Why, Oh Why Must I Have Mitt Romney’s Back?

 ”I’m delightful now!”

I still hate Mitt Romney, but it continues to get under my skin when he gets knocked for presentational hangups he had four years ago, but has now largely gotten over. As much as I adore Rachel Maddow, for example, her hammering of Romney night after night for his rich-guy persona is beginning to border on the kind of mockery one gets from snooty girls in high school. Not that I know anything about that.

As I’ve stated before, Romney is a thousand times the candidate he was last time around, and as a student of politics, I’m amazed and fascinated by it. And yes, as a victim of bullying and stereotyping, I’m really bothered when Romney is attacked over and over again for stupid crap like a goofy picture of himself from a million years ago. I guess I feel for him. Lord knows he doesn’t need my sympathy, the rich Republican bastard, but there it is.

The New York Times today does a service by acknowledging and explaining Romney’s astounding improvement as a campaigner, which, in essence, boils down to what has likewise made Al Gore, for example, a much more appealing media figure: he’s started to just be himself.

But even here, I feel like Romney doesn’t get a fair shake. Witness this take on his sense of humor:

… the awkward jokes are not completely missing. At a stop in Milford, N.H., recently, Ms. Romney said she was eager to show voters “the other side of Mitt.”

He suddenly turned around to show his backside, prompting laughter from the crowd and from his wife, “Oh, dear.”

Awkward? Are you kidding me? That shit’s gold. And it takes balls to make a goofball, totally unexpected joke like that, particularly when you’re running for president and you’re Mitt-frickin’-Romney.

Oh, jeebus, listen to me. I need to take a shower.

I Hate Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney for President!

I don’t think those of us in the reality-based community are sufficiently panicked about the prospect of a Rick Perry presidency. First, it’s foolish to think that Barack Obama has this election in the bag no matter who the GOP nominates. Second, Rick Perry is running away with this primary right now, besting Romney by double digits in most national and state polls. Third and most importantly, he’s just the right combination of dumb, ruthless, and insane to be formidable, electable, and unthinkably dangerous. Dangerous in foreign policy, dangerous in his rejection of science (or better-put, “knowledge”), dangerous in how he is likely to treat the poor and uninsured, dangerous in his brazen theocratic leanings. Dangerous, really, because he could win and start getting his way.

In most conventional races, one hopes that the opposing party nominates their craziest partisan so that our guy or gal can crush them in the center-focused general election. Perhaps in most cycles, Perry would be among that group of candidates. I’d be a little giddier if I thought, say, Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich were close to scoring the top of the GOP ticket. For the Republicans to nominate a less rabid conservative would make Obama’s chances all the narrower. But Perry has emerged in a unique time, a time in which a charming, folksy nut bag can take advantage of the desperation, ignorance, and fear of even the political center and win the White House.

Now, there is no acceptable GOP candidate (save perhaps Jon Huntsman, who I think could make a plausible run for the Democratic nomination as a kind of moderate, blue dog type). All of them would be disastrous for the country, disaster for the principles held dear by liberals, disaster for the poor and working classes, disaster for the separation of church and state, disaster for national security and foreign policy.

But there are degrees. No one would doubt, for example, in 2000, that even though George W. Bush turned out to be a disaster of unpredictable proportions, that, say, a Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes presidency would have been triply or quadruply worse. There are degrees.

This is why progressives and Democrats (not the same thing) should defy convention. Stop rooting for a Bachmann or Palin nomination, because neither will happen. Likewise, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain are all destined to at some point lose this nomination race. There are only two possibilities: Perry and Mitt Romney. Rooting for Perry is total folly. He could be elected, perhaps rather easily, and would be perhaps the most damaging of any of the aforementioned candidates (save perhaps Bachmann, but she lacks any political skill for actual governing, which I will get to). Given the very real — even likely — possibility of a Republican in the White House in 2013, there is really only one thing left to say.

Mitt Romney for president!

Not really ”for president” of course. But liberals should wish with all their hearts, and do whatever they can, to see that Romney wins the GOP nomination. Do opposition research for him on Perry, lift up other right-wing candidates to steal his thunder, speak well of Romney — in conservative terms of course, whenever possible. (Example: “It sure seems like Romney has a better plan for lowering taxes than Perry.”) If you can spare it, donate to Romney’s campaign, and specify it for the primary season.

I know this sounds crazy, but it’s crucial. Less than keeping Obama in office, progressives should really focus their efforts on making sure Rick Perry never becomes president. Ever. That means taking the chance that Romney might be instead.

