is standing at the edge of an abyss. Millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed; others are hanging on but stand one health emergency away from financial ruin. Consumer confidence is down, with 70 percent of retailers missing their sales targets in June. Trust in government is at an all-time low. And we are nearly $16 trillion in debt, with Social Security and Medicare on the rapid path to insolvency.

It’s not the virility of the candidates we should be debating; it’s the strength of their ideas.