Because I am a deacon, I usually avoid entering into the fray of political campaigns. However, I feel compelled by Romney’s use of a famous Lucille Ball comedy sketch to denigrate his opponent to comment on this recent exchange in the Republican primary. I realize political races are fraught with hyperbole and negative quips, but somehow this particular remark struck me as especially out of place, rude even.
In response to being asked about Gingrich’s failure to qualify for the Virginia primary, Romney, replied glibly, “I think he compared that to Pearl Harbor? I think it’s more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory…You got to get it organized.” Romney has a point. Missing the ballot in a major state does suggest disorganization on the part of the former Speaker’s camp.
Romney, who struggles with spontaneity and humor, scored an unlikely hat-trick with his comparison of Gingrich’s organizational woes to Lucille Ball’s signature character being overwhelmed by an assembly line of chocolate. He drew a laugh from the crowd. He avoided the ugly question of whether he would take advantage of a technicality to win the nomination. And, he belittled his competition. By campaign standards, the comment was a winner — a sweet success.
Yet, I could not help but wonder if Romney inadvertently opened the door to increased scrutiny with this off-hand remark. Usually very guarded, he seemed to allow himself a public moment of schadenfreude over Gingrich’s failure. I cannot put my finger on exactly what gave me this unsettling feeling. It may have been his smug facial expression. The comment betrayed some meanness — not that anyone expects campaign politics to be nice anymore.
The comment also came off a bit rehearsed as if Romney was expecting to have to defend the windfall he would incur if his competitors, especially those stubborn enough to go the distance, were eliminated from key state ballots. I think this even more as McCain’s downplay of the importance of debates has gained momentum. Granted the debate-adverse Romney is once again just a benefactor, but there is a point when dumb luck begins looking contrived.
Likewise, Romney appeared a bit awkward towards the end of the comment. Maybe he realized mid-thought, at least subconsciously, how uncool it is to use Lucille Ball to ruin someone’s day. It is just not in keeping with the spirit of the great comedienne, actress and television producer to put someone down. That is what made her character so loveable and her comedy timeless: she was never mean spirited or negative.
Somehow Lucille Ball was able to handle success, failure, family, divorce and Hollywood power without ever giving into despair or megalomania. Ever the optimist, she exuded hope. Her clumsy-clown stage character contrasted with her natural beauty and intellectual acuity in such a way that she inspired, rather than put down, us lesser mortals. Romney’s retort ignores this, even flies in the face of it.
When I heard Romney’s comment, I immediately thought of my two daughters. Like Lucille Ball, they are bright, comedic and beautiful. They are also confident enough to eat Romney, or Gingrich, for that matter, for lunch. They owe this confidence in part to Ms. Ball – before there was Oprah and Madonna, there was Lucille, the woman who made men gaga and everyone laugh without losing her dignity or sensibilities. She knew how to be at the top without condescension or giving in to self-exploitation. She was an early empower of women.
That’s what really bothers me about Romney’s comment. Lucy would have never built her success on another’s failure. If you watch the chocolate factory tape closely, you will see that it is the friend that misses the candy first. Even in politics, I am sure that Lucy and Lucille would both have taken the high road and stuck to it. This makes any association with Ms. Ball a compliment — chin-up Mr. Gingrich.
He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.
Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.