Jacob Weisberg, "Is Mitt Romney Al Gore? The Republican front-runner is too handsome, too rich, and too pompous." February 1
RIGHT on schedule, and right in the expected location, Beltway insiders look for a new place to snooze now that the Republican primaries are over. Sooo over:
Republicans are doing something quite strange at the moment. They are in the process of choosing a candidate whom hardly any of them actually likes. Though Mitt Romney won the Florida primary handily yesterday, rumbles of dissatisfaction with him continue.* Romney isn’t so much winning the Republican nomination as having it default to him for lack of any compelling alternative.
The case for voting for Romney goes as follows: Of the Republican presidential candidates, he is the only one with any real chance of defeating President Obama in November. In support of this electability hypothesis, Romney’s advocates elaborate such qualities as the candidate’s lack of any obvious mental defect, the nonextremity of his views, and his vastly superior financial and organizational resources. Seldom, however, do his half-hearted supporters evince any affection or enthusiasm for the man himself. They generally acknowledge Romney to be an insipid, somewhat blank personality, who is almost absurdly variable in his positions and core beliefs.
Quite strange at the moment? At the moment they're being forced to choose. For the past year they been bouncing around a Dodge 'Em Car collection of mental defectives in an effort to find Anybody But Mitt. Maybe that's normal, expected behavior, but it's still fucking strange.
Weisberg knows this, of course. And the truth is that the combination of Press biorhythms and a collection of Republican candidates so pathetically lacking in the basic qualities Republicans apparently require of their national candidates--a) susceptibility to gravitation and b) the ability to form sounds approximating English--the qualifications that made Sarah Palin the most popular part of the ticket 3-1/2 years ago--made the whole grim Alabaster Republican parade open to criticism for the first time the Reagantot generation learned to type. Though Slate's arch political columnist opted at first to tell us what a skilled orator Michele Bachmann had turned out to be.
This is precisely what happened in '96 with Bob Dole, and last time 'round with the "moderate" and Press favorite emeritus-turned-geezer John McCain. Movement "conservative" candidates have been uniformly short of brainpower since Ronald Reagan picked up the Goldwater mantle. The Press refuses to say so. The only time Palin was called a ninny four years ago is when Peggy Noonan and Chuck Todd thought their mikes were off. We went though eight years of Obvious Obliviousness of George W. Bush; Weisberg made some bucks on the man's foolish utterances, but only after 2000, when America was informed (as it will be again, shortly), that this made Ol' Dubya just our kind. Strange? This is what the Republican party has been since 1980.
In this respect, Romney strongly resembles two similarly unloved Democratic nominees from the recent past, Al Gore and John Kerry. Gore and Kerry both suffered from the same characterizations that get applied to Romney—too wooden in person while too flexible in their views. Their supporters often argued that qualifications were what mattered. But ominously for Romney, both Gore and Kerry lost winnable races because of their flawed personalities. George W. Bush, on the other hand, got elected and re-elected, despite his enormous, substantive shortcomings, because ordinary people found it easy to relate to him at a personal level. They felt he wasn’t trying to be someone different from who he was.
And this sort of nonsense is now celebrated! By a guy who writes about politics for a living.
So lemme ask you something: assuming that you, unlike Weisberg, were sentient, conscious, and/or did not get all of your political information from transcripts of Tony Blankely's comments on The MacLaughlin Group or David Broder columns in 2000--and thus have a fighting chance of recalling that Al Gore actually won the 2000 election--were you aware of any groundswell of eagerness to share a couple Mickey's Big Mouths with George W. Bush? Or was that pure Beltway blather that later hardened into something resembling calcified thought, or frozen spittle?
The public usually picks up on this authenticity gap—the space between who the candidate really is and how he wants to be seen. In each case, the problem manifests itself in a slight different way. A technocrat by nature, Gore disliked the performative side of politics. He wildly overcompensated for this by angrily shouting his speeches at rallies and demonstrating ardor for his now ex-wife with a soul kiss at the Democratic convention. His hyperbolic passion on the campaign trail made it a simple matter for Republicans to brand Gore as a compulsive exaggerator who claimed to have invented the Internet. Kerry’s problem was that he was pompous, too senatorial, and loved of the sound of his own voice. This allowed the Bush re-election campaign in 2004 to paint him Kerry as “French”: an effete snob and an unprincipled flip-flopper.
In 2000 the Press went out of its way to avoid mentioning Bush's enormous, substantive shortcomings. Who th' fuck cared about Gore's earth tones, aside from Maureen Dowd? And who th' fuck cares what Maureen Dowd says, or "thinks"? Gore may have had some serious shortcomings as a national candidate, but they weren't the ones the Press clucked about incessantly. Kerry may be a stiff, but what "made it easy"for Republicans to pull the Flip-Flopper gag was that the Press ate it with a spoon. And the Swiftboating, which Weisberg seems to've forgotten, was a national disgrace of the first order. I still think about it every time the locals run another Soldier Dad Hero Veteran story, which is pretty much every day. The Press had the opportunity, and the obligation, to treat that story with the harsh light of truth it deserved. Instead it treated it with the deference it's given every crackpot Republican idea since the Nixon administration.
Is it really the Press' job to tell me someone's "in love with the sound of his own voice"? Instead of, you know, the words that're coming out? Who's the Press had love affairs with since whoring for Reagan? Ross Perot. John McCain. George W. Barack Obama. Sarah Palin, with an asterisk, since she was just a media clown. Then basically everyone on the Republican dais except Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum (all still in the race), as well as a half-dozen non-candidates like Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, and My Man Mitch, even if Cain was Palin Redux, and nobody gave Bachmann any real chance, except your man Weigel, Jake. There's a fucking track record to be proud of.
Has the recent history of Western Civilization been much improved by the fact that the Press helped us avoid electing a President who looked ridiculous in tank commander garb? Or in suitably punishing George H. W. Bush's impatience or Al Gore's tailor? It wasn't Democrats calling Gore a serial prevaricator or Kerry a flipper back then, and it's not Democrats calling Romney a professional windsock now. Good Lord. Romney's not a wooden campaigner. He's a lump of expired canned ham, personally, but that's got nothing to do with anything. He's a phony. He's not phony just because he's a pandering politician, though he's one of the most memory-free in, well, memory; he's a phony because his act is bullshit. The way George W. Bush's act was bullshit. And the only thing worse than that is a national punditocracy which tries to tell us in spite of it all that the important thing is whether a candidate seems genuine while he's shoveling.