Mitt Romney was faced with a problem. Rick Perry had been misquoting his book and continued to do so despite having been directly confronted on the matter. Mitt told Rick he was wrong, but Rick boldly insisted that it was Mitt who was in error.
What then was Mitt to do? He decided to propose a bet. He therefore offered to wager ten thousand dollars on the question. Rick did not respond immediately, but after a somewhat flustered rejoinder, he stated that he does not bet on such issues.
After this Mitt returned to the subject he had been discussing. I, as a viewer, thought this the end of the business until the television commentators began to rail at Mitt’s terrible blunder. We were told that the people ofIowawould surely take offence at his gesture. Because few were wealthy enough to make such a wager, they would reject Romney as too rich and out of touch to be president.
This conclusion left me confused. For my own part I have frequently offered similar wagers. Indeed, the stakes I suggest make Romney look like a piker. When I am in a debate with someone where I am absolutely sure that I am right and that my opponent is being intransigent, I propose to bet an entire year’s salary.
No one, of course, has ever taken me up on this offer. And that is the point! My goal is never to make money. Rather, it is to demonstrate my utter confidence in what I have asserted. Similarly, I hope to reveal my adversary’s relative lack of assurance.
This harks back to when I was a teenager. Back then we used to dismiss people who refused “to put their money where their mouth is.” Words, as we even today say, are cheap. As we all know, anyone can verbally claim anything. It is another matter to be right—and to have the courage to stand up for one’s assertions.
That is what offering a large bet is designed to reveal. To propose a ten-dollar bet, in contrast, would suggest a lack of conviction. Because losing ten dollars would not be a strain on most pocketbooks, even people talking through their hats might be willing to accept it. Thousands of dollars, however, is another thing.
As it happens, fact checkers after the debate uniformly agreed that Mitt was right. Rick’s depiction of what had been written was simply wrong. But this revelation got lost in the commotion. People instead fretted about Mitt’s relative wealth.
But why didn’t they worry about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wealth? Or that of John F. Kennedy? Or, for that matter, that of John Kerry? Why is Mitt the exception? Why the haste to dismiss him as insensitive?
Let’s not forget, I am not affluent, but I employ the same gambit as Mitt. Does this make me equally insensitive? Or does it mean that the two of us sometimes seek to make a point as dramatically as we can?