A former newspaper colleague knew how to combine creative loafing with grabbing credit where credit wasn't due. He'd stop for a beer at a local bar during crunch time for our biggest issues, and then show up at the printer just when the papers began rolling off the presses. When the CEO checked in, my colleague would feign exhaustion and accept the boss's kudos for his loyalty, hard work and dedication.
The ability to snatch the spotlight when good things happen and vanish the moment they go south is the domain of the credit weasel -- the co-worker with a genius for taking credit for shit you did and blaming you for shit he did.
Shamelessness is fundamental to superior credit weaseling. It's also a sine qua non for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. The former Massachusetts governor gives new meaning to the phrase "credit swap" when, time and time again, he assumes credit for Barack Obama's accomplishments while blaming the president for those very same actions.
It's not difficult to ferret out Mitt's weaseliness when he takes credit for Romneycare's individual mandate while bashing that same feature in Obamacare. His contortions on the auto bailout are the purest distillation of weaselhood. Before Obama took office, the Mittster penned a New York Times op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," in which he blamed Mr. Obama, in advance, for the disaster that would surely follow any federal aid to the ailing auto industry. When the program proved a roaring success, Romney told CNN, with a straight face, "I'll take a lot of credit for the auto bailout." A Romney flack drove even farther into fantasyland, asserting that "The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney's advice."
The president, of course, is hardly immune to credit pinching. When White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said "the President put Iraq 'back together,'" you could hear the call of the weasel. Mr. Obama had been trying to have it both ways on same-sex marriage until a few days ago, when he voiced his support only after Vice President Biden led the way.
The president is a piker, though, compared to Mitt and other prominent Republicans. Among the multitudes patting themselves on the back after ultra-conservative Richard Mourdock drubbed very conservative Dick Lugar in last week's Indiana Republican primary was Herman Cain, who declared that Muordock's "endorsement" of Cain's thoroughly discredited "9-9-9" tax plan put the Tea Partier over the top.
There are extremes beyond which even the most brazen credit weasel won't tread. JP Morgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon, who basked in financial demi-godhood when his bank performed well during the darkest days of the economic crisis, admitted he was "dead wrong" when it was revealed that the bank lost over $2 billion in bad credit swaps. An even starker example: No one in his right mind would dream of crediting George W. Bush for preventing said economic crisis while simultaneously blaming the not yet elected Barack Obama. But wait -- that's exactly what the Mittsterizer did when he said, "I keep hearing the president say that he's responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression. No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and Hank Paulson."
One would hope that the weaseliest credit weasels would eventually get their comeuppance. Unfortunately, what goes around doesn't necessarily come around, at least not in this lifetime. My former colleague, who all those years ago earned the nickname "Mr. Which Way the Wind Blows," basked in a long and lucrative career in the media business followed by a luxurious early retirement, with plenty of time to play golf at the world's finest courses, sip wine in the Napa Valley and invent flourishes for his autobiography.
To minimize the effects of massive weasel exposure between now and November, a two-pronged strategy is recommended. First, tune out political ads and talk show shout fests whenever possible. Second, when the ubiquity of the credit/blame game thwarts your best efforts -- and it will -- recall the words of the great Phil Ochs: "Even though you can't expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That's morality, that's religion. That's art. That's life."
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