Mitt Romney and the Psychlo Killers

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Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did three things last week that feed the narrative that tone deafness is an inextricable part of who he is.

The former Massachusetts governor took his education talking points to the Universal Bluford Charter School on 57th and Media in the heart of West Philadelphia. Mr. Romney deserves credit for venturing into a neighborhood he'll lose handily no matter how many citizens are inconvenienced or disenfranchised by the voter ID laws that state Republicans have cooked up.

Instead of mingling and talking to folks from the neighborhood attracted to the scene by the massive Romney campaign bus, the candidate chose to conduct a closed-door 90-minute session with a few teachers and school officials, including school founder and soul music pioneer Kenny Gamble.

When Mr. Romney insisted that there was no correlation between class size and student achievement and that a student-to-teacher ratio of 30-plus students to 1 could accelerate student achievement, he encountered immediate push-back from the reality-based educators.

"I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I've been teaching, over 10 years, 13 years who would say ... that more students would benefit from larger classes," music teacher Steven Morris said. "And I can't think of a parent who would say, 'I would like my kid to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.' "

Mr. Romney didn't promise more federal dollars for education since his party doesn't believe the government has a role in education reform or that the Department of Education will survive the first term of the next Republican administration. Instead, Mr. Romney advocated two-parent households, school vouchers and a less-powerful teachers union to boost student achievement.

Mr. Romney's second big fail last week was his reluctance to denounce the conspiracy theories of real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump after he doubled down on his Obama-is-a-Kenyan nonsense.

Conservative columnist George Will called Mr. Trump a "bloviating ignoramus" and encouraged the Romney campaign to cut ties with him since he can't help the candidate at the ballot box. Mr. Romney's campaign staff said its candidate can't be responsible for the opinions of supporters, so a Trump-sponsored fundraiser with Mr. Romney will happen this week as planned.

My favorite example of Mr. Romney's failure to understand just how weird he comes across was highlighted in Daniel Oppenheimer's piece in Salon.com last week about the candidate's choice of L. Ron Hubbard's wretched 1,000-page sci-fi epic "Battlefield Earth" as his favorite novel. Just how out-of-touch do you have to be as a Mormon, already dogged by secrecy, to name a book by the founder of Scientology as your favorite novel?

"Battlefield Earth" is a dystopian novel (and movie starring John Travolta) about Earth in the year 3000 and how it came to be dominated by the intergalactic Psychlo empire. It is up to human rebel Jonnie Goodboy Tyler to mount an ingenious insurrection against the aliens. Though the original alien oppressors are whipped, JGT must then battle cosmic bankers attempting to collect a 60 trillion galactic credit debt the newly liberated Earth owes its planetary neighbors.

I once forced myself to watch the movie, but I've never been able to get through more than a few pages of Hubbard's novel. It is so bad, it makes Ayn Rand's lugubrious "The Fountainhead" read like a Stephen King thriller.

When Mr. Romney originally cited "Battlefield Earth" as his favorite novel in 2007, his doomed campaign tried to distance him from the controversial choice by citing the Bible as his favorite book overall. He was roundly mocked for the literary flip-flop, especially by conservatives suspicious of Mormonism and Scientology.

According to Politico, Hubbard's book is still listed as one of Mr. Romney's favorites on his Facebook page, but it has been joined by Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and John Steinbeck's "East of Eden." No one is fooled, though. Mr. Romney still has the literary habits of a guy who devours really bad sci-fi because he's too robotic to know any better. Real emotions evoked by reading great books would overwhelm his circuitry.

This year, Mr. Romney told interviewers that he'd recently read Stephenie Meyers' "Twilight" series and Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" because his granddaughters had raved about them. That's probably as good as it will get for him on the literary front.

Presidential candidates aren't obligated to be deep readers or thinkers, but if they were so inclined, it would make trips to West Philly charter schools less embarrassing and Faustian deals with bloviating ignoramuses unnecessary.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1631; www.twitter.com/TonyNormanPG First Published May 29, 2012 12:00 AM


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