Love him or hate him, says Steve Almond, everyone on earth does what Mitt Romney is being skewered for. We tell one story in public -- and another in private. (AP File Photo)
As we all know by now, on Monday, a video surfaced of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaking candidly to wealthy donors at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida. Ever since, media pundits have been engaged in one of those prolonged bouts of indignation that so animates them.
Like most non-millionaires, I found the content of Romney’s spiel totally despicable and unsurprising. He’s a rich guy who views poor people with contempt. Stop the presses!
But there’s been something especially unsettling about watching this latest flap unfold. And it’s this: All of us who are sitting in judgment of Romney have behaved exactly like him in our own lives, probably as recently as Monday.
Because this is just what people do. We present one version of ourselves in public—kind, reasonable, sensitive — and another in private. Away from the scrutiny of those who might judge us, we feel liberated to ditch the politesse.
Every time I go out with my guy friends, for instance, we all say things that would infuriate our partners. It’s how we release steam, given that we are:
a) stressed out by the pressures of being good husbands and fathers
b) frustrated by how careful we have to be not to offend our partners
c) fundamentally still monkeys
And by the way, our partners (who are not monkeys but are — honey, I hope you’re reading this! — beautiful queens) do the same thing. I’ve quietly sat around a few gatherings where wives and girlfriends, assisted by liberal quantities of wine, let loose on the men in their lives. Their comments make Mitt Romney look like a softie.
The same dynamic prevails at work. Anyone who’s toiled at an office larger than, say, two people has taken part in multiple slander sessions.
How else are we supposed to cope with the inevitable frustrations of the modern workplace? We find our little circle of allies and bitch to them about what a jerk everyone else is, especially the boss.
And when we talk to our closest friends, the long knives come out. My pal Billy and I speak so offensively, about so many different topics, that we often joke about taping each other. At least, it better be a joke.
People have always been two-faced, of course. But back in the old days, it was harder, because we spent a lot more time actually interacting face-to-face. It’s not so easy to be cruel or dismissive if you know you’re going to have to look them in the eye again.
But the rise of technology has caused us to spend more and more of our time in front of screens, interacting virtually. The Internet has enabled us to fling invectives at a speed and volume that our forebears would consider dizzying, if not nauseating. If you don’t believe me, just spend some time trolling the comment section of any article involving politics, popular culture, sports, or religion.
The Internet has also begun to erode the very concept of privacy. Thanks to our ever-more-voracious exhibitionism, and voyeurism, and our ever-smaller recording devices, peoples’ “private selves” are being outed at an unprecedented rate.
Frankly, when it comes to politics, that’s often a good thing. After all, the modern campaign is so focus-grouped and stage-managed, that the candidates seem more like actors than real people.
Whether or not you like what he had to say to his rich pals, there was little doubt you were seeing the real Mitt Romney.
He wasn’t awkwardly trying to play a man of the people, or singing off-key, or making baffling jokes about the height of trees. He was telling a bunch of people he trusted what he really believes. Isn’t that what all our candidates should be doing?
Related: Listen to Steve explain why he thinks books written by conservatives fare better than those written by their liberal counterparts.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.