There are myriad ways Mitt Romney could have attempted to recover from his unfortunate gaffe, if that's what it was. At best, his jarring and much-ridiculed statement last week that "corporations are people, folks" was a very ineloquent way of saying that ultimately, all organizations are comprised of people, and while we may argue about the politics, merits, failings and leadership of those organizations, among other things, we should never forget the fact that it is the people who make these organizations what they are, and we still have to care about the people. Fine, if that's what he'd said. Maybe I'm naive, but I really believe that's what he meant.
But it wasn't what he said. And he didn't say "corporations, just like labor unions, like associations, like universities--all have one thing in common--people--and that's who we care about, and who our government should be all about," Lame, perhaps, and perchance a Republican white-bread spin on the old "power to the people" mantra from the 60's, though that particular mantra itself might well have evoked memories that no party-fearing Republican would wish to conjure up.
When given the chance to clear it all up, Romney didn't say anything like that either. For Romney, who already has the albatross of being a former hedge-fund, analytical corporate type hanging around his neck, his statement just reinforced those perceptions, which do little good in this radical neo-populist phase of the GOP's existence. He just stuck to his guns, bore in more deeply, and kept insisting incredulously that "corporations are people, my friend. " Romney failed to even mention other kinds of organizations like labor unions at that point--just to make his original point more, well, democratic sounding. OK, it might have been perceived as backpedaling and more "shape shifting" by Romney, something he truly doesn't need. But he should have tried.
Putting aside the legal nicety that corporations, in the eyes of the law, are defined as "persons," no politician, regardless of party, should ever provide emotional succor to corporations themselves when it's people whose votes you're after, especially given what many corporations have done themselves in recent years to tarnish their own reputations, all by themselves, as incompetent, unethical, poorly-managed and self-interested (the last not a crime).
Perhaps Romney could have even turned this unfortunate statement to his advantage by poking fun at himself. He could have said, for example, that "if there was ever any doubt that I am a human being and not a robot, my dumb way of making my point should remove all doubt, since we all know that humans make mistakes. So I'm glad that you now know that I AM, contrary to rumor, a member of the human race. What I meant, and should have said, was...."
Romney had ample opportunity to get it right in the first place, and to try and clarify his statement in a way that might have at least given himself some help, even if he ultimately only reinforced his tendency to be stilted and a bit awkward. By now, sadly, it's probably too late, and Romney has only himself to blame.