Romney: a candidate so unappealing he may do real damage to his party (YP)
Published in the Yorkshire Post 29 August 2012
Reacting to the election of Calvin Coolidge as American President in 1924, H L Mencken said: “it is as if a hungry man set before a banquet prepared by master chefs and covering a table an acre in area should turn his back on the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.”
Barack Obama is hardly a banquet, more like a thin-sliced ham sandwich. But to apply Mencken’s analogy to Mitt Romney would be unfair to flies. Few major candidates have offered less to the American people.
A Romney speech, to quote Mencken again, is a “string of wet sponges.” He finds difficulty conversing to people other than campaign donors: he is like a sightseer in his own country, for whom ordinary voters are exotic natives.
Romney, confirmed as the Republican Presidential candidate at his party’s convention, does not want to talk about the things which most define him as a person, his Mormon faith and his business career. Why should voters believe in a candidate with so little belief in himself? Romney cannot even say when his business career actually came to an end. The Mormon church excites suspicion, derision and hatred among many voters, and Romney understandably wishes to avoid defending to Roman Catholics its posthumous baptisms of the late Pope John Paul II. However, to airbrush it from his official biography shows a characteristic lack of character.
Romney’s silence extends to his long-standing personal and business links with America’s so-called “troubled teen” industry, which induces parents to send their children away to expensive but spartan residential camps, typically for trivial or bad reasons. It has a deeply chequered history, including kidnappings, bogus therapies, sexual abuse, physical and mental cruelty and the avoidable deaths of children. This issue has yet to surface in the campaign but opponents are already planning to exploit Romney’s passivity over these issues to suggest that he does not care how he makes money or gains power.
Romney has been running for President for six years and he has never once been identified with any principle or policy. He has been compared favourably to America’s legendary Greyhound bus service: if you miss one Romney position you can catch another in half an hour or less. However, his repeated capitulations to his zealots have ensured that he is on the wrong side of key issues which matter to important segments of voters, particularly minority ethnic ones, recent immigrants, gay people and women. On one issue alone has he resisted any of his supporters – his right to withhold his tax returns and hide his money from the American people.
To placate the zealots Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan for his Vice-President. This linked him to a Congress which is far more unpopular than Obama and attracts more blame for America’s economic crisis. It also saddled him with Ryan’s proposed budget, which offers no specific benefits except to America’s richest taxpayers and threatens millions of other voters with tax increases, job cuts and lost medical benefits in old age.
Voters can watch Romney’s surrenders to his party but they will not know what he has promised to his donors. A recent Supreme Court decision has all but abolished controls on campaign finance, and they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the election for him and his party. If they succeed, Romney’s would be a pre-paid Presidency, like that of George W Bush. Government will again become a captive of corporations (and why not, since Romney believes that corporations are people too?)
Romney also promises to repeat the Bush years with another war in the Middle East, although his would be even worse prepared than Bush’s Iraq venture. Romney opened his recent Israel visit by promising virtually automatic American support for an attack on Iran. Romney supported outsourcing in his business career, but an American President should not outsource a declaration of war. Romney characteristically retracted the promise but if he were elected Israel could well pressure him into acting on it.
George W Bush at least contrived as a candidate to invent a personality as a “regular guy” (unlike that aloof Al Gore) and a pretence of compassion for poor and struggling voters. Romney does not offer those minimal services to his party. That may be due to ineptitude, but it might have a more sinister reason. Like Coriolanus, Romney may resent having to court voters at all. He may believe that power belongs to him – as part of God’s plan for America.
Whatever the reason for his campaign style, Romney could do his party lasting harm. To win elections, the Republican party has always had to win a sizeable portion of America’s white working-class. To Democrats’ fury, they have done so, regularly. Romney might just convince those vital voters that he and his party care nothing for them, and will rule America only in the interests of a rich, privileged and incompetent elite.