Vanity Fair promised to reveal the “dark side” of Mitt Romney, in their current issue. In that article we discovered that Romney is an especially devoted family man, a uxorious husband, a faithful member of his church, and an industrious worker who abjures all trivial socializing to make a priority of more important things in life. His tax records also reveal a man who diligently tithes to his church and gives generously to charity. Some dark side!
I’d love to vote for someone with a more conservative record than Mitt Romney. But, I can’t help noticing that he might just be America’s greatest eagle scout.
Yet people just seem to love kicking him, or seeing him beat up. And the dark pleasure people take oin tearing him down may lead to the death of his candidacy.
It’s simple: conspicuous virtue is now a serious–perhaps fatal–handicap in American electoral politics.
Of course Romney has other flaws as a candidate, namely his record in Massachusetts. But Gingrich’s record is no better or much worse. But Gingrich has been giving a better performance on stage of national politics. He has a certain kind of charisma that Romney lacks.
Kevin Michael Grace, editor of Resource Clips, pointed me to an interview in which Marshall McLuhan explained “charisma” in the television age. He was being asked about Jimmy Carter’s surprisingly effective performances on television.
“[Carter] looks like an awful lot of other people. He looks like an all-American boy. He look like all the American boys that ever were, which is charisma. Charisma means looking like a lot of other people. If you just look like yourself, you have no charisma. So Carter has a lot of built-in charisma of looking like a lot of other guys, very acceptable guys.”
Mitt Romney doesn’t look like a lot of other people. Even the people you think he might look like–maybe Goldman Sachs guys–look at this family man and just want to spit on him.
And you may have noticed, many politicians actually seem to benefit from a little vice in their life. Bill Clinton was able to take advantage of an intern then rally the American people and feminists against his accusers. His impeachment at the hands of a hypocritical chorus actually gave moral drama to his second term, and made him more popular than ever.
Newt Gingrich (one of those exact hypocrites!) is a twice-divorced two-timer who very likely did ask his second wife for an open marriage. Yet he was able to marshall righteous indignation of a conservative Christian audience in his favour against a debate moderator.
Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich look (or looked) like a lot of other people. Guys who like to eat a little more than they should, who like other women a little more than she should; guys who want and need attention a little more than they should.
The very expression we use to judge a candidate’s in-touchness with the American seems to imply a few dirty jokes and gossip. Would you have a beer with him?
It easier to imagine a more morally exacting question “Would you have let your young daughter date him?”
Most Americans would get a beer with Clinton. And thus they’d vote for him. But they’d rather have had Romney date their young daughter. And that’s a problem for Romney.
Democratic politics is about affiliation. Mass democracy means that people vote according to cultural cues. To degrees voters begin to identify with Red or Blue America. They vote Republican because they hate the brie-nibbling media telling them what to think or believe. Or they vote Democrat to stick it to those melted-Velveeta eating Bible thumpers. Politicians find success by letting the largest share of voters project their aspirations and resentments through the candidate and onto the American Republic.
Romney is too distinguished by his success, by his good looks, his clean living, and picture-perfect family to be the vehicle through which a mass of today’s Americans express themselves in politics. We can forgive riches (George W. Bush), or a little vice (Clinton), or a good family life (Obama), so long as there is a little tinge of the frathouse or at least a cigarette habit to offset it.
In a society that assumes equality–that we’re all basically the same–Mitt Romney just stands a little too tall and straight. And that is why members of the media, his fellow candidates, and a large swath of his party cannot conceal their glee watching him taken down a peg.
It would be better for him if he was cheating on his taxes a little.
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