During this silly season, I have been reassuring my wife that if Mitt Romney were somehow elected president he would not be a total disaster.
“I’m telling you, he could take in information and make rational decisions,” I kept saying.
“Better than those other guys,” I often added.
My deep political analysis of Romney was based upon meeting him at Olympic press conferences from 1999 through 2002.
Plus, I had breakfast with him in Sydney, I told my wife, recalling the one-on-one interview in 2000, during the Summer Games.
What did I remember from that breakfast?
He doesn’t drink coffee.
Duh, he’s a Mormon, she said.
Lately, however, Romney has been characterized by a forced laugh and brittle syntax and rigid posture and plummeting ratings – and that’s within his own party.
How did Mitt’s personal piano get so badly out of tune? Or was it always that way, and it didn't matter?
I remember a breezy, contemporary guy who was learning about the Olympic movement on the fly, and was able to joke about himself with normal language and personal skills.
Romney came across my periscope after some officials connected to the Salt Lake City organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Games were caught giving bribes and doing favors for members of the International Olympic Committee. The host city needed a new leader who could command respect out there in the world, and it reached out to Mitt Romney, who had grown up in Michigan and made his bundle in Massachusetts.
“In his work for Bain & Company,” I wrote, “he was a leader among alpha males in nearly identical dark suits and blue shirts and red suspenders who worked long hours and shared a secret handshake and made tons of money. You've heard of Moonies? These guys are called Bainies. He's not exactly a naif. He saw his father, the late George W. Romney, run into a buzz saw when he ventured outside Michigan to try to run for president.”
Romney immediately tried to impose Bainie efficiency on the Salt Lake City effort while learning about the Olympic movement.
''I had no notion of who Juan Antonio Samaranch was,'' Romney said referring to the venerable Olympic leader. “I had no idea what the International Olympic Committee did. I didn't know it was located in Lausanne. I knew nothing about the United States Olympic Committee. The only thing I read on the sports pages were the results.”
He acknowledged that he had a big job ahead of him.
“I specialize in turnarounds,'' he said, with dry humor.
I asked Romney about his previous public foray in 1994, when he ran for the Senate against the incumbent from Massachusetts.
''I learned a lot from Ted Kennedy,'' Romney said. ''He's the master. I used to say, 'Wow, are they good.' ''
After taking a thumping from Kennedy, Romney went back to making money for the Bainies. But in 2000 he was heeding the call from U.S. Olympic movement.
“My wife talked me into it,” Romney said, referring to Ann Romney, who had attended Brigham Young University, just as he had.
The way he said it, I got the impression of a good marriage -- two people who got along, who talked about stuff.
“She told me, 'You have exactly the background.' The more I thought about it, I realized, we're only here for one lifetime. I was making more money than I should have. It was time to do something different.”
I asked Romney what he had learned from the lavish stadium-building and urban infrastructure upgrading in Sydney. He said there was no way a Winter Olympics in Utah was going to spend the way the Australians had splurged on the Summer Games. His stance came off as financially conservative, not “severely Conservative,” as Romney has re-cast himself in recent desperate days.
“It's politically unacceptable,” he said of Olympic largesse in the U.S. “Here it's national pride. For us, it's city and state. I doubt that somebody in Vermont would feel the same way about the Games, even the people who love winter sports.''
He looked ahead to the Winter Games in 2002 and said, “We're going to be like the family that says it doesn't have money at Christmas and is going to have to get back to the old spirit.”
When Salt Lake City’s turn came, the United States was still receiving worldwide sympathy for the attacks in the previous September. The populace of Utah was more than ready for the challenge of being good hosts.
Mormons have lived all over the world as missionaries and they speak other languages better than most Americans do, and they are attuned to the differences in people. This worldliness and sense of service produced thousands of superb hosts, paid and voluntary.
Romney was the leader of this fine effort -- handsome and smart, energetic and competent.
It is also true that he did not have to run for that office. He was recruited, as a techno-manager, brought in to do a very specific job. In replacing bribers and favor-givers, the old burghers of a singular corner of the country, Romney came off as a fresh and honest and capable breeze. For that job.
These days, I turn on the tube and look for the man who made the slalom run on time.
Campaigning for president is a totally different game. The confident manager of a three-week party now exudes the mixed message of condescension and flop-sweat realization that things are going badly.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.