When Mitt Romney was quoted earlier this week musing about why, in this day and age, airplane windows don't open, it summoned memories of a former Republican presidential nominee's difficulty with concepts like "physics" and "grammar." George W. Bush, of course, battled accusations of, shall we say, simplicity throughout his presidency, well before his terrible policies left the Middle East a human catastrophe and brought the world economy to the brink of collapse. The word is that Romney was joking (no surprise since we all know what a whipsmart sense of humour ol' Mitt posesses), but his cavalier attitude toward engineering necessities didn't earn him the same sort of reputation as his predecessor.
Sure it earned a few titters, but no one associated Romney, a Harvard-educated MBA and successful entrepreneur, with the credibility problems which plagued Bush, a Harvard-educated MBA and, er, not-so successful entrepreneur. There has been plenty written on the question of whether G.W. is really as dumb as we think he is -- spoiler alert: the answer is yes -- but Romney's "joke" (sic) reveals something crucial about the elites of the Republican party. It's not necessarily that Romney doesn't know that an airplane's windows need to stay closed in order for its passangers to live, or that Bush misunderestimated how double negatives function in modern English grammar, but that as far they're concerned, it shouldn't matter. The real problem is why both these things haven't yet conformed to their will.
"When the president does it, that means it's not illegal," Nixon famously said of the Watergate scandal in 1977. It's hard to find a better quote that illustrates the logic of epic entitlement which governs the modern neo-conservative movement. George W. Bush, spoiled rich boy and son of a president, doesn't need to know things like grammar, because words mean what he wants them to, damn it. His grammar works by decree, not social practice.
Worse, though, is when we ascribe complex concepts like irony to Bush's inimitible prose. One of the most telling moments in the Bush presidency came when he explained to Katie Couric that "one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." Critics interpreted this line as a kind of Freudian slip, an accidental moment of truth emerging from two terms of lies and misdirection. It's much more terrifying to think that Bush actually meant what he said literally: why is something I want to do so difficult to accomplish?
Conservatives -- and we can include our own Stephen Harper in the mix -- aren't satisfied with clawing back social security or implementing poisonous, scorched earth policies which will take generations to fix; they want to remake the laws which govern our society. It's no accident right-wing politicians are the most vocal enemies of scientists, educators and artists. Teach a kid grammar and she'll learn to speak; teach a kid to ignore commonly accepted patterns of speech and modes of communication and she'll change the world.
Mitt Romney, who made a couple hundred thousand dollars while I wrote this blog post, isn't demonstrating an ignorance of physical laws when he laments the stuffy interior of his private jet (well, okay, maybe a bit); he's expressing genuine disbelief that somehow, despite all he's done for the great nation of America, the world economy and human beings in general -- despite all the self-worth and privilege he has garnered since birth, so minor an inconvenience as an airplane window sealed shut nevertheless remains forever outside of his control.