WASHINGTON -- Oh, quelle gaffe.
Rarely has such a small, innocuous, truth-based remark garnered so much attention from the chattering classes as Mitt Romney's proposed $10,000 bet with Rick Perry during this past weekend's Republican primary debate.
The thundering herd wore out their little hooves racing to pounce on this tiny morsel of faux controversy. The near-unanimous verdict: Romney is out of touch.
Out of touch with what, exactly? The "Ordinary American," as Beltway journos refer to the rest of America? Fellow politicians, who are, of course, far more attuned to the trials of everyday people? Take current front-runner Newt Gingrich, for example. He's been there, done that -- blown as much as $500,000 at Tiffany's, racked up more than a million in campaign debt, "offered advice" to the folks at Freddie Mac for $1.6 million about how to continue driving the country into bankruptcy. He gets it.
Americans with lives may have missed the Saturday night debate. To recap: Perry accused Romney of supporting a national health care plan like the one he helped create as governor of Massachusetts and claimed that Romney changed his book, "No Apology," to conceal that support.
This is demonstrably and substantially false.
Romney did edit his book between editions, as writers often do, but he didn't change the substance of what he had written. And, given that Romney, unlike most politicians, actually wrote his own book, he was familiar with its contents.
As Glenn Kessler wrote in his Washington Post fact-check column in September: "Romney has long said he did not view his plan as a model for the nation, and he has not wavered on that stance." And, Perry "is simply making up the claim that Romney advocated his health care plan as a model for the rest of the country. ... He chose to manufacture a phony issue."
Another fact-checking entity, the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact.com, further explained Romney's edits: "Among other things, a line that advocated the Massachusetts model as a strong option for other states was replaced by a shorter, more generic sentence. But Perry exaggerates by making it sound as though Romney had advocated his state's plan as national health care policy -- a potentially damaging position in a Republican primary."
In another recent clarification, the PolitiFact fact-checkers also corrected Romney's debate claim that "only one president has ever cut Medicare for seniors in this country ... Barack Obama." Obama never has, and other presidents have.
As to the wager itself, well, what would critics have had Romney do? Punch Perry in the nose? Doubtless Romney would have liked to, and doubtless the feeling is mutual. But Romney is not one to lose his cool -- a trait one might hope for in a president. Because Perry had made this accusation before, Romney was prepared for it and probably figured a bet was a safe, well, bet. If you know you're right, you bet high and call the challenger's bluff.
Perry recovered reasonably well, saying he doesn't bet. But he does make stuff up, and Romney called him on it. Does the fact that Romney chose $10,000 make him out of touch?
Debating the dollar value of Romney's bet as political metaphor is intellectual Play-Doh, but in the spirit of seasonal gamesmanship, my two cents: Ten thousand dollars was the perfect number. A dollar would have been silly; $10 trite. A hundred would have seemed amateurish; a thousand, too studied. At the higher end, $100,000 would have been boastful, and a million would have tied Romney to the millionaire's club to which he does belong -- but the man is not a braggart. Ergo, $10,000 was an amount he could afford to lose (the first rule of betting), and it was high enough to demonstrate his certitude.
If Romney had really wanted to punch out his only credible opponent (not Perry), he might have pointed out that only one Republican presidential candidate has supported a federal individual mandate -- Gingrich.
This is easily documented, beginning in 1993, when Gingrich said: "I am for people, individuals -- exactly like automobile insurance -- individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance."
As recently as May 2011, he stated, "I've said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable."
Gingrich may have changed his mind. It happens. But the claim that Romney supports a federal mandate is a fib. You can put money on that.
Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker(at)washpost.com.
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