A New Republic profile of Mitt Romney, centered on the former Massachusetts Governor’s temperament, has been the buzz of journalists and politicos on Twitter all day. While the premise that Romney has an “anger problem” is a weak one, the colorful details about “Mitt-frontations” and the candidate’s amusingly milquetoast denial that he used profanity during an argument are what really sells the piece.
Political journalists have notoriously low thresholds when it comes to labeling a politician “angry.” Just ask Howard Dean, or John McCain, or even famously even-tempered President Obama. While Romney has had a few well-publicized deviations from his normal emotional flatline, notably his attempted Vulcan neck pinch on Rick Perry during a debate, there’s little in the New Republic story to support the idea that the candidate is some sort of Bill Bixby character, one shove away from monstrous rage.
The piece does recount a few amusing anecdotes, including one in which Mitt is alleged to have lost it on an incompetent traffic cop:
…at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Romney found himself stuck in a huge traffic backup on the road to the men’s downhill ski area, because some buses had not received the proper security-clearance placards and were being prevented from proceeding. Romney, who had organized the Salt Lake Olympics, jumped out to take charge. He started directing traffic, over the objections of a sheriff’s deputy, Kodi Taggart; she later filed a report on Romney’s interference. And he lit into an 18-year-old volunteering as a security officer, Shaun Knopp. Knopp told reporters that Romney had asked “who the fuck” he was and “what the fuck” he was doing and had then told him, “We got the Olympics going on, and we don’t need this shit going on.” Romney denied this at the time, saying he had not used such language since high school. “I would not, have not, and never would use the f-word,” he said. The worst word he used with Knopp, he said, was “H-E double hockey sticks.”The image of Mitt Romney hopping out of his car to direct traffic, and asking those directing traffic “what the fuck” they’re doing is not only comical, it’s immensely humanizing. I like that guy. Maybe that makes this story a two-fer, since there are probably a lot of voters who like the guy who says “H-E double hockey sticks.” That alone should nail down the elusive Granny Vote.
In fact, in almost all of the situations described in the piece, Romney’s actions appear perfectly normal. Maybe that says something about me, but I can completely relate to Romney’s impatience with fellow air travelers, or his move on Perry (which I thought was a very strong bit of power politics, until he tried to complain to the ref), or his defiance of a tin-plated park ranger intent on ruining his vacation:
In June 1981, Romney and his family were about to launch their motorboat on Lake Cochituate, west of Boston, when a state park ranger alerted Romney, who was 34 at the time, that he risked a $50 fine because the boat’s registration number was painted over. According to news reports that emerged during his 1994 run for Senate, Romney believed that the number was partly visible, and, against his wife Ann’s advice, proceeded to launch anyway. “I figured I was at the state park with my kids,” Romney told The Boston Globe in 1994. “My five kids were in the car wondering why we weren’t going out in the boat, so I said I’d launch and pay the fine.” The ranger ordered him to shore, put him in handcuffs, and drove him, still in his wet bathing suit, to the Natick police station, where he was booked for disorderly conduct.
As it happens, Romney’s most unusual altercation happened with Ann at his side. He was sitting in an Air Canada jet in February 2010 preparing to take off from Vancouver to Los Angeles when, according to news reports, he asked a passenger in the row in front of him to put his seat up—and the passenger took a swing at him. The assailant was removed from the flight. Soon afterward, his identity emerged: Sky Blu, aka Skyler Gordy, of the party-rock duo LMFAO. Romney later recounted the incident for David Letterman: “The fellow in the seat in front of my wife put his seat back during the takeoff procedure, and, as we have all heard ten thousand times, ‘Please put your tray table and the seat back in the upright and locked position.’ So I tapped him on the shoulder and reminded him of that direction, and he didn’t like that, by the way, and he gave me a good swat and he broke my hair.”
Sky Blu offered his version in a YouTube video where he is sitting in tight red briefs, with a gold medallion around his neck. “I start to sleeping, I’m too upright, so boom, I lean back, ... and I just hear this guy: ‘Sir, sir put your seat up!’ It was pretty hostile. ... I looked back, and he says again, ‘Sir, put your seat up!’ ... even louder, a little more anger to it. I’m like, ... what did I do? Ask nicely and I’ll put it up, but with that? ... I’m looking at him, and all of a sudden I see him reach over and he grabs my shoulder. ‘Sir, put your seat up!’ and I just react—boom!—get off of me. I didn’t take it any further than that. I just wanted the man not to touch me. He put a condor grip on me. ... What am I supposed to do?” The similarity of Sky Blu’s version of events to the Perry incident—when Romney would also put his hand on an opponent’s shoulder—is hard to ignore.