Social scientists caution against using anecdotes as master keys to behavior. Most psychologists are skeptical of durable character traits — the “fundamental attribution error” — regarding behavior as dependent on circumstances. My friend the sociologist Gary Fine has studied the reputations of political actors in a brilliant paper, “Tricky Dick and Slick Willy,” concluding that “hatred facilitates scandal rather than scandal causing hatred.” This is equally applicable today, he has confirmed to me in an e-mail.
The odds against Mitt Romney are now over 80-20, according to the Iowa Prediction Markets, probably the best single indicator of how the election will go. Those of London bookmakers are comparable. Part of the reason may be rising house and stock prices, part may be fears about Medicare, but neither fully explains Romney’s lag.
The central problem may be that, unlike many other political tales, the Seamus episode evokes a vivid and concrete mental picture ready-made for cartoons like the recent one by the Washington Post’s Tom Toles. Romney’s harassment of a gay prep school classmate in 1965 (sadly routine juvenile cruelty?) and his leaked speech to a donors meeting appearing to dismiss 47 percent of the population as moochers (normal, private rich-guy talk?) can be made to seem, respectively, an ominous portent and a confirmation of callousness.