Mitt Romney as Eddie Haskell

Exclusive: The conventional wisdom has spoken: Mitt Romney trounced Barack Obama in the first debate. But there was a squirrely sneakiness to Romney’s behavior as if Eddie Haskell from “Leave It to Beaver” had grown up and somehow won the Republican presidential nomination, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In the first presidential debate in 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore famously sighed in frustration over the ill-informed comments from Republican nominee George W. Bush – and the national press corps went wild saying that Gore’s sighing proved that he was an obnoxious know-it-all. Gore also insisted on getting time to counter Bush’s misstatements, showing how pushy the Vice President was.

Obviously, other factors contributed to the debacle of Election 2000 – when Gore’s narrow victory was overturned by five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court – but one of the reasons Gore’s popular vote margin was only about 500,000 was that key journalists made Gore their whipping boy to “prove they weren’t liberal.”

Actor Ken Osmond as he played "Eddie Haskell" on "Leave It to Beaver," a TV show that ran in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So how did that work out? At the end of Bush’s know-nothing rule, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans were dead along with thousands of U.S. troops; the U.S. economy was in freefall; millions of Americans were losing their jobs and homes; the federal budget had gone from surpluses to $1 trillion-plus deficits; and serious threats to the future, like global warming, were ignored.

I was reminded of that history when I watched the instant analysis – now congealed as conventional wisdom – that Mitt Romney was the decisive winner over Barack Obama in the first presidential debate of 2012. Yet, Romney had presented all the oily charm of Eddie Haskell, the sneaky sidekick on the “Leave It to Beaver” show of the late 1950s. The GOP nominee offered one squirrely prevarication after another.

With his eyes blinking and his weight shifting, Romney even mixed in an insult comparing the President’s honesty to Romney’s five sons repeating falsehoods hoping they would eventually pass as true. In other words, behind his forced smile, Romney was cleverly shielding his own lies behind the preemptive attack of telling the American people that the other guy was the liar.

It seems that Eddie Haskell has grown up – and he is Mitt Romney.

Yet, the fury, including from liberal commentators on MSNBC, rained down on Obama for not countering all Romney’s lies aggressively enough in real time. Obama did challenge Romney’s reinvention of his 20 percent tax cut as not really a tax cut and the Republican’s insistence that his health-insurance plan covered people with pre-existing conditions when it really doesn’t. But apparently Obama wasn’t loud and forceful enough.

Krugman on Romney

Few of the instant analysts did what economist Paul Krugman did in a column in Friday’s New York Times. He deconstructed Romney’s deception about his health-insurance proposal. Romney claimed that “No. 1, pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.”

Krugman wrote: “No, they aren’t — as Mr. Romney’s own advisers have conceded in the past, and did again after the debate. Was Mr. Romney lying? Well, either that or he was making what amounts to a sick joke. Either way, his attempt to deceive voters on this issue was the biggest of many misleading and/or dishonest claims he made over the course of that hour and a half.

“Yes, President Obama did a notably bad job of responding. But I’ll leave the theater criticism to others and talk instead about the issue that should be at the heart of this election.

“So, about that sick joke: What Mr. Romney actually proposes is that Americans with pre-existing conditions who already have health coverage be allowed to keep that coverage even if they lose their job — as long as they keep paying the premiums. As it happens, this is already the law of the land.

“But it’s not what anyone in real life means by having a health plan that covers pre-existing conditions, because it applies only to those who manage to land a job with health insurance in the first place (and are able to maintain their payments despite losing that job). Did I mention that the number of jobs that come with health insurance has been steadily declining over the past decade?

“What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do.”

Yet, instead of doing what Krugman did, i.e., expose one of Romney’s cruel deceptions – especially cruel to Americans with pre-existing conditions if Romney wins and lets the insurance companies return to the status quo ante, pre-Obamacare – the American pundit class piled on Obama.

