There's a great old "Fawlty Towers" scene (if you're unfamiliar with the 1970s British sitcom, hie thyself to YouTube!) in which Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), an innkeeper, welcomes some German patrons. He gives explicit orders to everyone: "Don't mention the war!" He then proceeds to mention the uncomfortable subject of World War II over and over again.
In one scene, after blurting out references to the war a dozen times while seating the Germans at the restaurant, he says to his wife, "Listen, don't mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it all right." He then returns to the Germans' table to review their lunch order: "So! It's all forgotten now, and let's hear no more about it. So, that's two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads."
When one of the patrons begs him to stop talking about the war, Cleese responds, "Me? You started it!"
The German retorts, "We did not start it!" Cleese answers, "Yes you did! You invaded Poland."
The scene came to mind Wednesday when I saw an instantly infamous clip of Eric Fehrnstrom, Mitt Romney's communications director, comparing his candidate to a children's toy.
Asked by a CNN anchor if the primaries had forced Romney to tack "so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election," Ferhnstrom responded, "Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."
Of course, the gaffe was overhyped by the media and by Romney's GOP rivals. And, yes, there's a perfectly plausible defense of Fehrnstrom's statement. Every presidential contest restarts once the nominee has been picked and the general election commences.
But Ferhnstrom should know that he shouldn't say anything -- and I mean anything -- that reinforces the idea that Romney is a flip-flopper, a people-pleaser, a weather vane or, now, an Etch A Sketch. It's less than a novel insight to note that Romney's greatest vulnerability is that he seems insincere and that it appears his commitment to conservatism is entirely tactical. Ferhnstrom should know this. He's the communications director, for Pete's sake. He's supposed to be the guy with the hose putting out fires, not throwing gas on them.