So here I am sitting in a Gramercy Park coffee shop and reading The New Republic — you know, laying the groundwork for my long-term infiltration of New York’s liberal bourgeoisie. I’ve just read their cover story on Mitt’s temperament and his “flashes” of anger over the years. I know the issue is a couple weeks old at this point so I’m sure people have written about it already, but man, is this thin gruel.
In a life spanning seven decades there are maybe a half dozen stories of Mitt’s “peculiar temper” — some are from his adolescence, others vaguely remembered or remembered differently by different parties. And the two most detailed stories, occurring in 1981 and 2002, strike me as, well, awesome.
The first concerns a family boating trip to a lake west of Boston. As Romney was preparing to launch his motorboat, a police officer approached and warned him could face a $50 fine since the boat’s registration number was partially obscured. Mitt, who said he didn’t want to disappoint his wife and five kids, told the officer he’d launch anyway and pay the fine. At which point the officer ordered Romney to shore, slapped cuffs on him, and arrested him for disorderly conduct. The case, such as it was, was eventually dismissed and the file sealed until it came up in Romney’s campaign against Ted Kennedy in ‘94.
The second incident occurred at the Salt Lake Olympics, when Romney, on his way to a skiing event, was caught in a traffic jam caused by improper security procedures. Romney apparently jumped out of his car and started directing traffic traffic himself, and had words with a sheriff’s deputy on scene. The major controversy concerns whether Romney used the “f-word” during this exchange, or, as Romney himself claims, merely the “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” word.
So, to review: The biggest knocks on Mitt’s temperament in this story are a case of (somewhat conservative) civil disobedience, which turned into a cop cuffing Romney in front of his kids over a minor regulatory infraction; and getting a bit miffed while taking the initiative to sort out of problem in an organization he was running. I gotta say, I’m kind of impressed. When you hear the set-up to the first story (“Sorry, sir, I’m afraid your registration number is partially obscured.”) you kind of expect Romney to apologize profusely and turn the car around, don’t you? And when you hear the second set-up (“Mr. Romney, there’s a traffic backup due to some security problems here.”) you kind of expect him to call for a police escort — or even a helicopter — to circumvent it.
I went into the piece thinking Romney’s manner is a liability in the general election. I’ve come out of it marginally less worried about that.