You know I loathe Mitt Romney. To make a casefor him pains me more than I can tell you. But many of those reasons for which he earns my disgust are the very reasons why he would be preferable to Perry. Consider:

    • The most obvious: Romney is at his heart more moderate than Perry. Yes, his positions on gay marriage, abortion, taxes, health care, etc. are wrong, but they are less wrong than Perry’s.
  • He is far smarter than Perry, and far less jingoistic. While he has made no bones about publicly detesting Obama’s insufficient slobbering love for American super-awesomeness, he is at least a shrewd and subtle thinker who is less prone to blunder the country into some military disaster because of some knee-jerk macho overreaction.
  • Most importantly: Mitt Romney has no principles. He is of and entwined with the rich establishment, but he is primarily concerned with self-elevation. His flip-floppiness, his willingness to say and do anything to earn political favor make him a far better Republican to have in charge than the Idiot King, Rick “Treat-Him-Pretty-Ugly” Perry.

Think about it. Though we are, for now, taking an unfortunate and dangerous lurch to the right in American politics, it can not be permanent. If 2006 and 2008 taught us anything, it’s that Republican policies and behavior allowed to run rampant eventually make their flaws transparent. The country will lurch back toward the center.

With Perry in the Oval Office, he will, even more so than George W. Bush, stand firm in his wrongheadedness, and remain steadfast in fighting for his far-right laundry list of tragic priorities.

But Romney will feel those political winds, and bend with them. To every breeze and gust of moderation and progressivism, Romney will open himself up like a sail and drift, drift. Romney is eminently pliable, and that is our best hope. As his only concern will be his own preservation, a President Romney would adjust his course as the political currents take the country in directions he would normally find uncomfortable — but not unfamiliar. Romney the Senate candidate backed abortion rights. Romney the governor passed universal health care. All because his constituency, the source of his political winds in Massachusetts, was center-left.

Perry is a terrifying threat to the health of our democracy, to the integrity of everything America has achieved since Roosevelt. Both of them, even! Romney would be a huge disappointment, and do his own level of damage to the country. But the impact crater of his presidency’s collision with the electorate would be far smaller than if we ran headlong into a Perry presidency.

So I say without reservation: Until August 27, 2012 at the opening of the Republican National Convention, Romney for president!

In (Reluctant) Defense of Mitt Romney

 

EXCLUSIVE: Human beings enjoying the company of Mitt Romney

I have no love for Willard “Mitt” Romney. He has consistently proven that he is an unprincipled opportunist who bends with every minor political breeze. There is no shortage of statements he’s made and positions he’s held that deserve criticism and ridicule.

So my feeling is, let’s stick to criticizing those, and not go grasping at straws and doing what we liberals accuse the right of doing: taking things unfairly out of context to score political points and enjoy some schadenfreude.

The two hits against Romney I’m thinking of in particular have been around for a while now, but were recently re-aired by Rachel Maddow (whom I usually adore) a few nights back to prove a case that Romney’s camp is opting for The Full Thurston. They simply don’t hold up to be attack-worthy in my opinion.

The first is Romney’s response to hecklers a while back when he inartfully declared, “Corporations are people, my friend.” By itself, it seems risible; Look at that rich guy saying that evil corporations are the same as humans! Of course he would think that, that mean, out-of-touch richie-rich!

But here’s the entirety of his response to the hecklers:

Corporations are people, my friend. [laughter from hecklers] of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? [Hecklers shout something about “in their pockets”] Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings my friend.

I’ll be the first to tell you that this is not the way I would have phrased this, if I were on Romney’s side. It doesn’t help that he says that said money goes to “the people” rather than just “people.” But his meaning is clear, and in fact correct: Corporations are made up of human beings who are making money. I don’t like that corporation people are making so much money and doing so at the expense of the rest of the species, you know, at all, but it remains that what Romney said is true. That money goes into the “pockets” of actual humans. Just very, very, very few.

Importantly, Romney was not saying that corporations deserve special rights, nor was he saying that corporations are the equivalents of human beings. He might very well believe those things, but he didn’t make that case here. This hit on Romney is illegitimate, and we supposedly reasonable liberals and rationalists should cut it out.

Second is Romney’s “I’m also unemployed” joke from a few weeks ago. This line was trumpeted across the political media as the ultimate bonehead, unsympathetic, Scrooge-like crack of the century as though Romney was mocking the jobless before taking a big dive into his money bin.

Okay, so Romney very well may have a money bin that he swims in. I don’t know. But if you watch the video and see it — again — in the full context, this is obviously not where Romney is coming from. He is using the jobless situation in America as a central theme of his campaign — a reason why he should be elected above anyone else — and holds events and discussions around the theme, naturally.

