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Secret recordings are damaging, first, because they're secret. The mere caption "Caught on tape" puts you on the level of a shady car dealer busted by the News at 11. It suggests--as it did when Obama in 2008 said working-class voters "cling" to guns and religion--that you're saying things about people that you wouldn't say to their faces. The Romney video goes beyond even that; he was saying things about a group of people--that 47% includes low-wage service workers--with them in that same room, serving dessert, enjoined against talking back.
I have no idea what the catering staff thinks of Romney or the election. For all I know, Romney's message of striving and individual enterprise resonates with one of them who wants to own that mansion and sit at that table someday. But when Romney talks about the "entitled" 47% whom he could never persuade to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives," I'm thinking, So does a cater-waiter in south Florida, maybe with kids, earn enough to owe income tax after deductions? When a guest asks, "How are you going to do it, two months before the elections, convince everybody, You've got to take care of yourself?" I'm looking at the server grabbing barware and thinking, You think she's got a health-insurance package? Does it not feel the least bit awkward up there? Because it sure does back here with the wine glasses.
I don't trust anyone who claims to know how this video will affect the campaign. It's a tight election, and the media have pre-emptively called too many things "game changers" that changed nothing. But if it has any effect, it will be the images that do it as much as the words. For one evening in Boca Raton, the people who fund the multimillion-dollar election machine well and truly got served.
The original version of this article incorrectly stated that a tabloid-notorious sex party was held at the mansion in Boca Raton.