Mulligans are for golf, not for political talking-heads: A defense of Hilary Rosen

By Ken Feltman

If she had it to do over, Hilary Rosen could choose slightly different words and avoid the firestorm of criticism that followed her remarks about Ann Romney. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus suggests that Rosen’s error was failing to use the politically correct expression “work outside the home” instead of the politically toxic word “work.”

The relentless finality of live television does not permit mulligans, golf’s remedy for bad shots. Explanations and apologies made later and too late are inadequate and embarrassing. In this case, because the Obama campaign is so effective at rapid response, Rosen was jettisoned immediately.

Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina tweeted “she should apologize.” David Axelrod said Rosen’s choice of words was “inappropriate and offensive.” Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager, said “families must be off-limits.” First Lady Michelle Obama and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz chimed in.

Soon the Twitter universe was alive with condemnation, first from Democrats and quickly from Republicans and neutral commentators. Then the Romney campaign piled on.
Before long, Rosen was before another live camera being skewered by Wolf Blitzer: “You’re a lifelong Democrat. But the Democrats are quickly throwing you, as you well know, under the bus. How does that feel when all your fellow Democrats are going after you like that?” Off balance, Rosen started with some bobbing and weaving before submitting to Blitzer’s demand that she look straight into the camera and apologize to Ann Romney.

The excruciating interview finally ended, with Rosen drained, clearly wounded. Who would defend her?

Conservative Republican Bay Buchanan led off the defense: “There’s no reason why you can’t understand that we, being humans, are going to make mistakes sometimes, and you distance yourself from the words. You don’t distance yourself from the person.”

I agree. Rosen is bright, savvy, creative and compelling. If this misstep silences her, we all lose. Often, I disagree with what she says. Sometimes, she makes me wince. Other times, she makes my blood pressure jump. But she has something to say. I want to hear it. No, I need to hear it. She is so good so often that I am willing to put up with her infrequent misses. Buchanan is correct. Rosen misspoke. Leave it at that. Mozart created some awful music.

This flap is as much about the nervousness and resourcefulness of the Obama campaign as Rosen’s words. Worried, even distressed, the campaign unleashed withering responses. Friendly fire hit. Unfriendly fire followed. Will this sad episode deprive us of our regular dose of Rosen’s wit and wisdom? Wisdom seems to come with the proper blending of intelligence, knowledge and experience.

This experience will make Rosen’s wisdom all the richer. I don’t want to go without Rosen’s more seasoned thoughts and ideas.

To be published in Politico.com, Saturday, April 14, 2012.

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About Ken Feltman

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Feltman founded the U.S. and European Conflict Indexes in 1988. The indexes have predicted the winner of every U.S. presidential election beginning in 1988, plus the outcome of several European elections. In May of 2010, the Conflict Index was used by university students in Egypt. The Index predicted the fall of the Mubarak government within the next year.
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