With the exception of Rev. Al Sharpton, the panel of MSNBC “liberal” show hosts hammered away at Obama’s low-key performance and barely mentioned Romney’s hyper-activity as he shape-shifted himself from a “severely conservative” fellow into a caring guy whose harsh proposals have just been grievously misunderstood.

Romney even jumped in to act as a surrogate debate moderator, elbowing aside Jim Lehrer who curiously saw his job mostly as cutting off President Obama from giving answers while letting Romney ramble – all the better to soften Romney’s threat about zeroing out PBS funding.

What’s at Stake

Which brings me back to Al Gore’s sighing. Was that really more important than what Gore was sighing about, i.e., the fact that the Republican Party had nominated someone who simply didn’t have the knowledge and experience to handle the extraordinarily complex and dangerous job of being the U.S. president?

Often, goofiness captures the U.S. political process, as it did in 2000 and did again on Wednesday night. Electing a president is turned into a fun game of playing theater critic or stand-up comedian, rather than the harder job of evaluating the mettle of the candidates who could step into the Oval Office.

Often, too, people with influence over the outcome indulge their own narrow interests. Pundits and reporters seek to boost their careers by grabbing some centrist “credibility”; activists insist on perfection to the exclusion of reality; voters view their ballot as a way to express their feelings.

Yet, what is at stake in the election of a U.S. president is the possible extermination of all life on the planet. So, the first question to be asked and answered is: Do you want to give this person the nuclear codes?

And, even if the person is not likely to stumble into nuclear annihilation, the second question must be: How will this person handle the very powerful U.S. military? Will there be unnecessary wars that inflict unnecessary death and destruction?

A third question is: What will this possible president do regarding longer-term existential threats like global warming? Then, of course, there are important questions about the federal role in shoring up the economy and protecting vulnerable citizens.

Based on your experiences and ideologies, there will be different answers to these questions – and no answer is guaranteed to be right. Like all hiring decisions, there are many unknowns in the election of a president. But it doesn’t help when the press corps joins in the silliness.

Yeah, sure, President Obama could have been tougher, but didn’t the pundits notice that Mitt Romney was behaving like he forgot to take his Ritalin? There was a frenetic weirdness, something approaching instability, to his performance. Not to mention the repeated lying and misrepresentations.

After the debate – and before I heard the instant analysis – my primary thought had been: Do the American people really want to turn over the nuclear codes to that guy? And, as popular as the “Leave It to Beaver” show was, do they want to invite Eddie Haskell into their homes the next four or eight years?

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

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29 comments on “Mitt Romney as Eddie Haskell

  1. McMillan on said:

    Another great analysis Robert. I think the other thing that has been left unsaid is that Mitt has, what we used to call, “Daddy issues”. Mitt’s father was a successful businessman, so I Mitt has to do him one better. Not by making things, but by breaking them. Then, after Mitt had amassed his fortune, he runs for Governor, equaling his father. In order to win in MA, he had to come off as a moderate. So what can Mittens do that his father hasn’t accomplished? Well run for President of course and win. Mitt will say anything, promise anything, do anything to be President. If he wins, he can then look in the mirror as say to himself, “I accomplished something even my father couldn’t.” As President, Romney will drive the country over the cliff and will get us into a war with Iran. He wouldn’t want to diss his good buddy Bibi.

    I went to school and worked with guys who had this “Daddy Issues” thing. These folks are scary and even though I am not pleased with the direction of the country, I wouldn’t vote for Romney because I don’t want my country getting any more screwed up so Mitt can resolve his “issues”.

    • JazzGirl on said:

      I think you make a really good point– It very well could be true!

