Why Was the $10,000 Bet Moment so Bad?

Written by David Frum on Monday December 12, 2011

Ed Morrissey observes at HotAir.com:

If Romney wanted to make himself look rich, arrogant, and clueless, he could hardly have done a better job. When was the last time someone challenged you to a ridiculous bet in order to intimidate you out of an argument? For me, I think it was junior-high school.

That's well said, but I'd slightly revise the point. The thing that was most ugly about that moment was that it was not altogether clueless.

Romney was engaging in an attempt at bullying based on Romney's acute awareness of his own great wealth and Perry's comparatively modest wealth. The bet was not an instance of unawareness. It was an instance of hyper-awareness. It showed something we had not previously seen (anyway, not so clearly) about the way Romney thinks of and uses his money.

WIll it make a difference to the campaign? I have no idea. I doubt it. But for what it's worth, the incident made an impression on me, reminding me of something I'd noticed before but never before quite put in words: Romney values money and those who possess money much more than democratic political leaders usually do. Here's an extract for example from a speech Romney gave in 2010 at CPAC. I quote at length to give fair context:

Sometimes I wonder whether Washington’s liberal politicians understand the greatness of America. Let me explain why I say that. At Christmas-time, I was in Wal-Mart to buy some toys for my grandkids. As I waited in the check-out line, I took a good look around the store. I thought to myself of the impact Sam Walton had on his company. Sam Walton was all about good value on everything the customer might want. And so is Wal-Mart: rock bottom prices and tens of thousands of items. The impact that founders like Sam Walton have on their enterprises is actually quite remarkable. In many ways, Microsoft is a reflection of Bill Gates, just as Apple is of Steve Jobs. Disneyland is a permanent tribute to Walt Disney himself—imaginative and whimsical. Virgin Airlines is as irreverent and edgy as its founder. As you look around you, you see that people shape enterprises, sometimes for many years even after they are gone. People shape businesses. People shape countries. America reflects the values of the people who first landed here, those who founded the nation, those who won our freedom, and those who made America the leader of the world.

Romney could have made an equal point about, say, the United States Marine Corps or the University of Chicago or the Salvation Army or the Securities and Exchange Commission. But he didn't.