Saturday, March 16, 2013

Scott Prouty: A "Regular Guy" with Irregular Integrity

Need inspiration? If you haven't done so already, watch the first interview (which aired on The ED Show Wednesday night) with Scott Prouty, the Boston (!) bartender who recorded the infamous "47 percent" video at Mitt Romney's fundraiser.

I remember how glad I was when that clip came out.  It confirmed my personal suspicions about Romney's real worldview, and I hoped it would be as damning as it seemed.  In fact, I remember being stunned after the first debate that it still seemed like Romney had a real chance, that one (admittedly superior) debate performance could effectively neutralize his candid words from just a few weeks before.  Even so, the video and Romney's remarks turned out not to be a flash in the pan but an enduring wound that may very well have cost him the election.

I voted for Obama.  And I like honesty (honesty's my favorite!), I like when dishonesty is exposed beyond repair.  So yeah, I'm a big fan of this video.

As for the source, I'd always just assumed there was an Obama supporter among the waitstaff who covertly started recording, got really lucky, and sent the video to a news outlet, earning their 15 minutes of personal glory for a spectacular, but ultimately minuscule, act of civic engagement (which is probably what I'd have done) .

Turns out the story behind the video, and videographer, is not so simple. Prouty is a registered "Independent" who is admittedly left-leaning; but he's also open-minded, intelligent, humble, and sincere. Once he decided to make the video accessible, after weeks of careful consideration, he oversaw the process himself, conducted research, and collaborated with journalists and activists he admired, so that he could circulate the video as widely as possible, and in a manner would keep the focus on the content of Romney's words to his guests. Integrity and civic responsibility guided factored into every decision.

Now that he's outed himself, rather than take money for interviews, he's taking a job with United Steelworkers to promote workers' rights. For Prouty, the "47 percent" comment wasn't even the most egregious remark Romney made that night. Rather, it was Romney's callous anecdote about Bane Capital buying a factory in China.

(From left) Kernaghan, Prouty, and host Ed Schultz
Not surprisingly, Prouty is being touted as a hero.  Lord knows he looks the part.  In the interview he is charming yet modest, and while Ed Schultz is certainly a sympathetic interviewer, Prouty seems impervious to attack, so quick is he to point out his limitations, and to give away his accolades to those he feels are more deserving (like the labor rights activist Charles Kernaghan who joined Prouty for part of the interview) because they've dedicated "years" to their cause.

And just for garnish, it turns out that a few years ago Prouty also saved the life of a woman who nearly drowned in her submerged car.

The relative silence of the right-wing media following the interview may serve to confirm this invulnerability.  And of course it's always exciting, and a relief, to encounter an untouchable hero, especially on the political stage, (and especially when he's on your side).

And I agree, Prouty is a hero.  But is it "bravery," a willingness to endure the scrutiny and attacks which might come with his decision to release the video, as many have claimed?  Perhaps.  Then again, it's hard to imagine him ultimately making the opposite decision: to sit on it.  And so far, three days after the interview, Prouty seems unscathed.  Hopefully it stays that way.

For me, what makes him a hero is his decision not just to "release the video" but to take full responsibility for the process and consequences, to invest ample time and mental energy, rather than simply handing it over.  That's what makes this story bigger than a hack-stunt or a lucky break, etc.

The "47 percent" video was already bound to endure in history as a hard lesson in political campaigning, but Prouty's involvement elevates the video to a morality tale: You can only whistle so many different tunes before your act is exposed; all it takes is one humble citizen with conviction and a camera.