      And you also right , the country is still not what it should and could be– but remember that the Republicans had a ‘secret” meeting on the VERY day Obama was being inaugurated, agreeing to NEVER cooperate with him.
      So they have systematically block filibustered and interfered with virtually everything Obama has tried to do that would get us on our feet again.
      They have even voted against their OWN bills! — once Obama likes it.
      Obama has had a “Jobs/Transportation Act” on the table for at least a year! Top economists have said it would create a least 1.5 million jobs. They will NOT Pass it!
      So, as they have voted for failure, and intentionally kept us from progressing –just so they can point at Obama and say-” Look what a TERRIBLE leader he is!” …and they have thwarted his efforts over and again so much that now others believe it too…..Clever game. ….Diabolically executed, with a self serving precision…. Make the country fail to make the president look bad -to get rid of him.. Ugly enough on it’s own — but it has dragged us ALL down with it.. Sabotage? Absolutely. I say it even borders on Treason.

  2. Purple Girl on said:

    Yes the Liberal analysis was not only inaccurate and irrelevant, but embarrassing. I was looking for a telltale Koolaid mustaches on the pundits of MSNBC.
    Mitt lost it on content, creditability and decorum proving he is just another “Sham Wow” Pitchman for the Neo Con- willing to sell you anything you’re ignorant enough to buy

    • JazzGirl on said:

      I don’t understand you saying that MSNBC was irrelevant…. The ones I watched were dumbfounded and even angry that Obama didn’t respond more forcefully! What KOOL-AIDE? Like others they are speculating WHY Obam seemed subdued… ..Tired? Altitude?.. Maybe… even a ploy — to give Romney “enough rope to hang himself”…. we will see….

  3. I couldn’t agree more with you..Robert! I heard it called..Theatrical Arrogance by David Plouff! I see it as Verbal jousting.. People want the game not the substance.. they want one of the guys (or woman) to get knocked off their horse.. I saw the same technique with the debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren! Arrogance is perceived.. as the winner..
    I think we should demand more of our elected or the hope to be elected people that will run our government and be responsible for world politics also!
    I am very upset with Chris Matthews to begin with.. he came out of the debate and immediately declared Romney the winner! and I think it set the whole ball in motion.
    Instead of coming out and declaring from the beginning how many falsehoods Romney declared and how arrogant he was!
    thankyou for your editorials..
    I also very much enjoyed your previous one.. Did Romney ‘Win’ the Debate?
    as I said..I couldn’t agree more with you!
    …………..Thankyou

    • Deb L, The problem is the low level of intelligence of the average American voter and TV audience. A Romney or Bush 11 or even a Reagan could not have been possible in any Western European country…..at least for now. Maybe corporations will succeed in “dumbing them down” like they did Americans.

      • John Darling on said:

        Man, talk about a snooty, condescending attitude. Reagan won by a landslide in 1984. So I guess that makes most Americans idiots. Basically you’re equating conservatism with ignorance and liberalism with intelligence. Now how dumb is that? You’re so certain of the correctness of liberal tenets that you just entirely dismiss the other side of the political spectrum. Sounds like you’re just another Kool-Aid drinking sheep, blindly following the leader.

  4. The word actually used by Romney was not “sons” in reference to his five lying children, but “boys”. With every word parsed and rehearsed I can’t believe the word “boys” was not chosen specifically, knowing what an insult it is to black men. Romney and his handlers are not above such a tactic.

    And if the president had been of the same ilk as Romney, he might have replied, “Oh, so your sons are inveterate liars, too? Is that genetic? Or did you teach them? Or perhaps they just picked it up by living in your ambience?”

    Aren’t we glad that our president was presidential and did NOT stoop to such base tactics. Of course, he might well have realized that we out here who did pay attention to the words and thoughts expressed in the debate might well do that dirty job for him.

    But in fact, it’s a good question, whether or not we learn to be deceitful from those in our environment, especially from our leaders? And we can ask with all honesty, if Romney were elected president, would we find everybody in the nation emulating him? Lying through our teeth, which actually means standing up, grinning, and lying with our teeth exposed, just like the car salesman trying to sell you a lemon.

