Thursday, January 12, 2012

The unbearable cynicism of Mitt Romney

There once was a time during this extended carnival of the Republican race for the nomination that Mitt Romney seemed like the one sane person in the asylum, and his inability to establish a commanding lead an indictment of the current state of the Republican base. Seriously: the best thing that can be said about the successive surges of the non-Romney candidates—Bachman, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, and, most recently, Santorum—is that they all proved unsustainable, that in the end all but the most froth-at-the-mouth evangelical nativist wingnuts conceded that these people were at the very least unelectable. (I won’t speculate on how many would still be backing the likes of any of these candidates if they were conceivably electable; it’s enough relief to know the vast majority of Americans run screaming from the prospect of President Gingrich).

I’ve never liked Romney, always seeing him as basically fake, a reasonable simulacrum of what Hollywood imagines presidents to look like. But he was at least moderate and reasonable, as his record as governor of Massachusetts shows. And I can forgive a certain amount of flip-flopping in the name of campaigning, as that’s really just the nature of the beast. To be certain, I would have more respect for the man if he were to say something like “I passed liberal policies like health care in Massachusetts because Massachusetts is essentially a liberal state and I am not an autocrat.” Of course, that wouldn’t get him many votes among the party faithful, but it would earn him more respect than his relentless pandering.

At any rate, what I said two paragraphs ago about once seeing Romney as the sane one? Not so much anymore. And it’s not so much that he’s batshit as that he is appallingly, cynically mendacious. I watched his victory speech in the New Hampshire primary and was just left open-mouthed. It basically broke down to: (1) Obama is not American; (2) Obama is waging war on the private sector; (3) Obama is attempting to reshape America along a European socialist model; (4) hence, this election is about saving America’s soul; (5) and finally, Obama is an appeaser who wants to denude American military might, something he (Romney) will reverse and return America to its proper global military hegemony.
Seriously. Watch it:

When I hear someone like Michelle Bachman say this kind of horseshit, I’m at least convinced that she believes it. But Romney? He can’t possibly be that stupid.

These days I find myself increasingly reading conservative bloggers and essayists inveighing against precisely this kind of mendacity. When David Frum becomes the voice of reason in conservative circles, the time is out of joint. One of their frequent refrains is that such patently false accusations as Obama’s antipathy to capitalism—to say nothing of birtherism or the attempts to characterize him as an “anti-colonialist Kenyan,” to borrow Gingrich’s memorable phrase—completely miss the boat when it comes to issues on which Obama is genuinely vulnerable, such as his appalling record on civil rights and executive power (which, incidentally, are issues on which certain segments of the left and right vehemently agree).

Speaking as a committed liberal, the complete asshattery of the Republican presidential hopefuls distresses me on two fronts. The first is that I firmly believe a rational and reasonable right wing is vital to national discourse, not least because it keeps those of us on the left on our toes. The second is because it is not inconceivable that Romney might be the next president … and he has shown himself to be a man of no principle whatsoever, entirely beholden to whomever he happens to be wooing.

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