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Romney’s unknown unknowns

Romney’s unknown unknowns

I’ve posted about “unknown unknowns” before, as it is a structure I use in class to discuss how to build a case.  At a press conference about Iraq Donald Rumsfeld famously said:

“[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Reacting to Nancy Pelosi’s threat to release as yet unknown information about Newt, Jennifer Rubin uses the “unknown unknown” template to argue:

But this is one of the central dangers posed by Gingrich’s candidacy: Lots of people who worked on congressional committees, at special interest groups and for him in one capacity or another have plenty of details about what he has done over the years. It is the unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, that are the most dangerous.

Rubin is confused.  She is not complaining about Newt’s unknown unknowns, but about his known unknowns.  We know what we do not know.  In fact, Rubin rattles off a list of known unknowns about Newt, such as how much he got paid by which clients, etc.

Precisely because we know what we do not know about Newt, he is less dangerous as a candidate.  Will the facts, if revealed, that he did “X” in 1996 which was known by Pelosi and others but never part of any public ethics charges really make a difference?  Will the facts, if revealed, that one of Newt’s think tanks made “Y” dollars from some client really create a sea change in public opinion?  Even as to the “personal baggage,” we know it will be made an issue; and if there is more to the baggage than we know, it still is a worry we know about.  Newt’s problems are not unknown unknowns, by any stretch of the imagination.

An unknown unknown is something beyond our current comprehension, something that would hit us so out of the blue that we would be left to wondering how we could not have imagined such a thing about the candidate.  It would destroy a campaign in an instant, and if revealed after the nomination would hand Barack Obama the election on a silver platter.

The greatest threat of a destructive unknown unknown comes not from the known-to-be imperfect candidate, but from the seemingly perfect candidate.

And here is where the risk is with Romney.  What is it that we are not even capable of imagining about him or his past which in an instant could destroy his candidacy?

Well, you might argue, we know everything about him, he’s been in a presidential campaign before, he has no known skeletons in the closet.  And looking at his persona, it is hard to imagine something terribly wrong aside from known past policies.

That might be true, but if we are talking about true unknown unknowns, shouldn’t we be worrying about what was in the state records Romney and his assistants tried to destroy when he left office in Massachusetts, Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records:

When Romney left the governorship of Massachusetts, 11 of his aides bought the hard drives of their state-issued computers to keep for themselves. Also before he left office, the governor’s staff had emails and other electronic
communications by Romney’s administration wiped from state servers, state officials say.

Those actions erased much of the internal documentation of Romney’s four-year tenure as governor, which ended in January 2007. Precisely what information was erased is unclear….

Romney’s spokesmen emphasize that he followed the law and precedent in deleting the emails, installing new computers in the governor’s office and buying up hard drives.

However, Theresa Dolan, former director of administration for the governor’s office, told Reuters that Romney’s efforts to control or wipe out records from his governorship were unprecedented.

Dolan said that in her 23 years as an aide to successive governors “no one had ever inquired about, or expressed the desire” to purchase their computer hard drives before Romney’s tenure.

The cleanup of records by Romney’s staff before his term ended included spending $205,000 for a three-year lease on new computers for the governor’s office, according to official documents and state officials.

In signing the lease, Romney aides broke an earlier three-year lease that provided the same number of computers for about half the cost – $108,000. Lease documents obtained by Reuters under the state’s freedom of information law
indicate that the broken lease still had 18 months to run.

What was in those records that was so important to erase?  I can’t imagine.

But we will find out, at the worst possible moment.  Gov. Deval Patrick, Obama’s best buddy, will make sure of it.


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Now Pelosi is not not just back pedaling, she is sprinting away from her remarks to TPM. Just shows why we need a fighter like Gingrich. Nobody else in this field is willing to punch back harder than the opposition is punching.

    JayDick in reply to Jaydee77. | December 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Very good point. That is the very reason I like Newt. I also think that’s why he is striking a cord with the Republican electorate. They dislike Obama so much, they want someone who will really attack. Gingrich looks like he will do that better than anyone else.