    Thanks to Robert Parry and Paul Krugman for exposing the lies, giving the whole truth instead of half truths, and also criticizing our fellow “progressives” who rushed to judgment about the “winner” of this first debate. If one chooses style over substance, bullying the moderator over patiently waiting one’s turn (and thereby speaking for an extra four minutes over the substance of all his own contributions to save our sinking ship of state after the previous captain rammed it into the iceberg), turning a smarmy smile out to the world trying to cover his lies, then yes, one might declare Romney the winner.

    But how good is that for our country?

    And what is the good of trying to make the president seem weak when all he was doing was answering point for point calmly and to the point. Don’t we remember poor Al Gore in his debates after he was declared “wooden” even by liberals and progressives. Gore’s handlers prepped him to be more antic, which made him come across as manic, and aggressive, and to all appearances on the verge of a crack-up.

    No, President Obama, your style is great. Just stick to who you are, please, and continue answering point by point, “That’s not really true, Governor.” “That makes no sense mathematically, Governor.” “Balance is what is needed, Governor.”

    I, of course, would add more crassly, “Those are pie in the sky promises of higher paying jobs which will give us more tax revenue. Oh, really, Governor, and how do you propose getting those jobs out to the people? Could you give us the details of your quote-unquote plan? That is, your NEW plan, not that impossible plan you have been stumping for ten months.”

    I LIKE President Obama’s style. He is smart, and he SEEMS smart, and he TALKS smart. His plans have been working, and how wrong we would be to give him up for pie-in-the-sky promises that can’t possibly be kept.

    Bob Locke

    • JazzGirl on said:

      GOOD POINTS! Speaking of looking “Manic” I thought that Mitt came across that way! And how, on stage, he became the CEO– taking charge, Trying to intimidate and manipulate Jim Leher ( which it seemed he did) attempting to set the rules to HIS liking, interrupting and bombastic. So THAT made him LOOK like the winner — to many…. But FACTS were on the Presidents side.

      What an awful President he would make — on SO many levels.

  5. nora king on said:

    Al Gore did not lose with sighs, but with massive voter fraud and intimidation. The failure of media was to focus on debate performancd sighs rather than follow the crooked money. Nathan Sproul is the highest profile vote fixer. As former Arizona Republican Party chair and Chritian Coalition mouthpeice, he has been forced to reinvented his packaging a few times, yet Mitt spent 70 grand just last year for his assistance in making it this far. In business, the settled law of negligence dictates that foreknowledge of a hazard makes for negligence and liability to the injured. Mitt knew who he hired, he could properly be held accountable if individuals could prove injury. That is separate from the How many dead Democrats will vote for mitt and what can be done to limit the fraud?

    Having grown up in Hollywood, I see a child actor and just hope they didn’t end up broke or dead before their time.

  6. gregorylkruse on said:

    I didn’t watch the debate or the aftermath on MSNBC, and I’m glad I didn’t. MSNBC (NBC) was better in the beginning because it was fresh and surprising. It has now settled down into a typical corporate media easy chair, only getting up occasionally to generate a little lib cred. You would think that the replacement of Pat Buchanan with Steve Schmidt would be an improvement from a progressive standpoint, but Schmidt’s moderation increases the acceptance by the rest of the cast and viewers of whatever propaganda he can slip in, as he did after the debate by declaring Romney the “winner” with enthusiasm. As Lawrence O’Donnell said, we will only know who “won” the debates after the election. I depend more and more on the people I read and see of Mr. Parry and others on this site, Chris Hedges and others on Truthdig, William Rivers Pitt and others on Truthout, and Paul Jay and his excellent guests on The Real News Network among others. The time I save avoiding commercials and people like Jonathan Capehart makes the effort and the cost of supporting people like Gareth Porter and Lia Tarachansky well worth the financial sacrifice.

