Beware the Glib and Smooth

Perhaps because I was always the boy who had trouble convincing anyone of anything, even when facts and events proved I was right, I’ve always been skeptical of the glib, polished, and oh-so-convincing fast talkers who also seemed so earnest.  Then, it might be because I lost more than one girl-friend to the type… or because I saw so many of them in politics over the twenty years I spent in Washington.

I’d be among the first to admit that Mitt Romney was smooth, polished, carefully passionate, and superficially convincing… and he scared the hell out of me.  President Obama showed the not-quite-controlled frustration of a man who understands that absolutely nothing under discussion was as simple as Romney made it sound, a man who knows that trying to point out the details that would undermine Romney would merely make Obama himself seem like a quibbler, especially given the insatiable American appetite for the easy and simplistic.

The problem with really good politicians – and psychopaths – is that they have no problem shedding inconvenient facts or even saying that they didn’t say what they did, and doing it so convincingly that most people believe them.  This first Presidential debate showed that Romney is a master of this, and Obama is not.  Obama can shade the truth with the best of them, but it’s clear that he’s uneasy in totally denying it.  Romney shows no such hesitation.

Before this debate, I gave Mitt the benefit of the doubt.  I thought that, even if I didn’t agree with him, he honestly believed in what he was saying, but when a man who has spent months pushing a five trillion dollar tax cut and cutting tax rates for everyone blatantly denies having done so on national television, he certainly disabused me of the notion that he was a true believer in magic tax cuts.  Then, yesterday, he denied what he said about the 47% of Americans, which, while unpopular, actually had some truth in it… and people are buying everything he says now, because, all of a sudden, he “looks and sounds Presidential.”   All this tells me that Mitt’s just like all the smooth talkers I’ve encountered over the years, and it’s pretty clear that the only true belief he has is that he’s so fitted for the job of President that he’ll say anything that will convince anyone.

Is Obama any better?  All I can say is that he was trying harder to stick closer to the truth, and that’s also what all the political fact-checkers have been saying and writing.

As for me… I still have trouble with those oh-so-earnest types who are so convincing… and care so little for the facts… all the facts, and not just those that support their view of the world.


17 thoughts on “Beware the Glib and Smooth”

  1. Amy K says:

    I’m sorry, but you are giving far too much credit to Obama and attributing far too much mal intent towards Romney. Obama and his campaign have flung oversimplified plans just as much as the Romney campaign. And regarding factual accuracy, Obama himself admitted during his ’60 Minutes’ interview a couple of weeks ago that his ads have been over the top and not necessarily accurate. Funny though, that portion of the film never made it on the air.

  2. Ryan Jackson says:

    You might reread his post, Amy. He says that during the debate Obama stuck closer to the truth and seemed unwilling to outright lie. And he’s right.

    He didn’t say one was a bastion of truth and the other a liar. He said that during that debate one was willing to say whatever he felt was right while the other made the effort to stay close to reality and that we should be somewhat afraid of such an attitude in a president as Romney presented.

    I think he’s right, I also don’t think he’s demonizing anyone or elevating anyone else up on high.

  3. Amy K says:

    Ryan, I understand what you’re saying, but Modesitt’s comment that “President Obama showed the not-quite-controlled frustration of a man who understands that absolutely nothing under discussion was as simple as Romney made it sound…” attributes Obama’s behavior to this notion. That’s a difficult notion to swallow when Obaama’s campaign has its sizable share of simple answers, and Obama himself admitted his ads had strayed from the truth.

  4. Joe says:

    I find it interesting that you say this. Romney’s debating technique also reminded me of the psychopath in my life. Impossible to nail down because the truth changes to whatever’s convenient. Enough to drive a sane person crazy. I also could see Obama struggle with it the way I struggled. The thing is, reasoning with them is an exercise in futility.

    I don’t know whether Obama should have parsed and highlighted each time Romney was inconsistent or factually incorrect, or whether that would put off the TV audience. Other countries solve the problem by having 2 moderators, both wired into a research room who interrupt candidates and point out misstatements. The point being, debaters are expected to maintain certain standards of factual accuracy. There’s nothing more cynical than having your candidate say one thing to an audience only for the party to issue a correction once the event is over.

    While Obama made statements which are only true from certain perspectives, Romney’s statements were untrue in all possible universes. Obama said that he was saving money by ending the war in Afghanistan. In one sense he is, because staying in Afghanistan would cost money. In another sense he isn’t since the war was paid for by taking out debt. While not up to my standards, this misstatement not in the same league as from Romney’s: “I’m not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That’s part one. So there’s no economist that can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.” His plan is public. It does not add up. You cannot find $5 trillion worth of loopholes to make up for reducing the taxes the way he wants. It’s math. You cannot wish math away.

    Romney said 50% of all the DOE’s $90 billion in green tech loans were failures — that’s simply not true. 3 companies of 33 failed (9%), and all 3 of them borrowed 1.4% of the funds. He said Tesla was a failure. They’re not, they’re shipping product 3 weeks late. They’re selling technology to the two the most advanced companies in two of the largest export economies on the planet: to Toyota (Japan) and Mercedes (Germany), two companies that felt their own advanced technology was bested. This is an American success story! Tesla is run by Elon Musk, someone who innovates and builds companies and their products in America (Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX, Solar city). Yet Romney whose only achievement is amassing money has the chutzpah to call Elon’s company a failure? Romney’s own company never built a thing, instead specializing on dismantling existing companies and sending jobs to China.

    Finally Romney took on the Chris Dodd legislation, stating 5 banks should never have been given the “too big to fail” status. I totally agree, but I cannot believe he’s sincere. Wall Street was shocked. Those 5 banks are 5 of his major supporters. To me it seems quite clear he’s saying anything to please the crowd, and he really doesn’t mean a word of it.