      Aarradin in reply to JayDick. | December 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm

      McCain was willing to attack too. Problem was, he was attacking other Republicans for being too tough on Obama.

      Seriously, though:

      I keep going back to the debate when Gingrich schooled that imbecile Pelley from CBS over the rules of war. Romney had fielded a question premised on the ‘fact’ the the “stimulus” bill had created 3 million jobs. Romney accepted the premise without question. Pathetic.

I’ve never pulled a “party level” in my live as I vote for people not parties, but if Pelosi or her minions drop one piece that is traced back to her office, I will pull the “party level” and it won’t be for her party.

    JayDick in reply to Neo. | December 6, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Your approach of voting for the person, not the party, may have been valid at one time, but I don’t think it is any more. The parties’ political outlooks are so different now and you really don’t have hardly any conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans. If you vote Democrat, you are voting for a liberal government, no matter the views of the specific candidate. A Democrat will vote for a Democrat leadership in Congress and that will further a liberal agenda.

      Valerie in reply to JayDick. | December 6, 2011 at 11:20 am

      If the only problem is that voting for Democrats is voting for a Liberal government, the Republicans lose. To Liberals and Centrists, our government IS a classically liberal government, and use of that word fails to convey your concern.

      To fix it: A vote for the Democrats at this time is a vote for continued radicalism in office combined with incompetence and corruption. We don’t know if The Stimulus could have worked, because its force and effect was frittered away by the practice of spending billions –with a “b” — on Democratic contributors and bundlers, rather than on any projects reasonably calculated to benefit the country as a whole.

      The lawlessness is this administration is brought into high relief by the Fast & Furious scandal, where at the very minimum, our safeguards with respect to inter-agency co-operation and approval of risky tactics were disregarded. We don’t need a President who tolerates an Attorney General who can’t read.

      THAT argument, suitably supported by widely available facts, is one that is convincing to Centrists and Liberals.

        JayDick in reply to Valerie. | December 6, 2011 at 11:53 am

        You are correct about the classical use of the word liberal. I was using it in the current sense, which basically means statist. In the current common usage, America is more conservative than liberal.

        Regarding the stimulus, we know that it was doomed to failure because such schemes have never worked. Government spending can have a positive effect on the economy for only a very brief time, generally a few months. Over the longer term (more than a few months), government spending does damage to the economy.

        Incompetence and corruption are other shortcomings of the Obama administration, of course. But I was speaking more generally. In that sense, a vote for a Democrat is a vote for a liberal (statist) government. A vote for a Republican is a vote for a conservative (at least a little less statist) government.

        Darkstar58 in reply to Valerie. | December 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm

        If the only problem is that voting for Democrats is voting for a Liberal government, the Republicans lose. To Liberals and Centrists, our government IS a classically liberal government, and use of that word fails to convey your concern.

        That’s because they call themselves “Liberals” when they are actually “Libertarians” – in other words, NEO-Conservative Republicans

      2012 is going to be a rough year … this makes the Goldwater “Daisy” ad look tame.

    Aarradin in reply to Neo. | December 6, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    You do realize that once they take office THEY vote party line pretty much all the time.

    You may like a D on one or two issues, or think he has good character, but I promise you – once he’s in office he’ll vote the socialist party line >90% of the time.

    There’s also the issue of majority control. Whichever Party has the majority controls EVERY committee (has majority and Chair for each) and sets the agenda. Would you rather have Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner set the agenda in the House? When you vote for that moderate D rather than a squishy R who’s name you’re not familiar with, you’re really voting to have Pelosi be the next Speaker of the House.

      hazchic in reply to Aarradin. | December 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      Gabby Giffords. Yeah, I went there. But she said all the right things here in AZ (guns, military) and then voted whatever Nancy told her. Perfect example.

Good analysis, Professor. Moreover, although we don’t know the information in the known unknowns, the candidates do. Presumable they are prepared to deal with them if released. Cain obviously was not prepared, but I would expect more from Romney and Gingrich.

