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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, July 22, 2005

But will he ever return?

Hey Mitt -- first rule of thumb for political grandstanding is to cover your flanks. Just ask George H.W. Bush about supermarket scanners!

It's a much better bet today that should Willard "Mitt" Romney run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 it will not be as sitting governor of the Commonwealth. His antics Thursday in trying to assure the public that the MBTA, Boston's creaking, ancient and incompetently bad public transit system is safe went over like a lead balloon when he couldn't correctly say what the subway fare was, even though it was raised under his watch. (Full disclosure, I ride when I have to. Walking is cheaper and healthier but doesn't do much for maximizing the value of the pass I buy).

The mocking tone of the comments shows that Mitt has a credibility problem to begin with. Dashing about the country speaking to GOP groups, using Massachusetts as a punch line has been noticed. Failing to heed the presidential candidate's first rule: know the cost of a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, if not fatal, is extremely damaging. The elder Bush's encounter with a supermarket scanner in 1992 proved that. He was able to survive his New Hampshire truck stop request for a "splash more coffee" because only a handful of reporters like me saw it.

Romney has actually never really strived for the man of the people image before. No apologies about his wealth, his mansion in Belmont Hill or the noblesse oblige decision to forego a salary as governor because he didn't need it. Nor is it clear that the gaffe will hurt him nationally because the networks mentioned the ride, not the failure to know the cost.

But for Massachusetts residents tired of being a punching bag in national politics, the mistake means his odds on re-election are shrinking once again (one poll already has low visibility Democratic hopeful Deval Patrick beating him).

For guidance on the perils of humiliating the Bay State nationally, refer to the last Democratic governor, Michael Dukakis, who has been a virtual persona non grata here since his 1988 presidential loss and the subsequent state fiscal crisis.

And for the ultimate benchmark on the depth of Romney's gaffe, note who the Globe quotes at the end of the story -- the one and the same Michael Dukakis who didn't have to pretend to be a common man. He really did ride the subway and to this day you can see him walking to work at Northeastern University, picking up trash along the Muddy River, a one-man civic improvement crew. And Mitt, there's a dead giveaway about your transportation habits in the accompanying photo: a true T rider doesn't smile.

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