We Will Forever Remember Wawagate

Today's installment of what Prospect alum Adam Serwer has termed the "dumbgeist"—the latest idiotic trumped-up controversy of the day—offers a demonstration of something important about Mitt Romney. It's just that it doesn't offer a demonstration of the thing the media says it does. I'll explain below, but first, witness the horror of ... Wawagate!

For those of you who aren't familiar with the mid-Atlantic convenience store industry, Wawa is basically a much nicer 7-Eleven, a chain of convenience stores where, among other things, you can get a perfectly adequate hoagie. Because it's much nicer than 7-Eleven (and by "nicer" I mean generally clean, well-stocked, and free of junkies shooting up by the dumpsters), people praise Wawa, have a favorite Wawa, etc. (my own favorite, from my years in Philly, was a large one near Rittenhouse Square that the missus and I referred to as the Taj MaWawa).

Anyhow, the story you'll be hearing is that Romney's amazement at the Wawa touch-screen display (made only more vivid by him saying "Wawa's" when it's actually just "Wawa") shows how out-of-touch he is with common folk. That will certainly be the mocking message of Obama partisans, and journalists with knowing smiles will send the same message, though they'll do it through oh-so-subtle uses of those ubiquitous sources known as "observers" and "analysts" ("Observers say this only reinforces Romney's image..."). But that's not what it actually shows. It shows that Mitt Romney is a terrible, terrible candidate.

If he weren't such a terrible candidate, he would understand that he has a big problem with relating to ordinary folk. He would also understand that this problem is only a problem insofar as the media find particular statements and incidents that illustrate it. He would also understand that if you visit a place that ordinary people are likely to visit—a convenience store, for instance—it's probably not a good idea to later describe what you saw there as though you had just been to the pyramids of Giza or got a secret look at the iPhone 5.

If he weren't such a terrible candidate, Mitt Romney would also understand how much political reporters love, love, love historical campaign references. Every political reporter can't wait to show their viewers or readers how great their memory is, to pull out how much today's event reminds them of something that happened when they were working on their first campaign. And amazement at an electronic device inside a store is just a blinking red light that screams "George H.W. Bush and the scanner!!!"

That story, which you'll no doubt recall if you're over 30, was that then-president Bush was amazed when he was shown a supermarket scanner, which demonstrated how out of touch he was, since scanners had been in use for many years at the time. The story was probably misleading, but that didn't stop it from being repeated endlessly. It is truly remarkable that when he started to rhapsodize about the touch screens in the Wawa, a voice didn't go off in Romney's head saying, "Hmm, this sounds a lot like that Bush scanner thing. Since I don't go into convenience stores and fast-food joints very often, it's possible that what I saw today is totally mundane and ordinary, and if I act like its a marvel of modern technology, I might look like I don't know very much about the lives ordinary people live, which is something people already say about me. So maybe I'll just shut up about it, because if I don't, every reporter following me is going to make the comparison." But apparently, the voice in Mitt Romney's head actually said, "This is great stuff! Keep talking about the Wawa! I'm killing it!"

Now here's the thing. Is Mitt Romney disconnected from the lives ordinary people lead? Of course he is. But we didn't need the Wawa incident to tell us that. He's disconnected from the lives of ordinary people because he's got a quarter of a billion dollars. He may or may not be a bad person, but not getting his meals at convenience stores is not what makes him a bad person. If you had a quarter of a billion dollars, how often would you get meals at a convenience store? If you think you'd have the same reg'lar fella tastes you do now if you had enough money to get take-out from the French Laundry flown to you on a private plane any time you wanted, you're fooling yourself.

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