Jonathan Chait manages to come to the justified defense of Al Gore, attack the political media for its laziness and shallowness, and make me sympathetic with Mitt Romney, all in one fell swoop.
An Al Gore problem is what happens when the media forms an impression of your character and decides to cram every irrelevant detail of your appearance and behavior into that frame, regardless of whether or not it means anything. Thus Romney’s hair and lack of tie are now evidence of a character flaw, as is his decision to give a detailed policy lecture in a university town without being officially sponsored by a University. An Al Gore problem results in the media ganging up on a candidate like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he’s doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative.
Boy, does this hit home for me. For those who were bullied in school, you recognize this drill. No matter what you do to neutralize yourself so that you can be at least somewhat inoculated from abuse, it doesn’t take. The very act of trying not to be mocked becomes something to mock. It never occurred to me to apply this to public figures, and certainly not politicians. But the pathology, as Chait calls it, is remarkably similar.
All that said, Mitt Romney is still a phony, but that’s because of his transparent zig-zag on matters of policy and his almost pathetic levels of pandering to whatever constituency he is trying to impress. But that’s not a reason to see his neckwear choice as a trait of his fitness for office.