Ten Large

by Daniel Foster

I really don’t get why everybody is running for the fainting couch over Romney’s $10,000 bet. Perhaps we’re just a particularly debased bunch of no-account road gamblers, but my friends and I bet each other $10,000 all the time, and have been doing so since we were teenagers. There are two scenarios under which the bets usually come. The first is that the determinant of the bet is so far off (e.g., a typical bet in the questionable circles I move in would be taking an over-under on the number of games the New York Mets will win in the next ten years) that the combined chances of the bet being forgotten about, runaway inflation greatly devaluing its outcome, or one/both of the bettors coming into a great fortune in the interim are sufficiently high to make it worthwhile. The other scenario is that the person offering the bet is absolutely sure he’s correct and wants to make a point of it to the idiot doubting him. Examples of this scenario in my milieu include “Yes, David Lynch did direct Dune” and “No, you couldn’t swim the widest Manhattan-Queens span of the East River at midnight, even if I gave you a month to train and a top-flight wetsuit: You’re not a strong swimmer, it’s close to a mile wide, and it’s a tidal estuary with a shifting current that could easily carry you out to sea. Besides, it’s really dirty.”

It seems clear it was the latter premise that inspired Romney to make his bet. If you propose a bet knowing with absolute certainty you’re going to win it, why wouldn’t you wager as much as you could, especially if the point of your doing so is actually to make the other guy back off? (I have found a really effective way of doing this is betting a large but very specific amount of money and one that the other party believes it is plausible you could produce. I.e., betting someone a million dollars might be dismissed, but betting someone $7,800 is likely to give pause.)

But lets leave all this aside, even. Why is this a Romney “gaffe”? Politicians lie all the time. Indeed we expect them to, even sort of want them to sometimes. But we expect them to lie about things like their past positions and current principles, their motives, their opponents’ motives, the happiness of their marriage, the existence of extramarital activities, the quality of their relationship with Party leadership, the sincerity of their religious beliefs, etc. Do we expect politicians to lie about their net worth? If so we really should have nominated Trump — he’s got it down to a science. But everybody knows Mitt Romney is rich. Is he supposed to pretend he isn’t? Is he “out of touch” any time he lets slip that he didn’t spend his productive years as a longshoreman? I was barely out of swaddling clothes when George H.W. Bush had his supermarket scanner “gaffe,” but looking back at it I can’t for the life of me think of why the electorate felt it important that the well-to-do, geriatric leader of the free world know his way around the latest technology at the stop-and-shop.  If Mitt walked around with a platinum scepter and a coat of dodo feathers I could see calling that a gaffe, but things have gotten silly if one of the things we’re looking for in a candidate is his ability to consistently condescend to us about the basic, verifiable facts of his existence, just to make us feel like he’s “one of us.”

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