Obama’s past needs the same treatment from the political press as the colonoscopy of their past any Republican nominee will surely receive. Since past is prologue, conservative and fair mined individuals know that there will be no equal treatment of BHO and his Republican challenger. The only good thing that happens as a result is the continued slide of the economic success of the ‘lame-stream media’.

I’m not a Romney defender, but his attempting to clean up the e-mails and records from his time as Governor before he left just sounds like best-practices to me. Follow my (Romney) thinking:

1.) You know you’re planning to run for President and that you’re about to be replaced by a very statist Governor of the opposite party.

2.) You know that the new governor is going to do anything he can to help his party candidate to defeat you should you become the nominee. You know that this means he will actively assist FOIA expeditions into every public and private scrap you leave behind.

3.) Those FOIA fishing trips by liberal-statist activists might lead to patently frivolous “ethics” lawsuits, which even though will be dismissed, require time, effort and money to defend until dropped or thrown out of court (see Gov. Palin having to spend at least $500K of her OWN money in defense costs).

4.) You know you have the ability and right (under state law) to not only clean up the documents, but to take the physical drives with you, so that there is nothing to even attempt to forensically recover data FROM.

There may or may not have been anything in the records, but this sounds like simple prudent planning to me.

    Exactly. There is already a long trail of pols, government officials and business executives stretching all the way back to Ollie North who dearly wish they had double deleted all their emails — every day!

    Whatever unknowns were in those emails — and I doubt there was much that rises beyond the level of embarassing (although that can kill a candidacy) — they will remain unknown.

Excellent concern. I am concerned about Romney on many levels, especially that he is a “conservative”-sounding statist, a new-fangled “socialist” in my book, emphasizing “efficiency”.

@JayDick | December 6, 2011 at 10:22 am
“The parties’ political outlooks are so different now and you really don’t have hardly any conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans. If you vote Democrat, you are voting for a liberal government, no matter the views of the specific candidate.”

I do wish the term “liberal” was not so ill-used. “Conservative” Democrats might have been called “liberals” at one time — when they were not statists. Liberalism is about freedom, transparency, accountability. Most Conservatives are about preserving our Constitutional liberties. For quite some time the Democratic Party has been about little else than authoritarianism run by political-academic-media elites with corporate types toadying to them for favors, i.e., funding or too-big-to-fail status. Bureaucrats, especially, rule the day. This is not and never has been “liberal” or “liberalism”. They do not deserve the virtue of the term. It belongs to American exceptionalism.

    While I don’t share your concern about Romney, I absolutely agree that the term “liberalism” needs to be taken back. It is a great ideal to aim for, and explaining to people what liberalism used to be, Adam Smith’s liberalism, and comparing it to what Democrats try to claim it to be, might be a good way to expose their manipulation of reality and even our lexicon.

    Darkstar58 in reply to pyromancer76. | December 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    “Liberal” merely means a vast and open interpretation, where one is willing to discard the norm. So when it is refereed to in the sense of “Government Power”, you get the first Government Liberal, Alexander Hamilton.

    Government Liberalism is about “implied powers” for the “general welfare”, as Hamilton put it. That is the Liberalism most people refer to when complaining about Democrats. And where Democrat (or Democracy) means a living set of rules determined by the people, Liberal Democrat ends up going hand in hand when attempting to work around our Republics Constitution and the Liberties it Grants. (see, Democrat and Democracy are probably the words most misused – especially by those calling themselves Democrats)

    “Liberal”, holding such a vast definition, has also unfortunately been attached to many aspects where “Libertarian” really should have been – and that is where things go awry. It isn’t “Liberal” to say Government should be held accountable, its our “Liberty”. It isn’t “Liberal” to say a man should be able to do as he pleases with his money, its our “Liberty”.

    “Freedom, transparency, accountability” (as you put it) has, and always will be, the Libertarian (Mans Liberties) and Conservative (Constitutional Liberties) platform; as this is what the Constitution was always about – protecting our Freedom from a Federal Government who must be transparent and held accountable to the people. The Founders knew very well that a Government with power will make that power absolute unless held in check; hence our being given a “Constitution of negative rights rights” (like our current president considers it).