    • JazzGirl on said:

      I have to disagree about MSNBC– I find it to be astute and dynamic– with great investigative reporting on the political issues. They are careful to be factual — and on the rare occasion that a mistake IS made- they are quick to correct it. A unknown concept for FOX news…You know… the “Fair and Balanced” group….LOL…

  7. Pingback: Style Over Substance | My View on What's Going on in the World

  8. I may have said this almost ad nauseam by now, but I thought Romney acted like a caught-out snake-oil huckster about to be ridden out of town on a rail by the solid citizens–which, of course, (plus being a bully) is exactly what he is!

  9. paul phillips on said:

    Al Gore faced the doppleganger against Bush. Bush, during the debates, suddenly turned moderate, liberal even, on domestic issues. The public could not tell the differance between Gore and Bush.

    It’s like deja-vu all over again. Romney pretends to care about the middle class, in a barrage of lies, after campaigning for the rich for a year, and the public can’t tell the differance.

  10. I watched some of the debate, and I also thought Romney took positions that differed greatly from those he took before the debate. This is a man that lives in his ever shifting “Romney-world.” He really does not see himself as contradictory. Contradictions? Who cares? I’m rich. I can do what I want to get my way—whatever it takes.
    I have seen that smile of his on others, and invariably it hides inflexibility or manipulation. On Romney, it comes across as, “I’ll humor you;” “I am superior to you.” It is supercilious.
    He ran all over Lehrer. Moderators need control of the “mics” so they can cut these guys off when they want to interrupt or ‘filibuster’ to prevent the other guy from talking. They also need the courage to hit the ‘turn-off’ switch when necessary. It did put me off when Lehrer spoke of the sponsor of the debates as neutral etc. The two guys who run it do advance work with the campaigns, work up softball questions, etc. One is a Democrat and the other is a Republican. The League of Women Voters dropped out because they would not be part of the behind the scene shenanigans.
    But I have to say, Romney won the ‘appearance factor,’ and this is America where form beats substance every time. I also have to say Obama left the impression of caving as he has for four years before a Republican Congress. Sorry.

  11. mellifluous on said:

    While I think handing the nuclear codes to a habitual liar and seeming theocratic fascist like Mitt Romney is likely an invitation to Armageddon, I really do wish that the case for re-electing the incumbent could be made more enthusiastically. It seems to me that President Obama has carried forth too many of the policies and procedures promulgated by the previous illegitimate, unelected second Bush Administration. He is fond of talking like a populist when it suits him to, but all too often he has advanced entrenched corporate interests and those of the prison-industrial complex and been vilified as a socialist and a secret Muslim for his troubles anyway.

    Democrats gave up on the notion of running liberals for national office a long time ago. I’ve never understood the appeal of voting for a Republican Lite, although I have often pragmatically endorsed a Democrat in the hope of keeping a truly horrifying Republican from taking office. Recalling Al Gore’s frustrated sighing is instructive, but how many of us remember that his choice of the odious reactionary Joe Lieberman as a running mate was as much of a signal to the electorate then as Willard’s selection of rabid reactionary Paul Ryan is now? Why must true progressives so often be stuck with the choice of either choosing the lesser of two evils or casting a protest vote for an alternative who stands no chance of winning an election?

    I wouldn’t aver that Al Gore deserved to have the election or 2000 stolen from him. Nor did Bush the Younger deserve to win, especially with the benefit of hindsight, but we should remember that Gore ran a diffident, spiritless campaign putting as much distance between him and the president he served under as he could muster while seemingly incapable of differentiating between his proposals and the “compassionate conservatism” of his ruthless, ignorant, unprincipled opponent. While it’s true that President Obama has been treated with reflexive hostility and unrelenting intransigence from the Republicans, along with racism that no president before him faced (and likely an unusually large volume and intensity of threats to his person and family that has not been publicized), it is hard to reconcile the timidity of his policies and his accommodation to right-wing demagogues and professional hacks with the boldness of the rhetoric he employed when he was running back in ’08. Like any incumbent, Obama has to run on his record, not merely that the opposition is so delusional, dishonest and frightening, and he knows better than to expect us to ‘hope’ for ‘change’ again.

