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Cookiegate: an American Vignette

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not been having a good week. His image struggles are dragging him down in the polls, his fighting talk on immigration looks as if it will cost him a key demographic, and he dissed a man’s baking skills.

At a picnic stop on Tuesday in Bethel Park, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Romney added another gem to what is becoming an increasingly gaffe-encrusted campaign when, in a single brief squirt of verbal diarrhea, he managed to insult both a mom-and-pop store and a multinational food retailer. “I’m not sure about these cookies,” he remarked to the gentleman who had just placed a plate of baked goods in front of him. “They don’t look like you made them. No, no — they came from the local 7-Eleven, bakery or whatever.”

Turns out they had been made by local business owner and Romney supporter John Walsh, whose Bethel Bakery is apparently beloved as one of the best eateries in town. Oops.

Turns out also that 7-Eleven does have bakeries that supply fresh baked goods to its stores nationwide. Double oops.

While this story stands out in that it almost beggars belief that a seasoned politician like Mitt Romney could fluff one of the cardinal rules of campaigning (i.e. the town or state you’re in is the friendliest and most delightful place you’ve ever visited; your host’s family is beautiful, wholesome and flawlessly hospitable; any food offered to you is the most delectable ambrosia that has ever passed your lips), it’s also remarkable for another reason. It’s a classic encapsulation of the resilience and ingenuity of American entrepreneurship.

Once he’d got over the shock and disbelief of what he’d just heard (and it did take him a while), Walsh immediately got to thinking how he could turn Romney’s foot-in-mouth moment to his advantage. The next morning, Bethel Bakery began offering a “Cookiegate Special”, offering customers half a dozen cookies free with every dozen purchased. Walsh and his employees were soon dealing with a deluge of orders, some from as far away as Georgia — and one from the Pennsylvania office of the Obama campaign.

Nor was 7-Eleven fazed for long. Not to be outdone, the convenience store giant put out a statement explaining that actually, they did offer fresh, high quality baked goods and that therefore Romney had been quite correct in asserting that Walsh’s delectable cookies could have come from one of their stores.

Turning bad publicity into good is, of course, nothing new: just ask Charlie Sheen, and the brands currently benefiting from his presence in their TV commercials. Or out-gay comedienne, talk show host and freshly minted JC Penney spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres, who invoked the wrath of pro-family group One Million Moms, which threatened a boycott of the store, then dropped it after receiving a deluge of comments on its Facebook page from women stating that although they hadn’t shopped at JC Penney before, they would be shopping there now.

And that’s just business. Politicians are also just as capable of digging themselves out of the deepest of holes — and then building palaces on the resulting piles of dirt. Think of Ronald Reagan, the “Teflon president”; or that most epic piece of bad publicity turnabout, the Lewinsky scandal.

This particular storm in a biscotti-dunkable teacup is unlikely to do much damage to Romney in the grander scheme of things, although he can be certain that it will come back to haunt him many times between now and November — at least it will if Democratic strategists have been paying any attention, which they have been. On the contrary, it might very well, as we have seen, help him. John Walsh says he still supports Romney, and would love him to come back and try the cookies he spurned. If it accepts Walsh’s invitation, and times the return visit right, the Romney campaign has a potential public relations goldmine right there.

We shall see. For now I must leave you, dear reader, to ponder this shining illustration of small and big business cleverness in adversity, while I go and find some lunch. Unlike Mitt Romney, I have just a little bit of an appetite. Oh, and there’s a 7-Eleven just down the street.

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About Dr Dreadful

  • I guess he’ll have to trade in his etch-a-sketch for a shake-n-bake.

  • I smiled, I grinned Doc… I’ll ship Mit my easy-bake oven tomorrow…

  • According to all reports he wouldn’t even try one. Way to insult a supporter Mit!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Actually, I’m sure Romney was trying to be complimentary in an “I’m one of the people, too” kind of way by trying to show that he thought 7-11 cookies were really good, too, and that he thought it was high praise (in the eyes of the common man) to say that the cookies looked like they were from 7-11.

    But that’s not something I’d hold against Romney – I’ve never been one of those who thought that one should vote for the guy with whom one would want to share a beer – but I do think that ol’ Mitt should stop acting like he’s “just a regular person”, for it sorta has the same effect as me trying to pretend I’m Derek Hough from “Dancing with the Stars” when I’m really just a middle-aged white guy with a complete lack of rhythm and a mild phobia of stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, and instead of doing a proper Argentine Tango, I’d more likely copy Steve Wozniak’s interpretation of the worm.

  • John Lake

    These small lapses of political correctness that would go unnoticed or seen as charm (As Glenn points out in #4) in a less vital situation might indicate a basic insecurity; the sort of insecurity that exists when a man cannot rely on the inner knowledge he has nothing to hide. Americans are concerned not about Romney’s wealth, rather about its sources. Romney may be today’s forward edge of the corporate takeover of America, following in the steps of Bush/Chaney. Bush and Chaney faced a need to embrace democratic standards, while in fact the concern was for appearances. The comparison to Charlie Sheen might be apt. Sheen may have won some ribald camaraderie from some male voters, but of course Sheen lost the source of his income and popularity.

