1. Social Graces
Romney clearly has trouble with his sense of appropriateness in interpersonal relationships. He appears to be much more task oriented (thinking about the games) and lacking in his people orientation (not understanding this was like asking "how are you? or that as a guest you should say positive things when you first meet, not criticize.)
Asked a ritualistic question about the Olympics, which any guest should know is supposed to be answered politely and positively - "Oh, it looks to be a great Olympics!" he took the question literally, and gave an negative assessment.
This insensitivity to non-verbal communication, to social customs, is a serious problem for a president. Much of the job is to ceremonially represent the United States. Much of the job requires the ability to assess the character, sincerity, and capacity of people advising you as well as inspiring their confidence in you. This is hard to do when you are tone deaf to social signals.
2. Assessment Skills
The lack of social skills is problematic. For some people, this is made up in other skills. But Romney, someone who has worked on a previous Olympics, was wrong in his assessment of the London Olympics. The Olympics went well and there was no security breach, something he specifically noted as a concern. So his assessment on a topic he is a reputed expert on, was wrong. I must acknowledge that we don't know if there were no terrorist issues because of how good the security was or simply because no one attempted to disrupt the Olympics. But ultimately, his assessment - inappropriate as it was to share at that moment - was wrong.
Some might argue shouldn't jump to conclusions here. Was this something he had studied or was he just reflecting the media accounts? But what we do know is that his inability to read the human aspect of the situation, led him to think that his opinion was being seriously sought. And, again, due to his lack of sensitivity to basic etiquette, instead of praising his host's efforts, he criticized them, implying that there were likely to be problems - a prediction of sorts. A prediction he never had to make. One that now turns out to be wrong.
If he was wrong about the odds of a successful Olympics, what does that tell us about his assessments of things like the economic crisis, health care, tax policy, etc.?
In terms of the social problems, this is just one more in a long series of such incidents. In terms of his assessment of the Olympics this doesn't tell us too much, but we learn about people by adding up bits of information over time. So I'm just taking notes that can be compared to his other pronouncements. (We could, say, add this to what we know about someone who set up a health care plan as a governor that is remarkably similar to Obama's national plan that Romney tells us is terrible.)
But I think this episode tells us, at least, this much:
- His sense of appropriate behavior and etiquette are out of synch with most folks
- He takes things literally, missing the social meaning
- His first response was to point out the potential negatives
- He was wrong