    The impression of R-Money that I had while watching the debate was the one I always get: that he was lying through his teeth and doing so with an air of desperation; and I am grateful to Robert Parry for elucidating that so eloquently. I would have liked to see the President answer obvious distortions and fabrications with words and phrases like, “That’s a lie and you’re a liar”, or “That’s pure bullshit, Mitt!”, but I guess I’m just dreaming. Maybe Obama and his handlers think that he has to avoid appearing too angry or hostile to avoid scaring white folks, but his Gore impression seems to be a losing tactic. Regardless of substance, I don’t think that appearing weary, browbeaten and annoyed provides enough visual appeal for casual viewers or inspiration for most voters. Whether fortunately or not, the optics matter. We think the camera doesn’t lie, but television often distorts. I’d hate to see Eddie Haskell triumph over Eeyore.

  12. Pingback: Mitt Romney tries to “un-say” words that came from his heart « GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website

  13. Maybe debates are a necessary evil in politics, but I’ve never been able to see a SERIOUS point to them. As many have noted above, it’s very much theatrics and there’s a lot of undercurrents of a ‘mano-e-mano’ thing, a lot of emotionalism that ultimately is virtually irrelevant to the candidate’s potential future performance, and plays into poor decision-making (which often, unfortunately, favors the reactionary candidate). As Purple Girl alluded to above, these debates are nothing more than dual political infomercials, and I don’t believe that we should even be ENCOURAGING the belief that this is a meaningful format to get true information to make important decisions (I don’t believe one should waste their time on infomercials even for insignificant items, but that’s another subject). I never watch them, since the better candidate remains the better candidate whether he/she wins, loses or doesn’t participate (as is most likely) in these debates. As always, the best predictor of a candidate’s FUTURE performance is his/her PAST performance (voting record, initiatives/bills sponsored, etc) not a lot of empty words they spout in front of a TV camera at a debate or speech somewhere.

  14. clarence swinney on said:

    what type leadership will keep people unemployed?
    Gop killed American Jobs Act.shame shame
    VOTE FOR THIS—created by democrats
    Social Security
    Medicare
    Medicaid
    Americans With Disability Act
    TVA
    GI bill
    Veterans Administration
    Permanent School Lunch Program
    Aid to Dependent Children
    Schip
    SBA
    Voting Rights Act
    Head Start
    Dream Act
    Permanent Food Stamp Program
    Freedom of Information Act
    Clean Water Act
    Clean Air Act
    Family Medical Leave Act
    Minimum Wage Act
    Trade Union Schools(now Community colleges)
    Earned Income Tax Credit
    Fair Labor Standards Act
    Peace Corps
    Ameri-Corps
    Worker Retirement Pensions
    Peace on earth-1980-2009 three Republicans got us involved in 10 foreign conflocts
    Just A few of 89 name 10 by Republicans

  15. Michelle on said:

    Where is it the law of the land that if you have insurance now and have a pre-existing condition that as long as you continue paying your premiums you can continue insurance? Cobra only lasts 18 months. My husband can’t retire because we will lose out insurance. Is there something I’m missing?

    • Frances in California on said:

      Michelle, I’m in the same boat as your husband – can’t retire – work ’til I’m dead. If Romney “wins”, I’ll die much sooner.

  16. Kenny Powell on said:

    Thank you Mr. parry,
    As I watched the debate I was disgusted with Mitt Romney’s bully boy tactics, and two faced lies and deceit.Not surprised, just disgusted.However, the main stream so-called”news coverage” was and still is even more disgusting.Not surprising, just disgusting.Then I remembered a place where the truth is still important, if not always popular. Thanks again. As for Chris Mathews’ report, I saw him as George w. Bush’s little lap dog, and so I say, why not Mitt Romney’s too? Some might call it” following the money.” The same might be said for a moderator who allows himself to be shut down so the bully can have his way.

  17. Kenny Powell on said:

    Sorry about the little “p”. I try to remind myself to proof read BEFORE, not after I post.

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