By Kathleen Parker
WASHINGTON — One thing we’ve learned since the Republican primary season began: There’s an awful lot of pious baloney out there.
The vast majority of it is on the plate of the man who coined the phrase — Newt Gingrich. Not that he’s dining alone. Gingrich first tossed the holy lunchmeat on the counter during one of the New Hampshire debates after Mitt Romney tried to aver that he never set out to be a career politician. He was a businessman first, he said, who found his way to politics.
Gingrich, who has declared war on Romney, all but called the former Massachusetts governor a liar, and not for the first time. Fast forward a few days, and Romney’s rivals have seized the baloney and slathered it with holy hoo-hah.
Some of them are frankly making fools of themselves by taking his comment about firing people waaaaay out of context and using it to characterize him as a job killer. The intended deception is obvious to anyone who has been following recent events and is so transparently dishonest as to be embarrassing.
To recap: Romney was speaking to an audience about health care and the necessity of being able to select one’s own insurance company. His complete quote went as follows:
“I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say, ‘You know, I’m going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me.’”
That’s plain enough, right? Not if you’re Jon Huntsman or Rick Perry, both of whom are trying to capitalize on the idea that Romney likes to fire people. They’ve selected a few words — “I like being able to fire people” — and turned them into a mantra. Not that that’s a ringing indictment. Some people deserve to be fired, but these GOP mudslingers are insisting a man who even considers firing people can’t possibly be trusted to create jobs.
At least Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have declined to join the club of Mr. Sillys. When asked what he thought about Romney’s comment, Gingrich replied, “As soon as I saw the whole quote, I said that’s not fair to take it out of context. He clearly was talking about the right to choose between service providers, you know, he wasn’t talking about actually firing people, per se.” For lack of a better word: Duh.
But the job-killing idea has picked up additional sauce, sticking as we are with the baloney theme, with criticism that Romney’s leadership of Bain Capital also resulted in some people losing their jobs. Well and indeed they did. That’s what happens sometimes when companies are purchased, salvaged from poor management, revamped and, assuming competence at the top, made profitable.
Since when in a free, capitalist nation is it a sin to buy a company and turn a profit?
Now comes ThinkProgress, a progressive political blog, which is rolling out a series of Old West-style wanted posters highlighting elements of Romney’s record. The first one, “Wanted: Mitt Romney, Job Killer,” has already been released. Gingrich, meanwhile, is pushing a film leading up to the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary that criticizes Romney’s Bain experience, thanks to a $5 million donation from Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Nothing baloney — or pious — about that. (By midweek, after critics pointed out that he was beginning to sound more like President Obama than a conservative, Gingrich began backing off, though perhaps too late.)
Romney can be criticized for lots of things, including his tin-eared attempts to get down with the people. Recently when he said that he, too, had worried about getting a pink slip, Gingrich might justifiably have called baloney. The millionaire’s son may be driven to make his own way, but his employment insecurity can’t compare to what most jobless Americans experience.
But to nitpick his success, or to suggest that firing people for lousy service disqualifies him from being president is an insult to all those everyday Americans who really aren’t as dumb as these GOP candidates apparently think, as New Hampshire voters demonstrated.
Sometimes people need to be fired and sometimes they shouldn’t be hired at all. That’s reality. The further, obvious reality is that several of those who do not deserve to have the jobs they seek are running for president of the United States.
Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.