By the time the last words were spoken in 2012’s first presidential debate, millions of Americans were no doubt left wondering who Mitt Romney is, and what he stands for. Romney had not managed to make that clear at any previous point in his political career. Mitt Romney, possibly alone among America’s major public figures, has managed to hold just about every position hat can be imagined, left to right.
There are those who think Barack Obama is actually more of an old-fashioned moderate Republican than a moderate Democrat, and many on the left see Barack Obama as being too far toward the center for their liking. But placing Obama on the left-right spectrum is more a matter of perspective, of one’s own point of view, whereas Romney actually shifts positions.
Since the debate, Romney has continued to talk a new language. You would think he had completely disavowed all his former positions. But he has not. He is talking one way, but his actions, or rather, inaction, proves he hasn’t actually changed his mind. Romney wants voters to think he thinks one way while he actually thinks another. He talks about the middle class. He talks about the 100 percent.
But his policies continue to be all about the 1 percent.
What do conservatives think of all this? Aren’t they a little befuddled too? Perhaps the rank and file, unless somebody is carefully explaining it all to them. But Paul Waldman, who is a contributing editor at The American Prospect, seems to point to the lack of outrage on the right when he says,
You won’t hear Republicans saying this newly moderate Romney represents a betrayal. First off, they’re smart enough to realize that Romney hasn’t actually changed any of his plans; all he’s changed is how he talks about them. And second, conservatives have always been good at coming together when power is on the line. The right has just as many factions and just as much infighting as the left, but when Election Day approaches, they become deadly serious about the task at hand. There will be plenty of time for an ideological struggle over the GOP’s identity once the ballots are counted.
I think too that Romney’s incessant attacks against Obama and his flirtation with the most extreme elements within the Republican Party, will obscure a sense of his own “otherness” and cover up his sudden appeal to moderation. The Republican Party has always been about hatred of Obama, after all, and less about policies. The Republicans, as just one example, have always crowed about spending and deficits but it is inevitably Republican administrations that rack up the debt.
You would think even Republican voters would recognize this but they seem to go right along with the propaganda, and I suspect they will go right along with the propaganda again. I can’t think of another political movement in all of American history that has been so resilient in the face of facts. Bill Maher can demolish their claims Obama destroyed America but that sort of thing goes right over their head. It’s just buzzing in their ears even if they bother to listen.
You might say that Mitt Romney has the best possible audience for his Etch A Sketch politics that could be imagined. A man who will say anything to get elected meets an audience that will believe anything to get rid of Obama.
Romney shows very little substance. You can’t be overflowing with substance and be as nimble ideologically as Mitt Romney has been. The ultimate political chameleon, Romney is good at saying what needs to be said, but not so good at making decisions. We saw what happens to a man like him when the pressure is on. He completely crumbled in his first foreign policy forays, not only his reaction to the consulate attack in Libya but in his earlier visit to Europe.
Europeans expected some gravitas; Romney gave them a big, dopey, frat-boy bully. Which is all Romney really is, as he displayed again at the debate. He didn’t actually debate at all. He bullied. And Lehrer, with his “so what?” attitude, let him. Again, Obama displayed the gravitas we all look for. Obama even continued to say what he had said all along. And he did it without telling a lie a minute.
We didn’t see any substance at the debate and there is a very simple reason for this. There is no substance to Mitt Romney. Robert Draper, at the New York Time magazine, talks about Romney’s recent attempts to explain his policies in more detail after months of excuse-making and obfuscation. These, he says, look more as if “they were hatched from a few late-night strategy sessions after a string of bad news days rather than from the candidate’s core philosophy.” Draper makes the observation that Romney’s “campaign tactics reveal only what he would do in order to win, not what he’ll do once he has won.”
I have asked who the real Mitt Romney is politically. I am increasingly certain there is no answer to that question. What Mitt Romney is about, and what Mitt Romney will always be about, is Mitt Romney. His first and last question each day will be, did I do right by Mitt Romney? Asked who the real Mitt Romney is, I would be inclined to answer now that there is no real Mitt Romney beyond the Mitt Romney who will say anything to anybody to get elected.
If Mitt Romney comes across as a man who has no ideas – and he had no ideas when acting as an informal adviser to John McCain in 2008 – in all likelihood we can trust appearances. In his entire political career Romney has not displayed any core philosophy unless his core philosophy is to lie and lie often. They like to say all politicians lie, but no politician in American history has lied with the vigor and enthusiasm of Mitt Romney.
Pragmatic? That might be a word for it, though we like a little principle, a little substance, with our pragmatism. That is a combination displayed to good advantage by our current president, Barack Obama. We like a president who thinks before he speaks, a trick Romney, who is used to bullying and firing people, has never had to learn. Privilege, after all, has its privileges.
And it’s a lie to say we know any more about Mitt Romney than we did going into the debate. If we made a post-debate Mitt Romney action figure, it would look like the pre-debate Mitt Romney action figure. All the post-debate Romney does is say both “yes” and “no” at the same time to the benefit of none – save Mitt Romney.
Republicans are willing to overlook all this in the cause of getting Obama out of office. But I strongly suspect, should Romney win, Democrats will have to jostle to get into line when the complaints start rolling in. Because when Republicans vote for Mitt Romney, they are buying a pig in a poke. They think they’re getting an anti-Obama, but what they need to remember is the fact that when they vote for Romney, they are voting for the man who invented the Obamacare they hate so much.