Mitt Romney’s unforced error: ‘I like being able to fire people’

Remember all the “pants on fire” finger-wagging outrage directed at Mitt Romney and his campaign’s blatant misuse of a quote by then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008? It’s the one where Obama is heard saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

The outrage was justifiable since the line was taken completely out of context. The full line reads: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

I bring this up because Romney should not be surprised if — no, when — he gets the same treatment after what he said this morning in Nashua, N.H. It’s a line that could be easily ripped out of context and would be equally outrageous.

I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

The look on Romney’s face when he says this line is right out of evil-boss-man central casting. When folks hear his voice saying it, they should be forgiven for thinking of that photo from his Bain Capital days where he and others are pictured with money spilling out of their pockets. And the line dovetails perfectly with a slam from Rick Perry this morning.  “Now I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips,” he said, “whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out.”

Unfortunately, Romney’s firing line obscures a perfectly reasonable argument. In case you didn’t watch the video clip above, here’s what the former Massachusetts governor said in context.

I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you could fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone isn’t giving the good service, I want to say, I’m going to go get someone else to provide this service to.

There’s nothing wrong with anything Romney said. But “I like being able to fire people” is a whopper of an unforced error. Given his unrepentant manipulation of that Obama quote, the onslaught of distortion befalling him couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.
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