    One who wants to change the rules through “implied powers” for the “general welfare” are being “Liberal” with the constitution and ignoring the “Liberties” granted to us.

Any American who values their freedom and doesn’t vote Republican, or doesn’t vote at all because *their* candidate didn’t make it to the finish line, or would vote for a third party candidate in the 2012 elections, might as well make up a last will and testament and *say goodbye*. How many of us are enthusiastic about not finding George Washington personified in the available Republican candidates? That’s not the point! Let’s do everything we can to find the best of what’s available and get behind that candidate as though everything dear to us depended on it without regard to whatever *dirt* is found. Then we can send Conservatives through the mid-term elections to continue building a base. It took many decades of bad government to get to the edge of this cliff, and we all should consider winning back our freedoms in whatever way possible and continue to give this effort everything we have until the job is done. Never give in ….. and Never give up!

ABC reports:

“Leader Pelosi was clearly referring to the extensive amount of information that is in the public record, including the comprehensive committee report with which the public may not be fully aware,” Hammill wrote in a statement.

This clearly was a mistake by Nancy Pelosi to give Newt a “fair game” waiver to joist with the Democrat Leader in the House, thus giving his campaign a “national” flavor.

Gingrich holds the trump card anyway – the IRS investigation conducted a year after the ethics investigation completely exonerated him.

    It didn’t actually “completely exonerate” him, as some of the accusations against him related to house rules that the IRS wouldn’t have investigated, because violating house rules generally isn’t a matter of law (as far as I know, correct me if I’m wrong because I can’t find concrete answers on this).

    That being said, that Newt’s organization underwent IRS scrutiny and came out the other side clean is still quite amazing. My taxes are pretty simple, and I’m sure I’ve still done something wrong at one point or another. So your point is well taken.

I think that it would be difficult at best to eclipse any current negative information on Gingrich. The problem will be the dredging up all the old stuff and how it is presented.

The interesting take, has a good low key assessment of what it might be like in a civilized environment. We all know that would never be the case with democrats and the MSM on the attack.

Still, the writer mentions a couple of things that I have previously pointed out and that is Gingrich’s inflated ego, weaving and dodging etc.

A short but good read for anyone who’s interested…

Actually, Professor, what might be in the emails that we know were deep sixed is a known unknown, is it not? We know there were mails and we know they were erased but we don’t know what was in them so that you can suggest ominously that they could be damaging (set aside for the moment that if they no longer exist, they cannot be trotted out in October as proof of something).

It’s just like we know the House looked into a lot of stuff on Newt that was filed away, but we don’t know what’s in those files.

An unknown unknown would be something like this: a candidate who appears to be a dependable family man with a loving wife and cute kids turns out to have a serious mistress on the side (Edwards in 2004), to patronize high-priced whores (Spitzer) or to have a “wide stance” in airport bathrooms (Craig).

I doubt that either Newt or Romney has any unknown unknowns of political consequence. Both have been thoroughly vetted several times over. What you must deal with is the obvious certainty that Newt may have lots of known unknowns. Since you don’t want to deal with that, instead, you lamely try to argue that anyone might have time bombs we have no way to know about.

What’s more, isn’t it obvious that Rumsfeld was trying to make something very simple but embarassing seem like some sort of complicated intelligence puzzle? There were no unknown unknowns about Iraq. There were plenty of people in the intelligence community and elsewhere who raised questions about every single problem that was faced. He just looked at all this and decided as a matter of judgment that X outweighed Y.

Unfortunately, you don’t even want to examine X where it concerns Newt

Henry Hawkins | December 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm

If history teaches anything, it is that when it comes to politicians and candidates, there are no unknown unknowns. Only naivete would allow them.

[…] William Jacobson: The greatest threat of a destructive unknown unknown comes not from the known-to-be imperfect candidate, but from the seemingly perfect candidate. […]

Henry Hawkins | December 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm

If you see before you a perfect candidate, you have not seen clearly or looked deeply. The perfect candidate will have been, among all other considerations, fully vetted. So, if some scandal then emerges, is it an “unknown unknown” or simply a poor or incomplete job of vetting?