Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mitt Romney’s new deceptions

AT LEAST two days late and several dollars short of being convincing, the Romney campaign has finally answered the question of where the Republican nominee for president stands on the need for FEMA, the federal agency coordinating relief efforts for victims of Superstorm Sandy with the affected states — the same question he was asked by reporters a dozen times on Monday.

“I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” Romney said in a statement presented by his campaign Wednesday.

“As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters.”

Just when you thought Romney had finally settled on a persona to ride to Election Day, just when you thought he’d put the Etch a Sketch down for the last time, the former governor of Massachusetts walks back a previously stated and defended position on how “immoral” spending for federal disaster relief was. And he does it six days before the election.

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BUT AS surely as that’s likely to be another last-minute deception, the latest shiny objects from Team Romney, there was another deception that was painstakingly deliberate. If you believed the increasingly desperate RomneyRyan campaign couldn’t get more cynical and out of touch, McKay Coppins put that to rest today in an eye-opening BuzzFeed story about Romney’s “storm relief event” in Kettering, Ohio.

What was first reported (and at first blush generally appeared to be) a seemingly earnest but misguided effort at citizen outreach and assistance in the wake of the deadly storm turned out to be more orchestrated, more fabricated than we’d have thought possible. Even for Mitt Romney.

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From Dayton, Ohio, Coppins tells the story:

On Monday morning, Romney's local team in Dayton was eagerly preparing to host the candidate the following day. A high school gym had been reserved, a stage had been rented, and a pair of celebrity guests — country singer Randy Owen and NASCAR driver Richard Petty — had been booked to give the event some B-list heft.

Then, a little before noon, communications director Gail Gitcho announced the cancellation of “all events currently scheduled” for Tuesday. The superstorm that forecasters had been warning about for days had picked up steam ... In a statement, Gitcho said the decision to cancel campaign events had been made “out of sensitivity to the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy.”

But Boston wasn’t quite ready to lose a full day of swing state visibility with a week left in the race. So, after some deliberation, the campaign decided to use their existing venue in Ohio to stage a makeshift and nonpartisan humanitarian project. …

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[O]n the ground in Dayton, aides were working feverishly to depoliticize the planned event. Campaign signs were removed from the premises, long rows of folding tables were set up, and logistics were painstakingly arranged to accomodate physical donations. ...

The plan was for supporters to bring hurricane relief supplies to the event and then deliver the bags of canned goods, packages of diapers, and cases of water bottles to the candidate, who would be perched behind a table along with a slew of volunteers and his Ohio right-hand man, Senator Rob Portman. To complete the project and photo op, Romney would lead his crew in carrying the goods out of the gymnasium and into the Penske rental truck parked outside.

But the last-minute nature of the call for donations left some in the campaign concerned that they would end up with an empty truck. So the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal-Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in, according to one staffer. ...

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... Romney, clad in blue jeans and rolled-up sleeves, hustled around his area of the gym, shaking hands, thanking supporters, and stacking cases of bottled water on top of each other ...

As supporters lined up to greet the candidate, a young volunteer in a Romney/Ryan T-shirt stood near the tables, his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting, “You need a donation to get in line!”

Empty-handed supporters pled for entrance, with one woman asking, “What if we dropped off our donations up front?”

The volunteer gestured toward a pile of groceries conveniently stacked near the candidate. “Just grab something,” he said.

Two teenage boys retrieved a jar of peanut butter each, and got in line. When it was their turn, they handed their “donations” to Romney. He took them, smiled, and offered an earnest “Thank you.”

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NEVER MIND the fact that the Red Cross prefers cash donations to actual physical donations of canned and material goods (something the Team Romney ground-game people should have know already). That much is almost forgivable. But the Romney campaign’s calculated attempt at citizen assistance couldn’t even come from an emotionally honest place in the middle of what is certainly the worst domestic tragedy since Katrina.

It all seems so ... desperate now. Romney, effectively frozen out of the story that could well change the course of the election — but more likely cement the current trajectory of he election — can only watch from the sidelines, and gin up photo ops like this to keep his campaign current.

The Facebook conversation on BuzzFeed gives a national perspective. KittyJayne Bailey Highlands writes: “How much better to have donated $5000. The regional economies would have benefitted from the multiplier effect had the goods been purchased as near to locally as possible. Just what one would expect from one who would turn disaster relief over to corporations.”

Karl Thornton from McFarland, Wisc., writes: “Thing is, this should be a slam dunk for Romney. He was the governor of one of the affected areas. He should be able to speak to how his state prepared for situations like this, the areas and people he worked with, and the role of the state vs. federal government during disasters.

“Why isn't he talking about those experiences, and how they would apply to the job he's seeking?

“The fact that he isn't, and is resorting to cheap stunts like this, is extremely telling.”

Image credits: Romney: AFP/Emmanuel Dunand. BuzzFeed logo: © 2012 BuzzFeed, Inc. Facebook logo: © 2012 Facebook.

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