There was a stumbling moment in Robert Kennedy's run for the White House in 1968 when he jokingly referred to the "well-oiled Kennedy machine."
At the time, the New York senator and brother of slain President John F. Kennedy, was sliding into a tight nomination race with longshot candidate Eugene McCarthy -- one Senator Kennedy might embarrassingly lose. He did, however, right his campaign ship, and at the time he was murdered that June after his win in the California Democratic Primary, he seemed on his way to victory at the convention and in November.
Contrast that with the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. His convention was less than a week ago, and already the glaring flaws in his always-squeaky campaign are resurfacing -- despite some effectively delivered speeches by the nominee and several other Republicans.
This can only be a problem that starts at the top and seeps down. This in a Romney campaign that, unlike Senator Kennedy's, which began in March 1968 after President Lyndon Johnson suddenly dropped out of the race -- has been going full bore since his days as Massachusetts governor (2002-06), and really earlier.
Yet Mr. Romney is still forever uptight, out of tune and off-kilter, and a newly aggressive President Obama and his campaign team -- channeling Harry Truman a bit -- are eagerly ripping into the Republican's platforms and promises.
Asking whether Americans are "better off than four years ago," in a tepid imitation of Ronald Reagan, was seriously lame, as the president is now pointing out. Of course we are better off than we were four years ago.
The year 2009 was just after Republican George W. Bush had presided over a huge run-up of the national debt, started two wars that were not going well at the time, and we had experienced a financial meltdown that was almost entirely caused by a lack of oversight by the federal government: Mr. Bush's federal government.
And Mr. Romney seems eager to take us right back there -- or back even further, as the president said, to the days of now ancient TV reruns that play in black and white.
Speaking in Detroit over the Labor Day weekend, the president also pointed out that Mr. Romney was opposed to the "bailout" of the U.S. auto industry, which has now come back strong and paid back most of the federal financing that helped save GM and Chrysler.
As with his refusal to release more information on his tax returns and foreign investments, Mr. Romney seems forever programmed to say or do the wrong thing. For a president, that's not so good.
There was no real harm done during his recent trip to Europe and the Middle East, but several statements ticked off various nations and/or factions unnecessarily and could only be described as boneheaded.
And let's not forget his comments about not being concerned about the poor and that "corporations are people too," all of which feed into a disturbing trend whether you are a supporter or political opponent of this man.
His tough guy comments last week about how he would show Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Iranians what's what were also reckless for any potential president. What happens if he soon finds himself in the Oval Office and the buck stops with him? Will he bungle into a nuclear exchange with the Russians or allow the Mideast to explode and shut down our access to Saudi oil reserves?
That would go over well. That would really show them. The underlying problem is that he keeps getting himself into positions from which only swift and likely counterproductive decisions might extricate him.
Senator Kennedy could joke about his campaign sputtering through the primaries, because he could also draw upon his time as a president's closest adviser, as U.S. attorney general, and as a New York senator, and knew he could do much better.
At this point, who believes, deep down, that rigid Mitt Romney is quick enough on his feet and flexible enough in a crisis to be president? Does he give off those vibes to anyone? Who believes he would make the right choices at critical moments so that the economy and the nation could at least keep moving ahead, not fall backward?
President Obama has done that for four years, despite intense opposition and having a historic economic hill to climb, and in some cases he has done more. He has been there, done that, and learned much about Washington and the international stage that he didn't know in 2009.
Mr. Romney, on the other hand, continues to be exposed for what he isn't, and may never be.