Now, everyone knows he’s super-rich. He’s not hiding it, he’s not ashamed of it, and in the abstract, he has no reason to be (how he got rich is another matter for another post). Since everyone comes to the table (literally, in this case) with the knowledge that Romney is Governor Moneybags, and because he is establishing a conversational rapport with the people at this event, it makes perfect sense to make a little “Ha, ha, I’m also unemployed” gag to ease any  tension and break some ice. Lord knows, Romney needs all the help he can get with that.

Or does he? Look at the video in full context. The first thing I think you’ll notice is that everyone there is laughing when he makes the joke, and they even join in. The feelings are genuine, and no one there is expressing even a hint of resentment. They get it: He’s rich, he’s running for president.

But also notice that after the joking, Romney takes a new, sincere tone, and expresses what appears to be a genuine concern for the psychological impact of joblessness. Is it genuine? I have no idea. But contrary to the usual rap against Romney that he’s awkward and too weird to be president, this is a strong moment of connection for him that is obviously being overshadowed by a political media with no sense of humor.

Again, from a political standpoint, I would not have made that joke. Feelings are too raw all around to make joblessness a gag on the campaign trail. But in context, it worked, and the folks on the receiving end were obviously just fine with it, and put at ease as they sit at a table with someone who might be the next president.

Nothing upsets me more in politics than the way the right lies and distorts in order to make their case. I don’t at all mind nailing a politician for being genuinely wrong or for showing exactly what it is they really think via some Kinsleyan gaffe. But the attacks on Romney in these two cases don’t hold water. There’s plenty more on which he can be called out, with derision and ferocity, but these are not even close to that. We lefties can and should do better.

Romney and Gore as Victims of Bullying

Jonathan Chait manages to come to the justified defense of Al Gore, attack the political media for its laziness and shallowness, and make me sympathetic with Mitt Romney, all in one fell swoop.

An Al Gore problem is what happens when the media forms an impression of your character and decides to cram every irrelevant detail of your appearance and behavior into that frame, regardless of whether or not it means anything. Thus Romney’s hair and lack of tie are now evidence of a character flaw, as is his decision to give a detailed policy lecture in a university town without being officially sponsored by a University. An Al Gore problem results in the media ganging up on a candidate like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he’s doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative.

Boy, does this hit home for me. For those who were bullied in school, you recognize this drill. No matter what you do to neutralize yourself so that you can be at least somewhat inoculated from abuse, it doesn’t take. The very act of trying not to be mocked becomes something to mock. It never occurred to me to apply this to public figures, and certainly not politicians. But the pathology, as Chait calls it, is remarkably similar.

All that said, Mitt Romney is still a phony, but that’s because of his transparent zig-zag on matters of policy and his almost pathetic levels of pandering to whatever constituency he is trying to impress. But that’s not a reason to see his neckwear choice as a trait of his fitness for office.

The Unforgivable Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is waving his proverbial arms about this week, getting as much attention for himself on TV, readying himself to run for president again. Most of the chatter around his probable candidacy revolves around the similarity between “Obamacare” and his own health care reform law from when he was governor of Massachusetts. Liberals are of course enjoying the sight as he squirms his way out of comparisons between the two initiatives, despite their striking similarities, and in the mean time he’s doing his best to keep the focus on how he doesn’t like Obama and how he really is pal of the teabagger mob. That part is kind of sad.

There’s lots to laugh at when it comes to Mitt. Though I am not one to chide a politician for principled mind-changing, Romney really is a caricature of the flip-flopper. He’s the archetype.

But there’s something quite serious about his potential candidacy and presidency that I hope the chattering class keeps in mind. When he bowed out of the GOP primaries in 2008, it wasn’t enough for him to admit that the math wasn’t going to add up and that McCain had beaten him. This is how he explained his decision to concede the nomination:

Frankly, [by remaining in the race] I’d be making it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win … I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.

Mitt Romney, a Man Who Would Be President of All Americans, said that the victory of a Democratic candidate would be a de facto surrender to the likes of al-Qaeda. It’s one thing for a bone-headed right wing radio moron to make that claim. It’s another for someone who aspires to be the leader of both red and blue America.

It’s a grotesque and irresponsible thing to say, particularly from someone of his stature. (And from the former governor of the most liberal state in the union, the vast majority of whom would be voting for the Democrat. Does Mitt think Massachusetts has surrendered to terror?) And it was glossed over by the political press at the time as just a kind of hard-hitting thing to say. A “jab.”

(And don’t you just love how he opens it with “frankly,” like he’s only now going to tell it like it really is.)

Sarah Palin played with this theme of “palling around” with terrorists and John McCain did a lot of winking and nodding in the direction of Obama’s otherness. But Romney made no bones, no innuendo. He equated the Democratic Party’s standard-bearers with an America enslaved by violent fundamentalist Islam, and in doing so, made like he was doing us all a favor.

