June 7, 2012
I can't put it off any longer. It's time for me to write about Mitt Romney.
The problem with writing about Mitt Romney is that there's so little to write about, and with what little there is, there's so little to think about.
I'm not alone here. Even the top left-leaning pundits are stymied. Most of what they come up with — family dog on top of car, wife's two (or is it three?) Cadillacs, prep-school hazing incident, etc. — is a grasp at straws. The paucity of political plunder is so severe that they keep recycling the same old stories and gaffes while waiting for new ones to turn up.
The now-iconic photo of a distant Romney delivering a major policy speech to an almost empty stadium some months ago is worth a thousand words, among which are "almost empty."
This is a guy who has given new meaning to the term "stump speech." Even in so-called newsmaker interviews, the clichés are all the same: It's socialism-this and repeal-that, jobs here and jobs there; a businessman will Trump (sic) a politician at governance; cut taxes, cut spending, more and still more for the military; Afghanistan without an exit, Syria without a solution; Russia as Evil Empire, the U.N. as Evil Umpire; Israel: Good, Iran: Bad.
With a platform as wobbly as that, you'd think a couple well-placed nudges from Obama would make it collapse right under Romney, but no. For one thing, Obama never seems to know the weakest beams to nudge, and for another, nobody ever went broke underestimating the sway of slogans and simplisms on the American people.
Having a stump for a candidate is nothing new, but the possibility of electing one should quicken the recent memory of the citizenry. After eight excruciating years of hosting G. W. Bush in my car by day and my home by night, I thought no one could be worse in terms of public presence. But Romney's soporific inflection (even in excitement), his inarticulation, his forced flippancy almost make you long for the Good Ole Boy. Almost. Even if you end up voting for him, the mere fact of having a person with such a persona heading up a national ticket makes it embarrassing to be an American. If I weren't such a stringent supporter of minimalist government, I'd call for a "No Candidate Left Behind" law.
Barack Obama should be able to parry Romney's feeble thrusts with his nimble rhetorical swordsmanship, but those erstwhile soaring speeches of "hope" and "change" have played out disappointingly in the face of practical governance, and it's unlikely he'll be able to entrance a less desperate and more critical electorate the second time around.
Obama's real chance to best Romney is in debate, but his scripted wizardry before the crowds doesn't translate to a give- and-take format, and having a lackluster opponent will only increase his tendency to stammer and plod. If only Newt Gingrich could have had a go at him.
The Etch-a-Sketch candidate should easily be defeated by his own device. How can one vote for a man who'll switch colors like a chameleon to fit any background, a man who sidesteps his own decent record as a governor, a man who's been running for President for years and yet claims he's not a politician? What does such a disposition bode for a presidency? In addition to giving new meaning to the term "stump speech," he's given new meaning to the word "change."
But there he is, running neck-and-neck with an incumbent whose foreign policy offers few complaints except from the war- hawks, who's passed a health-insurance plan lifted from Romney's previous incarnation, who bailed out an auto industry Romney had sooner let die, and who, far from being a "socialist," has hewed a course so moderate it's annoyed many to his left.
Romney is neck-and-neck because slogan is more alluring than substance. But watch out, America: Behind the slogan is a vacuum of ideas.
There's no there there.