TAMPA, Fla. -- So first I got soothing breathing lessons. Then I got into a televised shouting match on "Hardball." I'm not sure whether there is a relationship between the two events.
Maybe New Age therapy made me do it.
Here's the story.
As y'all know, I work for the estimable Arianna Huffington, a friend of 17 years and a boss for two. She wanted me (and all of us at HuffPost) to drop by our laid-back "Oasis" retreat a block from the convention hall to "relax, recharge and renew" in the midst of the hurly-burly of the GOP convention.
The HuffPost Oasis was designed by the impossibly cool Bryan Rafanelli, the same party impresario who did Chelsea Clinton's wedding and the last five State dinners. The spot is a diaphanous space with hush-voiced staffers, exotic fruit juice bar, massages, reflexology, quiet rooms and, incongruously in the corner, a video outpost of HuffPost Live.
I received breathing lessons from a Manhattan expert named Joan Witkowski. She learned the theory and techniques of the craft from one Carl Stough, a former choir master and musician who taught his singers to breathe deeply and then adapted the technique for others in salvaging the voices of emphysema patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in New Haven, Conn.
Joan put me on a massage table fully clothed (honest) and kneaded my chest to "loosen the diaphragm." Then she had me breathe deeply and start uttering numbers quickly, then rotate my jaw and start singing vowels, first softly, then loudly. She said that I was a quick learner, but she probably says that to all the pundits.
Thus fortified and relaxed and in good voice, I walked over to the "Hardball" set at Channelside. I was feeling mellow and full of oxygen when I sat down on the set next to my friend and MSNBC analyst colleague Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. All was cool.
The discussion began. Earlier in the day, "Hardball" host Chris Matthews had gone ballistic over Mitt Romney's TV ad about welfare, the one that says President Barack Obama "quietly gutted" the work requirement. The ad is flat-out wrong, much more so than the average political spot, and has been trashed by every media fact-checking organization out there.
The Romney campaign is pressing ahead with it though, especially after focus groups showed that undecided white middle-class women liked the message.
But the ad is factually wrong, and it has a tinge of racial dog-whistle politics about it -- even if Mitt's campaign didn't fully intend it as such. I doubt that they are that naive.
In any case, Steele and I started arguing about the ad as soon as we hit the set. I almost never get in a shouting match with anyone, on TV or off. This was an exception.
I saw Steele later. "Where is that Oasis?" he asked. "I think I need to go."
Follow Howard Fineman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/howardfineman