03.06.13

Give Ann Romney a Break

The media can’t stop attacking the woman who was almost first lady. Michelle Cottle has a suggestion for her fellow pundits: cut Ann some slack.

It’s official: four months after her husband got his butt kicked in what was supposed to be a no-lose presidential race, Ann Romney still irritates the holy living crap out of a whole lot of people.

Maybe it’s the girlishness. The toothy blondness. The well-heeled, well-tended perfection. The waves of entitlement that roll off her like Chanel No. 5. The sense that, despite all the parenting and health challenges she’s faced, hers has been a charmed and pampered life that she somehow does not recognize as remarkable.

Whatever its precise composition, some fundamental aspect of Ann sets the public’s teeth on edge without her even saying a word. And when the lovely lady does speak, she often makes the situation worse, as evidenced by her appearance on Fox News this past weekend.

Poking their heads out for the first time post-drubbing, both Romneys opened up to Chris Wallace about the pain of electoral failure and how they have been coping. True to form, Mitt still hasn’t a clue about why he lost, and some of the political chattering class has gigged him for that. But Ann? Despite grabbing much less screen time, Ann somehow managed to rekindle old resentments, birth a few new ones, and earn herself a harder public spanking than her hubby. This despite the fact that her comments were uncontroversial, unsurprising, and largely uninteresting.

Video screenshot

Here's everything you missed from the Romneys' extensive 'Fox News Sunday' interview.

There has been snickering, for instance, about Ann’s admitting that she has shed tears aplenty over Mitt’s loss and is still only “mostly over it.” “When you pour that much of your life and energy and passion into something and you’re disappointed by the outcome, it’s very—it’s sad. It’s very hard.” Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart’s take in his morning-after review: “Oh, for Pete’s sake.”

What? Which part of Ann’s statement isn’t totally understandable, even for diehard liberals? I know folks who’ve stayed heartbroken and/or bitter for muuuuch longer than four months after losing out on some lousy award or coveted job that didn’t require them to put their lives on hold—much less on public display—for years. It makes matters worse still that within the Republican echo chamber an Obama win was inconceivable. (Just ask Karl Rove.) Of course Mitt and Ann were stunned: right up to the bitter end, virtually everyone around them was humming “Hail to the Chief” under their breath.

When Wallace invited her to grouse about the media being “in the tank for Barack Obama,” Ann largely demurred.

Neither does Ann’s lingering sadness seem bound up in her overweening sense of entitlement. Plenty of POTUS and first-lady aspirants failed to bounce back lickety-split. Al Gore went all Grizzly Adams for a long stretch, and Kitty Dukakis gently hit the bottle and took to her bed. So Ann hasn’t managed in four months to shrug off losing the dream into which she and Mitt sank six years of their lives. He’s supposed to be the automaton, not her. Would we really have preferred her to lie—to dazzle us all with her stiff-upper-lippiness? I mean, don’t we usually spend all our time snarking about how phony and disingenuous political folks are? Ann is sad. She admits it—and in doing so she sounded considerably more honest and human than Mitt, with his repeated insistence that “I don’t look back. I look forward.” Why begrudge the woman this rare bit of candor?

Of course, Ann’s most-buzzed-about comments weren’t about her sadness so much as her irritation with the big, bad media. Asked by Wallace about reports that she and her son Tagg faulted the Romney campaign for not letting “Mitt be Mitt,” Ann agreed, but clarified: “Of course, it was partly true. But it was not just the campaign’s fault. I believe it was the media’s fault as well is that he was not giving—being given a fair shake, that people weren’t being allowed to see him for who he was.” When Wallace followed up with, “All right, what about the media?” Ann laughed and said, “I’m happy to blame the media!”

Oof. Poorly played, Ann. It’s tough to think of a pass-the-buck political excuse more shopworn than blaming the media. It is the last resort of nuts, scoundrels, and the wildly unqualified. (Yep. Looking at you, Sarah Palin.) And, understandably, the people who find it most tiresome are members of the media, who will promptly stomp upon any such rationalization with both feet until it looks like South Carolina roadkill.

Should Ann have gone down this road? Not if she wanted to avoid a good old-fashioned beat-down. But, to be fair, media bashing has become a nearly irresistible road in modern politics (if not society more broadly)—especially, though not exclusively, among Republicans. And, to her credit, Ann did not get nearly as whiny or confrontational as many of her GOP compadres.

Indeed, when Wallace invited her to grouse about the media being “in the tank for Barack Obama,” Ann largely demurred. “I think any time you are running for office you always think that you are being portrayed unfairly. And we, of course, on our side believe that there is more bias in favor of the other side. I think that, you know, that is a pretty universal—universally felt opinion.”

Let’s unpack this answer a bit. Yes, it contains the requisite nod to “liberal bias”—the devout conservative belief that provides the very foundation of Fox News. But rather than wallow in how unfair anyone was to her man in particular, Ann acknowledges that everyone who runs for office thinks the media is out to get them—both broadening the issue and shifting at least part of the onus to candidates’ perception of their coverage. And when you get right down to it, who can blame candidates for feeling that way? Political journalists are a dirt-digging lot, always trolling for gaffes and scandals and controversy. Regardless of party, only an idiot would treat us as anything other than dangerous wild animals. (Just ask Hillary about coverage of her campaign in ’08.)

So, yeah, Ann was tiresome and a bit whiny in her post-election debut. But cut the gal some slack. Few defeats are at once so public and so personal as losing the White House. The wounds are still raw, and, all things considered, she’s showing more honesty and spunk than many who have gone before her.