Mr. Kristof has our “Election 2012 Pop Quiz!” He has a question: How well have you been paying attention to the men running for president? Take this quiz to find out. In “The Best Mailgirl Ever” Ms. Collins says the whole world is going to remember Nora Ephron for her writing and movies. A rather hefty chunk of the world is going to remember her as a dear friend. Here’s Mr. Kristof:
Now that it’s clear that the presidential election will be between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, let’s see how much you know of the candidates. Take my presidential quiz, and if you get them all right, I nominate you to be a White House aide.
In each case, identify whether it was Obama or Romney who made the statement.
1. On abortion: “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.”
2. “I am fighting for an overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
3. On gay rights: “As we seek to establish full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.”
4. On the 2009 economic stimulus: “No time, nowhere, no how.”
5. “There is need for economic stimulus. Americans have lost about $11 trillion in net worth. That translates into about $400 billion a year less spending that they’ll be doing. … Government can help make that up in a very difficult time. And that’s one of the reasons why I think a stimulus program is needed.”
6. On climate science: “I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor.”
7. “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that, but I think that it is. … I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans. … What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”
8. On health care: “It’s critical to insure more people in this country. It doesn’t make sense to have 45 million people without insurance. It’s not good for them because they don’t get good preventative care … but it’s not good for the rest of the citizens either, because if people aren’t insured, they go to the emergency room for their care when they get very sick. That’s expensive. They don’t have any insurance to cover it. So guess who pays? Everybody else.”
9. On financial bailouts: “The idea of trying to bail out an institution to protect the shareholders or to protect a certain interest group, that’s a terrible idea. And that shouldn’t happen.”
10. “TARP got paid back, and it kept the financial system from collapsing. … Well, it was the right thing to do.”
The answers? I’ll tell you in a moment, but first let me say that, by now, we have a pretty good feel for how Obama governs. Democrats and Republicans may disagree about him, but they largely know what they’re getting.
In contrast, Romney is an enigma. He was a moderate governor of Massachusetts, but he has tried very hard to prove to right-wing conservatives that he is one of them. So a crucial question for voters: Which is the real Romney?
Personally, my hunch is that the real Romney is the pragmatist, the nonideological problem-solver. I can imagine him as the political equivalent of a management consultant, where your job is to go in and fix messes without worrying too much about partisanship or ideology. Romney’s old friends and colleagues tell me that’s the Romney they know — and that the one in the Republican primaries was a fraud.
Further evidence for the moderate Romney: Before entering politics, he was a registered independent, and in 2002 he declared, “People recognize that I am not a partisan Republican, that I’m someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.”
I’m also reassured by many of Romney’s advisers. He mostly seeks advice from smart center-rightists, such as Gregory Mankiw of Harvard or Glenn Hubbard of Columbia among economists.
Yet there are strong counterarguments that worry me. The first is that the early Romney may have been the false one. He may have been a centrist only to be viable in a liberal state like Massachusetts. Or Romney may have evolved, with the Republican Party itself, to become more ideological. Or after all his time in the Republican primary echo chamber, he may have come to believe his own rhetoric.
A broader worry is that presidents inevitably empower their political parties, and, in Romney’s case, that would be a Republican Party that today makes no pretense of moderation. As Jeb Bush suggested recently, Republicans today would not provide a comfortable home even for President Ronald Reagan — and that will be even more true without centrists like Senators Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe in office.
So, Governor Romney, a simple question: Who are you? Which of these quotations above reflect the real you? If you’re elected, will we get Moderate Romney or Hard-liner Romney?
And the quiz? It illustrates the problem: Every single statement was made by Romney.
When can I pick up my White House aide badge? Here’s Ms. Collins:
When Nora Ephron graduated from college in 1962, she applied for a job as a writer at Newsweek, was told women weren’t allowed to be writers there, and settled for mailgirl. I used that story as a kind of centerpiece in a book I wrote about American women because it reminded me of one of those old movies about a Broadway musical with pompous stars played by actors you’ve never heard of, plus Judy Garland in the back of the chorus.
We talked about the grand saga of how the bad old days gave way to the women’s movement one afternoon while she was cooking lunch in the apartment on the East Side where she lived with her husband, Nick Pileggi. (She famously said that the secret to life was marrying an Italian, but, obviously, she meant the secret was marrying Nick.) When she worked as an intern at the White House, she recalled, she took a man who was her then-fiancé on a tour of the White House “past one fabulous room named after what color it was painted after another,” until at the end he looked at her and said: “No wife of mine is going to work in a place like this.”
The whole world is going to remember Nora for her books and essays and scripts and blogs and, of course, movie directing. A rather hefty chunk of the world is going to remember her as a dear friend, because she had armies and armies of friends. Really, you are talking Normandy Invasion of friendship. (Are there still going to be book parties in New York? It seems inconceivable. Nora defined New York book parties. She was really more the point than the actual books.)
I’m pretty sure she would also want somebody to point out that she was an ardent feminist. She could get a little wry about the more self-obsessed aspects of the movement at its height, like the meetings where everyone was required to bring mirrors and examine their private parts. (“It is hard not to long for the days when an evening with the girls meant bridge,” she wrote.) But she was a proud defender of the cause, supporter of younger women’s careers, and fearless in an industry that was not particularly welcoming of women in the director’s chair. Also, since she was so glamorous and stupendously witty, she was an excellent life lesson for some of the people who have been insisting for the last 90 years that feminists are dour and wear unattractive shoes.
Nora was a sort of universal organizer, giver of dinner parties, cheerleader of new projects. A while back, she co-founded the One-Time-Only Book Club, which gathered at her apartment to discuss “The Golden Notebook,” which most of us had been under the impression was one of our all-time favorites, until we read it for the first time in 30 years. The One-Time-Only Book Club actually did meet a second time, when we disagreed about “Mrs. Dalloway” and I thought Nora seemed a little frail. But she never said anything about being sick. I can’t, looking back, ever remember her complaining about any physical issue that could not be described with a joke, or at a minimum, deep irony.
Things I learned from Nora: The best restaurant in New York for calf’s liver. The way to behave when you’re in charge and you think other people might not really believe you know what you’re doing, even though you really do. The fact that John Edwards was having an affair. (“Look at how flushed his face is,” she said, pointing to a YouTube posting of the presidential candidate and his videographer chatting on a campaign flight.)
She was a master of multiple art forms. She was a fierce and loyal friend. In her later essays, she became her generation’s brilliant, brutal and funny chronicler of the aging of the pre-boomers. She totally transformed my opinion on the appropriate size of spoons.
Once, years ago, we made a list of things to worry about. Her No. 1 was George W. Bush. I mentioned global warming. “Not a middle-aged issue,” she said.
I was in Texas when she died, remembering that she had once made a movie in Austin and her entire crew got sick from an allergic reaction to cedar pollen. On the way into Dallas, my driver swerved to avoid another car and sort of flung me into the front seat. It was not very much of an accident at all, but I suddenly burst into a fit of loud weeping, scaring the poor man half to death. Nora could have turned this into a life lesson with an eminently quotable and totally true moral. Sniffling, I wondered what it would have been. Big girls don’t cry? The tendency of second- and third-string mourners to attempt to turn the grieving process into a story that’s all about them? She was so practical. It would probably have been about the critical importance of wearing seat belts.