    1. Joe says:

      I meant Dodd-Frank legislation.

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      Amassing money is an achievement. Spending mine is not.

      1. Joe says:

        Designing a rocket and building a startup to successfully send it into space is an achievement of far greater worth to humanity than amassing money is. If you don’t want your money spent, move somewhere where there is no government, say Somalia. Enjoy your short government free life there!

  5. Christoph says:

    Funny, but my impression of Obama was that he was having a hard time not exploding in response to someone criticizing him to his face. I will never vote for Romney, but I also will not vote for an incumbent that gives me the distinct impression he or she has surrounded themself with sycophants.

  6. Ryan Jackson says:

    Except we’ve watched people criticize him, to his face often, over the last four years. So it’s kind of odd that he never responded that way prior. In fact he usually just made a point to rip holes in their arguement and move on.

  7. K B says:

    Isn’t it funnt how people with powerful charisma almost always disappoint?

    People who are glib liars at selling falsehoods as attractive lies for personal gain – ‘panderers’ – were assigned by Dante to one of the lowest circles of hell and rightly so. The problem is that individuals who speak the truth almost always have bad news or facts that require us to see a need for some self-sacrifice. This is why individuals who stick by the truth will always be avoided or be required to accept self-sacrifice as the cost for the truth – Trystan, Ektor, etc. And this is why Machiavelli accuratley said that “the fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

    What amazes me is that eventually the truth manages to become known … but that success takes too long and requires too many sacrifices…

  8. Steve says:

    Romney has stated from the beginning that his 20% across the board tax cut would be offset by reducing deductions and credits. The $5trillion figure from the Tax Policy Center does not take into account these offsets because they were not specified.

    It would not serve Romney or the taxpayers well to specifically state what deductions and credits would be reduced because then there could be no negotiation, give and take, or reaching out to opposition.

    I was disappointed when Governor Romney stated that the 47% remark was a mistake. However, people were not able to distinguish campaign strategy from presidential policy forcing the retraction.

    Venture capitalism in general and Bain Capital specifically is about building companies not raiding/destroying them. A group of businessmen try to build promising yet failing companies. Sometimes they are successful, and sometimes not. The achievements of Bain Capital are many. Why this is seen as a negative is mind boggling.

    Tesla motors is yet unproven and may likely be a failure. Mr. Musk hopes they will generate a profit by the end of the year.

    Governor Romney has always been against “too big to fail”. His stance against bailing out General Motors has hurt him considerably. Allowing for controlled bankruptcy of these companies seems the better long term solution to bailout. Perhaps an economist would know more.

    Finally, Mr. Modesitt, your shy, tongue tied young man self presentation above is belied by your experience as a writer. You have in a very glib and smooth fashion painted Governor Romney as a scary psychopath. Does that make you a scary psychopath?

    1. Joe says:

      The right wing Brookings institute also says that Romney’s plan is mathematically impossible, even accounting for growth, unless you increase taxes on people making $200k or less.

      1. Steve says:

        I went to that site and their simplistic explanation does not account for growth. Business revenue is not fixed like a speed limit is. “A twentieth part of five score pies is more than a tenth part of five pies” – Cerryl If Governor Romney’s policies can grow business than tax cuts can be offset depending on that growth.

        1. Joe says:

          Obviously business revenue is limited by the amount of money sloshing around in the economy. Although the Fed has “printed” a lot to give to banks, most of that is gathering interest (dust?) in the Fed: banks aren’t lending. Monetary velocity is low, so people don’t have money to buy stuff, so there’s no demand. Growth only occurs when there is demand.

          Even assuming Mitt Romney’s mere aura increases lending, I’m curious what demand you foresee. There’s no homesteading act, combustion engine, or internet in the offing to radically alter the economy. Although I support them, I’m not convinced green technologies will revolutionize the world the way the internet has. So while the financial markets may try to create another bubble out of something, I don’t see much reason for real growth. Indeed the Euro crisis, the possibility of war in the Middle East (disruption of oil supplies) and China’s coming hard landing all portend less growth, not more.

          1. Joe says:

            Also, FedEx and UPS are considered leading indicators for economic prospects: the more people buy, the more stuff is shipped. FedEx is cutting jobs, lots of jobs to maintain profitability. That means they expect lower, not higher growth.


  9. First, I was young and tongue-tied. Admittedly, that was many years ago. Second,you’ve glibly defended Governor Romney,including “distinguishing” between campaign strategy and Presidential policy. This suggests that you approve of saying one thing to raise money and something else as Preidential policy. Perhaps I’m missing something, but that seems to be justifying hypocrisy. Also,pretty much every economist who’s looked critically at Romney’s tax policy says that unless ALL deductions are eliminated, he can’t reach $5 trillion. This tends to suggest that both you and Governor Romney verge far more on the psychopathic side thsn do I.

  10. Steve says:

    I do feel that writing off a percentage of people unlikely to vote for you as a candidate is distiguishable from writing off a population you represent as president. Much the way cadidate Obama writes off the religious right but President Obama represents us all.

    As far as what adds up I defer to your economic credentials as they are far superior to mine. Romney did propose in the debate to, “lower deductions and credits and exemptions, so that we keep taking in the same money when you also account for growth.” “When you also account for growth” might be truth, hope or lies until the future confirms it.

    The most important thing is that one of my favorite authors said I glibly defended something in writing. My college professors would be amazed.

    For what it is worth you make me think. I spend time looking things up to respond to your essays. I appreciate that you comment from time to time. Moreover, I have never thought you to be a psychopath.

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