By Beinart, Peter
Newsweek , Vol. 160, No. 14
Presidential candidates--Political activity
Republican Party (United States)--Officials and employees
Democratic Party (United States)--Officials and employees
Obama, Barack--Political activity
Romney, Mitt--Political activity
Byline: Peter Beinart
The press needs to storm the only place pols tell the truth.
Of the many things that the now-legendary Mitt Romney Boca Raton video has revealed, perhaps the most important is this: the real presidential campaign is the one the public doesn't see. Sure, Romney and President Obama fly around the country giving speeches and doing media interviews. And sure, they occasionally use those speeches or interviews to unveil some policy nugget that helps Americans understand what they might do in office. But for the most part, their public performances are just that: performances. They speak in calculated, glittering generalities. The throngs who crowd into their rallies never get the chance to probe deeper, and when interviewers do, the candidates artfully deflect their toughest questions, knowing full well that any interviewer who inquires too relentlessly is unlikely to get many future interviews.
The more honest discussions take place behind closed doors, in the innumerable private fundraisers that Romney and Obama do with their big givers. Honesty, in fact, is part of what those donors are paying for. No one shells out $50,000 to listen to the same platitudes that Joe and Mary Six-Pack hear at a 5,000-person rally in Akron, Ohio. In the "skybox" society (in Michael Sandel's parlance) in which we live, the super-rich don't simply stand in different lines at the airport; they experience a different presidential campaign.
It's not that the remarks candidates offer to donors bear no resemblance to their publicly stated views. They just express those views in a franker, less scripted, less sanitized way. Publicly Romney derides big government. Privately he told Florida donors this spring that he might slash the Department of Education and eliminate Housing and Urban Development--specifics he had not shared with ordinary Americans. Publicly Romney accuses Obama of wanting to make Americans dependent on government. Privately he tells donors that half the country is composed of whiners who want to be dependent on government. Publicly Romney praises Israel and criticizes the Palestinians. Privately he says he opposes his own party platform's stated commitment to a Palestinian state.
Similarly, Barack Obama publicly talks about the economic frustrations of working-class Americans. But in the heat of the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Obama was caught by a Huffington Post "citizen journalist" telling a group of San Francisco donors that small-town Pennsylvanians "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them. …