UMM, MITT, got a minute?
You know how things that snag the imperfect edge of your attention sometimes make you do a double-take?
As I walked through Copley Square some years back, a celebrity mag caught the corner of my eye.
“Britney: ‘I’ll always love Jane Austen.’ ’’ Britney? Jane Austen? Wha. . . what? It stopped me dead in my tracks - until a closer look made sense of it all.
“Britney: ‘I’ll always love Justin.’ ’’
A similar disquiet struck the other day when I glanced over at the book my wife was reading. “The Power of Lies.’’ Yikes! That’s hardly the kind of thing one wants to see his spouse engrossed in.
“Why are you reading about lying?’’
“Lying?’’ A quizzical look. She held the book up. “The Power of Less.’’
Oh. Well, never mind, then. My mistake.
So my first thought watching you on TV this week was that I was probably mistaken yet again. After all, I thought I heard you calling President Obama “out of touch.’’ Mitt, the man from Planet Money, mocking Obama as clueless? No. Couldn’t be.
But there you were on the night of your primary hat-trick, repeating the charge.
“Years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you that you’re great and you’re doing a great job, it’s enough to make you think that you might become a little out of touch; and that’s what’s happened.’’
There’s an old caution that applies here, Mitt. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Or, to update the axiom: People who plan to live in 11,000-square-foot beach homes with car elevators should think twice before accusing others of being out of touch. Particularly when aforementioned people shrug off $374,000 in speaking fees as “not very much.’’ Or off-handedly challenge political rivals to $10,000 bets.
In other words, I don’t think you’d fare that well debating who’s in touch and who’s not with Barack Obama. (Or even, for that matter, with Dr. Livingstone.) In fact, I’d dial back the denim-clad regular guy who identifies with the plight of everyday families schtick, too. As a long-time Ann fan, I hope (with apologies to the Everly Brothers), that she always drives a couple of Cadillacs. But remember the scornful reaction in 1994 when she tried to strike a common chord by saying that, during your student days, the two of you sometimes had to sell stock to get by?
On the whole, it’s better to be seen as a little out of touch than to pretend to be something you’re not. Take George H.W. Bush. We all thought he’d left for lunch when he rationalized his third-place finish in the 1988-cycle Ames Straw Poll by saying that his supporters had been “at their daughter’s coming-out party or teeing up at the golf course.’’ Yet it didn’t keep him from being elected president.
Even the Foxies are skeptical about your jeans look. Why, Shep was almost beside himself watching you address a crowd in Ohio a couple of weeks back. “Do you think he’s aware he’s wearing Mom jeans?’’ he exclaimed. “It’s 2012. Somebody ought to tell him.’’ For that matter, 1987 wouldn’t mind having its hairstyle back.
I’d say, just be yourself, Mitt, but I realize that advice runs hard up against the kind of conundrum Heisenberg confronted in quantum mechanics.
So how about: Take a cue from Bill Weld, who wore his wealth easily. He liked to joke that his ancestors “arrived here with nothing but the shirt on their backs - and a couple of million pounds of gold.’’
But not too much of a cue. Another time, when a TV-type tried to test his in-touchedness by quizzing him about the price of some basic groceries, Weld chirped insouciantly that his questioner should “ask the wife,’’ since she did the shopping. It was a funny moment, but probably only Weld could get away with it. Caution compels me to counsel that you wait until you’re president to try something like that.
Hope that helps.