Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sorry! Is Right, Professor Lepore... The Dumbo/Teabaggers Are Sorry!

This just in: Big Love is walking back on "some portions" of Obamacare: coverage for pre-existing conditions, continuing coverage for young adult offspring, yada yada yada. Indigestion for Teabaggers everywhere! The coming weeks will hear chants that channel Happy Valley, PA ("We are... Penn State!") The POTUS 44 will chant "Flip" and the crowds will respond "Flop!" Big Love is an empty suit. If this is (fair & balanced) disdain for Dumbo/Teabaggers, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
By Jill Lepore

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In 1935, the year that Parker Brothers came out with Monopoly, Oswald B. Lord, of Park Avenue, New York, invented a board game called Politics. Lord was a businessman; his wife, Mary, was an heiress to the Pillsbury flour fortune. Lord must have figured that, if people would pay money for Monopoly so they could pretend to get rich, they’d pay money for Politics so they could pretend to get elected.

The object of Politics—whose game box featured a picture of Uncle Sam eying an elephant and a donkey—is to win a majority of electoral votes and become President. For every county you win, you stick a colored pin into the game board, a map of the United States. A roll of the dice determines how many counties you can win on any turn, but you get to decide which states to campaign in. Politics is like Risk, only without the artillery, which means that you need a plan. (It may be tempting to announce your candidacy in a big-stakes state like California, but it’s sneakier to start in Rhode Island.)

At first, Lord and his wife assembled the games in their penthouse. Sorting the pins by color took forever, but Lord decided that all the fuss was worth it, because it got his wife interested in affairs of state. He said, “I don’t think she quite knew how the Electoral College worked before I invented Politics.”

The following year, Lord sold Politics to Parker Brothers, which released it in time for Alf Landon’s race against F.D.R. The company issued a second, revised edition in 1952, the year Dwight Eisenhower was the Republican candidate for the White House. Mrs. Lord served as the co-chair of Citizens for Eisenhower-Nixon, which is another way of saying that she raised a great deal of money for Ike’s campaign. His opponent, Adlai Stevenson, said, of Eisenhower’s supporters, “If they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.” But, like much of what happens in an election year, that was a feint. Eisenhower beat Stevenson in a landslide, 442 electoral votes to 89. That’s a lot of pins. Then he named Mrs. Lord the U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, where she replaced Eleanor Roosevelt.

Just what kind of game is a Presidential election? In some ways, a predictable one. Mitt Romney entered politics in 1994, when, taking a leave of absence from Bain Capital, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts, against Ted Kennedy. Romney, who was then forty-seven, and is now sixty-five, denounced Kennedy, who was then sixty-two, for his “old-style politics.” For a while, they were neck and neck—a credit to Romney, since Kennedy had seemed unbeatable. Romney ran on his record at Bain, boasting that he had created ten thousand “real jobs in the real world.” Kennedy’s campaign paid for television ads featuring workers fired from S.C.M., an Indiana office-supplies company that Bain had acquired for another company it owned, called Ampad. “I’d like for him to show me where these ten thousand jobs that he’s created are,” one former S.C.M. worker said. Then Ampad strikers came to Boston and heckled Romney on the campaign trail. In October, Kennedy trounced Romney in two much watched debates (“I am pro-choice,” the Senator said. “My opponent is multiple choice”). Romney got testy. “Ted Kennedy’s distorted negative attacks on me are wrong,” he said in a television ad near the end of the race, arguing, weakly, that Kennedy wasn’t playing by the rules. He insisted, too, that, because Ampad’s takeover of S.C.M. occurred while he was on leave from Bain, to run for office, he had had nothing to do with what happened to those workers.

Kennedy won, by a vote of fifty-eight per cent to forty-one. The Romney campaign attributed the loss to having been outspent by more than four million dollars. Romney went back to Bain, until he left again.

In recent weeks, the Obama campaign has made the same kinds of moves against Romney that Kennedy did. It called on Romney to release his tax returns and attacked his record at Bain, charging that Bain bankrupted American companies and moved American jobs to Mexico and China during years when Romney, according to documents that the company filed with the S.E.C., was still officially Bain’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.” (Ampad filed for bankruptcy in 2000. That, too, Romney says, wasn’t his fault.) Romney has always insisted that he had no role in Bain after 1999, when he left to successfully manage the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The Obama campaign’s “truth team” called Romney a liar. Romney, agitated by the charge, demanded an apology from the President: “He sure as heck ought to say he’s sorry.”

For better or worse, remorse is not in the rulebook. (Even in Sorry!—another Parker Brothers game—no one ever really apologizes.) At a press conference in 1988, a reporter working for Lyndon LaRouche asked Ronald Reagan whether the Democratic Presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis, who was rumored (without evidence) to have been treated for depression, ought to release his medical records. “Look, I’m not going to pick on an invalid,” Reagan replied. Later, Reagan said that he was “just trying to be funny.” Dukakis knew better than to ask for an apology. As any eight-year-old who’s just been clouted by his sister with a Wiffle bat will tell you, if you have to ask, the apology will be worthless.

Romney, as a kid in the nineteen-fifties, could have played Politics. Oswald B. Lord’s game lasted a quarter century, longer than any other election game. (It was out of print by the time Obama was old enough to play.) On this turn, though, Romney has been outmaneuvered. His opponents in the primaries made it impossible for him to run on his record as governor of Massachusetts, and Obama’s campaign has made it very difficult for him to run on his record at Bain. All the same, the game is only just out of the box. Romney’s looking at an empty map and holding a fistful of pins. It’s his move. Ω

[Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History and chair of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale in 1995, an M.A. in American Culture from the University of Michigan in 1990 and a B.A. in English from Tufts University in 1987. She is an elected member of the Society of American Historians and a Distinguished Lecturer of the Organization of American Historians. A co-founder of the magazine, Common-place, she is currently writing a history of Dickens in America, a book of essays about how historians write, and a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister. Lepore is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her books include New York Burning (2005), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History and winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best non-fiction book about race; A is for American (2002); and The Name of War (1998), winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award and a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Award. Her New Yorker essay about Noah Webster's dictionary appears as the introduction to Websterisms (2008). Blindspot, her first novel, written jointly with Jane Kamensky, was published in 2008. Lepore put her biography of Benjamin Franklin and Jane Mecom aside for The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History (2010). Her most recent book is  The Mansion of Happiness (2012).]

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