  • Thanks for the comments, lads, but you’re all missing the best part of the story.

  • STM

    Doc, you reckon they’d go all right with a nice cup of tea?

    I believe this is Mitt’s problem … like most Americans, he thinks perfectly good tea should be thrown in the harbour.

    If Mitt were a tea drinker, he’d have the race for the White House all sewn up by now. It’s restorative, calming powers are legendary.

    It’s what made the British Empire great!

    Americans, on the other hand, drink way too much – bad – coffee, which just makes the poor buggers hyper.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    STM –

    There might be more truth than fiction to that when it comes to America’s addiction to caffeine.

  • roger nowosielski

    “He’s pretty easygoing as a rule but can be stirred into indignant eloquence when somebody says something stupid about politics or science, which happens fairly frequently in America.” from Dreadful’s bio

    I should think that eloquence is a kind of personal quality one would rather have it attributed to one by others if it’s not to suffer from any dilution.

    Oh well.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Okay –

    Doc Dreadful is pretty easygoing as a rule but can be stirred into indignant eloquence when somebody says something stupid about politics or science, which happens fairly frequently in America.

    I hope that helps!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And for Doc –

    John Lake’s article about China seems to be frozen – the hyperlinks won’t work and comments cannot be made.

  • I’ve fixed the issues with John Lake’s article on the regional tensions in the South China Sea. Thanks for the heads up, Glenn.

  • Stan, there’s a chain called Cost Plus World Market over here which sells all kinds of stuff from all over the world. You can get Vegemite there, as well as its less potent British cousin, Marmite.

    I bought a packet of McVitie’s chocolate digestives there a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been enjoying dunking into my tea. Lovely.

  • STM

    Lol. You’d be in heaven Doc. Nice cuppa and a choc dunker. Aaah …

    On Vegemite: I reckon it’s the reason Aussie kids grow up tough, learning to dodge sharks, spiders, crocs, deadly rips (riptides) and idiots and idiots while navigating wild surf and impassable terrain. It’s got nothing to do with the ingredients … if you can stand your mother putting Vegemite on your toast every morning, or your sandwiches for lunch, without complaining, you can do or stand or achieve anything.

    It’s like New York in a jar. Vegemite might be why a giant, inhospitable continent with hardly anyone in it beyond 500 miles from the coast is doing better than most.

    Actually, even though Americans wince when they try it, it’s an acquired taste and kids generally love the stuff. A woman who moved here from Florida wrote a blog in which she watched in amazement as her kids slowly developed a) aussie accents, and b) a taste for Vegemite.

    We have also inherited from the Poms the highly civilised (but always done in the privacy of your own home) habit of chocolate-biscuit dunking. Works OK with Oreos too, mate, if you run out! They’re always available over there. It’s the tea that makes it. You MUST have good tea.

  • STM

    Also, check out Glenn’s post on coffee – interesting. Not sure American coffee would be strong enough to have that effect, though. Mind you …

    Since tea also contains caffeine, and Poms tend to drink about 80 gallons of the stuff a day, could that explain a bit about both countries?

  • STM

    Lucky we’ve all got beer for when it gets hot. Hold on, you blokes drink it warm …

  • Dr Dreadful

    Must be a while since you’ve been in the Old Dart, mate. The modern kegs and pumps most pubs have now deliver your pint perfectly chilled – which, it not being Sydney, Adelaide or other points on the surface of the sun, is somewhat above absolute zero.

  • ST “Y’all” Hussein M

    Lager and Pilsener you need to drink ice cold (I hope that’s what you mean by chilled) but you have to drink that old-style Pommy piss in the big giant glasses a bit warm or it tastes like dishwater that’s been left in the fridge.

  • Boeke

    Ice cold drinks dull the taste buds. Only beer to drink ice cold is a spoiled batch, like if it wasn’t stored cool or was left in the sun.

    Extreme chilling of drinks is just a fashion that doesn’t improve taste.

  • Boeke

    Lagers, in particular, are fermented at reduced temperatures to make them taste less of barley and bring out the hops (most expensive ingredient in beer), thus optimizing drinking temp at slightly below ambient. Most modern beers are lagered, as is Pilsener (tho fake pilseners aren’t from Pilsen).

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Boeke –

    Beer is like tea – some is better warm and savored on a cold, rainy night, while some is better ice cold for refreshment on a hot, sunny afternoon. Here in the Pacific Northwest I do love the hop-heavy local microbrews for their quality and taste, or enjoy a good IPA or a even a light hefeweizen, but when I’m hot and sweaty, I go for the cheap and pedestrian refreshment of Coors Light…which is about the only mainstream American lager I’ll even touch.

  • but when I’m hot and sweaty, I go for the cheap and pedestrian refreshment of Coors Light…

    Who is this Glenn Contrarian character? Don’t know him…