I’ve listened multiple times to the ABC Good Morning America clip and, though I slid the play bar back over and over, still couldn’t tell if that slight hiccup at the end of Ann Romney’s response to Robin Roberts was a withdrawn word or a simple swallow.
Did she say “you people” or “our people” know all you need to know about the Romney family finances?
The reason I have taken a forensic interest in what the candidate’s wife said on the morning talk show Thursday is that many people believe that her words were insulting in the Leona Helmsley “little people” imperialism way that rich people are sometimes accused of. Others are just as convinced that she said no such thing.
It was a pleasant well lit two-shot and Mrs. Romney, radiant in yellow, was discussing why her husband’s and her previous tax returns would not be forthcoming as part of the usual election transparency voters and the political media have come to expect.
Why not release them “and then people can move on?” Roberts asked her.
“Because, there are so many things that will be open again for more attacks and you just want us to give more material for more attacks,” Mrs. Romney replied candidly. “That’s just the answer.”
In her next sentence, it did seem like the GOP challenger’s wife was starting to address Roberts in the second person plural as she had in the previous sentence but then instead (at 2:08 minutes in) broadened her answer to more precisely address Robert’s query. “We’ve given all [?] people need to know and understand about our financial situation.”
In other words, I still can’t tell.
But what is clear is that, however inadequately articulated, the tradition of fiscal disclosure that began decades ago with the presidential campaign of Michigan governor George Romney will end with that of his oldest son Mitt.
The current Romney campaign has been judged for its class-related tone deafness already in recent weeks between talk of offshore bank accounts and the refusal to release the billionaire’s tax returns. Given its impact on approval polls, the ‘royal we’ theme will no doubt recur.
In fairness to Mrs. Romney, judging by body language and tone of voice, her more essential message that morning was that ‘our tax returns are private, stop asking,’ and, to my eye, at least, was more of an optics misstep than an example of how ‘the rich are different.’
As STP anchor Melinda Henneberger noted, far too much was initially made of the “you people” trope but, that said, both the First Lady and the challenger’s wife are legitimate spokeswomen for their respective husbands’ positions.
As likeable as Ann Romney is, the previously private citizen who rides dressage and suffers from multiple sclerosis is — fairly or not — accountable for every syllable that comes out of her mouth. As well as for the things that she and her husband refuse to tell us.
Maybe she’ll show the leadership in the campaign that I’ve always suspected she wields in the family, and tell Mitt that they can make it up in credibility, and endure whatever criticism arises from a tax return release.
For now though, however clearly she enunciates, she puts me in mind of a Beatles lyrics from 1969. “Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl but she doesn’t have a lot to say.”
Bonnie Goldstein is on Twitter @KickedByAnAngel.