Elizabeth Dole and the GOP Tell Me to Go to Hell

My day was flat out ruined by a political ad.

I’m very passionate about politics to begin with, but usually if a political ad upsets me it’s in the direction of worry (”this is gonna kill us!”) or rage (”that’s a filthy lie!”). But this ad ruined my day because it made me feel a certain emotion in a way I don’t think I had before.

Offense.

People throw that term around pretty loosely in politics these days. If I were to summarize the 2008 presidential election, I don’t think I’d be too far off if I described it as a competition to see which campaign could take more “offense” at the other.

“That was sexist! How dare you?”

“You accused me of racism! That’s the race card! How dare you?”

Etcetera.

But the offense I’m talking about is the kind that really inflames the kind of anger that is one of the ingredients for cohesion in (I cringe at this term) identity politics. This offense is not the false umbrage of Geraldine Ferraro or Carly Fiorina, but the kind that emerges when a statement is made that explicitly says that one group of people is not welcome in America, that associating with them is an example of a flaw in one’s character. Of course, I’m not talking about associations with people who are legitimately questionable (had Barack Obama actually been a member of the Weather Underground, for example, I could see people having reservations). I’m talking about a group of Americans that is vilified even though they are law-abiding, decent, thoughtful citizens.

We’re familiar with this kind of bigotry in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. In all cases, it is obviously unacceptable, and more to the point, an example of willful ignorance and/or maleficence on the part of the person advocating for exclusion. What we never talk about, though, is prejudice against people with no religion.

Having made some minor rumblings about this a couple of months ago, the reelection campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina along with the National Republican Senatorial Committee have released ads on TV and the web attacking Democratic challenger Kay Hagan for the most unforgivable of sins: consorting with atheists.

Here is the Dole campaign’s ad. Watch and then keep reading below.

Kay Hagan is upset mainly because the ad implies that she is an atheist, which she certainly is not, and is right to be upset at this misrepresentation. I am upset because the ad implies that because I am an atheist, I am someone who no self-respecting public figure should ever come in contact with. In other words, as then-candidate George H.W. Bush said in 1987, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.”

In my stomach-sickening anger after seeing this ad (and then later the NRSC’s web ad which displays the word “Godless” in smeary, blood-red letters), I wondered why we see so little of this kind of attack, accusing one’s opponent of being an atheist (of course, Obama is being compared to Karl “Religion-is-the-Opiate-of-the-Masses” Marx). Of course, the answer is that there are essentially no atheists in public life. Why is that? The unspoken religious test that disqualifies all atheists from serving in public office (unspoken until, of course, these ads).

There are two exceptions, of course, that I know of. Rep. Pete Stark of California is a non-believing Unitarian, and there is a Nebraska state legislator named Ernie Chambers who is also an atheist (and attempted to sue God, who did not show up for his court date despite calls of “come out, come out, wherever you are”). I know nothing about local Nebraska politics, so I have to chalk Mr. Chambers’ election up to a quirk of the region, and Rep. Stark has been serving in Congress for 18 terms, and only revealed his godlessness to his very liberal constituency last year.

The point is that it’s nearly impossible to accuse public figures of atheism if atheists are not allowed out in public.

Of course, there remains bigotry toward women, racial minorities, homosexuals, and people of faith. In these cases, however, it is now the mainstream position that this kind of prejudice is not okay, and any manifestation of this bigotry must be done covertly, with code, and hints, and innuendo. For atheists, however, a group differentiated only in their utilization of reason over superstition, are not allowed within this political force field. The Dole campaign and the Republican Party have made it clear that it is still okay to express open bigotry and hate toward atheists.

Or is it? These ads are relatively new, and Dole and the Senate Republicans are desperate. Perhaps there is still time for wiser voices in our political discourse to call this what it is: baseless discrimination and unwarranted prejudice.

I have little hope, but I have some. When Mitt Romney gave his semi-famous “religion speech” during the Republican primaries, he made two notable statements: “Any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty has a friend and ally in me,” and most notably, made the starkly definitive statement, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Much to my surprise, major media figures such as Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos pressed Romney and his campaign as to whether Romney meant to explicitly exclude atheists from “freedom,” citizenship, or less importantly, his friendship. Romney, notably, walked his words back, and allowed a begrudging place for atheists in America. Thanks, Mitt.

But as of now, the ire against Dole and her pals is all focused on misrepresenting Hagan’s religion, with little about how the ads spit on nonreligious Americans, treat them like criminals, and declare them unacceptable in American society.

So I’m experiencing a small taste of offense in the way that I expect many other oppressed groups have experienced it. Of course, no one is locking me up, telling me where I can drink from a fountain, where I can sit on a bus, or keeping me from voting. But now I am more certain than ever that if many people had their way, they would.