If Governor Mitt Romney can couple what has been universally pronounced as a dominating debate performance over President Barack Obama on Wednesday night with a jump in his poll numbers in states like Ohio and Florida, it will have proven a theory I have put forth to my fellow Utahns for years.
Being rude works.
Take away whether Mitt gave us any steak with his indelible sizzle. Forget the paltry amount of details he gave us regarding how he would do the things he said he would do—and it is historically difficult to cut deficits without raising taxes. And ignore the fact that the president gave the former Massachusetts governor a pass on such things as his now infamous “47%” comments. Mitt stood out and stepped up based on one profound trait.
He was noticeably rude with debate moderator Jim Lehrer.
This was not Mitt the Nitpicky, who felt entitled to be called upon to give America his nuggets of sagacious wisdom. This was not Mitt the Prissy, who would channel George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior. And this most assuredly was not Mitt the Awkward, who could suck the air out of a room faster than a drunk uncle at a Mormon wedding.
This was Mitt the Rude. This was a guy who I thought was going to leave his podium to help the hapless Lehrer back to his room for 9 PM bed check. This was a Mitt who must have watched Jack Nicholson’s performance in the film “A Few Good Men” so as to know how to sneer. This was the GOP candidate that not only would kill a deer to prove he is a real man, but would run over the buck with a NASCAR race car.
The word I heard used on more than one network during the post-debate coverage regarding Mitt’s performance was steamrolling. This is apropos. Mitt had no time to worry about whether he had no time left. Mitt had little use for debate rules. Mitt was more intoned with the old Oakland Raiders mantra: If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.
Compare Mitt’s peremptory demeanor next to that of President Obama.
Obama was criticized by many after the debate for being aloof, detached and unengaged to his opponent. I disagree. I think we saw what Obama really is, a university professor. He was courtly and refined. The Gentleman President. Glib to the point of studious. This is what we usually get from Obama. But the contrast to Mitt the Brusk was glaringly obvious.
Obama was a wimp. Being civil and obsequious lost him the debate. Presidential debates in the age of instant feedback via Twitter are not about substance. Perception is reality. And the perception that came out of the focus groups was that Mitt slapped the tea and crumpets out of Obama’s effete mouth.
For years I have shown an open and hostile disdain for Utah Nice. The embedded belief that if one shows any agitation toward incompetence or ignorance somehow can disqualify a legitimate complaint drives me batty. Be honest. How many of you wanted to scream at a customer service representative when they were so busy with their insincere apology for botching up your order that they were taking time away from fixing the problem in a timely manner?
But you are nice and courteous and excuse the mistake…only to have it happen again. And when you show the slightest tinge of acrimony for being dissatisfied with the service, the onus for decent behavior now falls to you.
My belief is this: If people do something wrong once, you explain it to them. If they do it twice, you call them an idiot.
I re-read the U.S. Constitution before writing this column. And sure enough, no one in America–no less Utah–has a constitutional right protecting them from being insulted.
Rude works. Rude is right. Rude gets the attention of people who ignore you. Rude makes people listen to what you have to say.
I do not know if Mitt Romney’s performance Wednesday night will catapult him to the presidency. I do not know if his aggressive behavior towards Jim Lehrer will put him in the lead in any battleground states. And I certainly do not know if Mitt’s major flaws as a candidate are now forgotten by an electorate that has purposely kept him at arm’s length.
What I do know is that ? of Americans (by CNN’s reckoning) think that the former governor won the debate against Barack Obama.
Mitt did not do that by saying please and thank you.