I TRIED, really I did. I'd even been looking forward to what sort of pastel Vagisil commercial pitch they were going to hand Ann Romney to read. Or so I kept telling my Poor Wife, and myself. In the end, let us admit that Ann Romney provides neither outright disgust nor smug elitist mirth nor Stepford mock-horror; Ann Romney is no Nancy Reagan, no Babs Bush, nor even Marilyn Quayle. By the grace of God or the cruel jests of Loki she has arrived on a national stage where the audience is too tired, too distracted, or too filled with terror to make her pay for her prissy prancing horses and her awful fashion sense and her clueless self-deceptions about what real people would be like if she ever met any. If only Newt had been the nominee! Boxing lore is full of tales of fighters who suddenly found themselves trapped in an elevator with two or three professional nubiles right before a fight; is it possible that some prescient Republican strategist put Calista in Newt's way, back in the 90s, just so every other Republican wife would look semi-normal by comparison?
Okay, so she did reference the hard-scrabble life she and Willard shared as newlyweds when, armed only with his Hahvahd MBA and JD, his political connections, and the collective wealth of their two families, they managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps without the help of more than three full-time body servants. Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that Ann Romney deserves a pie in the face. I just doubt she'd understand it. I think she'd chalk it up to the Servant Problem.
In a sense, Ann Romney is to the other Republican distaff staff-bearers going back to Pat Nixon what the Mormon church is to organized religion: at first glance she looks like a ready-made figure of fun, but a closer look makes you wanna back away and just shut the door quietly, lest the cruelty lodge itself in your spleen for good. It's like the time in college my friend Kelly and I, after several bong hits of opium, decided it would be great to recast Titicut Follies as a musical.
I tried to sit through Rick Santorum, by which I mean "any segment of his speech longer than two minutes". We all know that Santorum promises much more than he delivers, politically and comically, and, let's face it, turning his name into a synonym for fetid human jelly pretty much exhausted both. Shall we just note, once again, that for 98% of the population old enough to have been elected to the Congress, his or her grandfathers and grandmothers having worked with their hands is not an accomplishment? Not a resumé builder? Not a surprise? The odds are only against this among actual members of Congress. Santorum's parents were both clinical psychologists, and both worked for the gol' danged gubmint. The only symptoms they risked coming down with were symptoms of empathy. And if you've hoisted both, you know empathy's got it all over a pneumatic drill.
I mean, this is the Republican pitch, now? Not rags to riches, but black lung and an early grave with the slim hope that your grandchild, who wouldn't be caught dead doing actual work, will, if he manages to score some taxpayer largess, get to make up shit about how noble you were to work yourself to death for Mr. Peabody so he'd have enough money to fight the Clean Air Act that some of it would splosh on Rick Santorum?
Santorum is to shit-slinging culture warriors what Ann Romney is to Republican First Ladies. He's stuck in gear, as required, but he can't show the proper half-supressed glee when downshifting to run over poor people and environmentalists, because of his public religiosity. Fortunately for his handlers, Roman Catholicism, unlike Mormonism, has a two-millennia history of hypocrisy, so he can still cash checks and pay for his own wife's abortion. * But the truth is that Republicans don't trust religious nut jobs any more than normal people do. Unless they are one. And maybe not even then.
[By the way, let's take a tangential moment to say that 1) Bloggingheads was supposed to teach everyone for all time that opening an article in a printed journal, online or no, to find oneself confronted with a youtubed interview one cared only marginally about to begin with is simply a bad idea, that 2) Slate is the last operation which should be casting aspersions on the Republican relationship to the truth; that 3) no matter how smart or incisive, Britons seem to be congenitally incapable of grasping just how awful modern American politics are, even when talking about how awful they are, and especially how utterly corrupt the Republican party is, and 4) and once and for all, No, fucking Ronald Reagan would not be too fucking liberal for today's Republican party. He'd be right there in the middle of it. This is the same turn of mind which gives us, at every stop, the idea that Bob Dole or Rudy Giuliani is a moderate, that Jack Kemp or Paul Ryan is serious and thoughtful, that George W. Bush is compassionate, or that Mitch Daniels wants to put social issues on the back burner. It's a tic, a tell, an attempt to convince no one so much as oneself that things couldn't possibly be as ugly as they seem. For fuck's sake, Ronald Reagan did not raise taxes nine times because he believed in taxation. He raised them nine times because he believed in Ronald Reagan. And he believed in Ronald Reagan as the spokesman for the people who gave him money. And that's all he believed in, aside from the empirical menace of cows and hippies.
[Weisberg at one point says something like "But Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, enacted some liberal legislation." And he says it as though this tells us something about Mitt Romney's potential. ]
Lor', this left me to flip ahead to watch Chris Christie waddle on stage. (Or not, since he just appeared behind the lectern; maybe he helicoptered in.) What is Christie's appeal? That he's fat and loud, but not addicted to oxycontin? That he's brave enough to appear in public, or wear men's neckwear? He's like Mitch Daniels on human growth hormone and Minoxidil. I've never heard either make a substantive defense of his platitudes. Back when Christie thought he was running for President, or Vice-President, I used to get twenty emails a day from his people. That's not an exaggeration. Like my own Governor, he has the Republican knack for winning arguments by drowning everyone else out. The remaining space is filled with self-congratulation. Which is what Christie did forever, last night, for all I know; I made it through the point where his father was working in an ice cream factory. At least it meant we'd found someone in the audience last night who'd once been paid to use his hands for something other than flinging stuff.
* Sorry, her not-in-any-way-responsible-for-the-foregone-conclusion-to-an-induced-labor-stillbirth-they-didn't-want.