Romney Throws Details out Window, Turns to God

Last updated on September 17th, 2012 at 01:31 am


Mitt Romney has never been very specific about what he would do as president to “fix” things. He just says he’d fix this and he’d fix that. The “how” is vague. Instead of specifics, we get emotion: God. Apparently, Romney will fix America’s problems by not taking “God out of the public square.”

That’s what he’s telling folks in Virginia.

That’s his stump speech since the Democratic National Convention. Yes, Mitt Romney has become Rick Perry. Keeping God front and center will fix everything. As Buzzfeed observed, “Forget the economy – Romney campaigns on God, Nascar, and conservative values.” And to make the point stick, he’s got the old Pagan-baiter Pat Robertson tagging along with him.

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We know God won’t fix everything for the country, of course, but for the voters – particularly with the base – it’s another story. Republicans have found that vague and emotional appeals are much more effective than fact-laded and detailed plans.

And for Romney, the campaign has become about God this and God that, even tweeting about God on 9/11. He promised Thursday he’d give us some more detail; instead we get God. Even conservatives, we are told by CBS News, are worried that Romney is being too vague. Business Insider says that even Romney’s biggest supporters admit his tax plan is vague.

But if Romney won’t give us details about his policiy proposals he will tell us that Demcorats want to remove “In God We Trust”  from our coinage!

As Bill Maher quipped, this is a a “bold and unwavering stand against something no one has ever asked anyone to do.”

I’m going to argue that there is a reason for the generalities and the emotion. I’m going to put a scenario in front of you and see what you think.

What comes to mind when you read this?:

It is almost impossible to reproduce the contents of language like this, for it amounted to nothing more than the vaguest of concepts, nothing more than images and comparisons that were purely emotional in character and that were hurled forth with ever-increasing effusiveness, culminating time and again in a catchword or emotionally charged term of entreaty that the crowd found infectiously uplifting. There was absolutely no attempt to tackle any concrete political economic or social questions. All that emerged from the whole one-and-a-half hour speech was the familiar political picture of the world, the primitively simplistic and unsubtle nature of which may help to explain the mass suggestion of Republican propaganda: there were only two parties – those who betray their country and those who defend it; and there is only one choice – a vote for liberalism means America’s downfall, a vote for conservatism means America’s rise.

Sounds like a review of the Republican National Convention, or almost any speech that followed, doesn’t it?

But it isn’t. It is a review of a speech Adolf Hitler gave on January 17, 1932, to the National Socialist German Student’s Association in Berlin. I have made a few substitutions: “Republican” for “National Socialist” and “country” for “Fatherland”, and of course, “America” for Germany and “liberalism” for Marxism. It’s a terrifyingly smooth and plausible fit.

The author is unknown, a reporter for one of the hated “Jewish” newspapers, Vossiche Zeitung, who wisely, perhaps, identified himself by the initials “O.H.” But another writer, Rudolf Olden, of the Berliner Tageblatt, had a similar reaction to what he called “the rule of the wondrous” – the shift from the rational to the irrational. You will likely feel him very strongly:

But there is arguably something unique about the decisive and unmistakable way in which a nation has turned its back on reason and in the here-and-now embraced something that is openly declared to be wondrous {…} The irrationality of the means has been combined with the impact of the personal to produce the egregious success of the National Socialist party.

You might substitute Republican for National Socialist again. As Thomas Friedrich relates, Olden said that politics could be defined as a “permanent struggle between reason and the wondrous.” In any crisis, reason is “squeezed and its weapons, which had until recently cut very keenly, suddenly become blunt. Doubt eats away at it, and it emigrates or is locked up.”

The process is relevant today – this collapse of rationality before the forces of irrationality, the impact of emotion over content. As in the 1930s, the emotion has to do with exclusion, with hate, with delegitimizing other points of view. With the idea that one side had the God-ordained right to lead while the other were usurpers and nothing more, intent on destroying the country.

Which brings us back to Romney. Even right-of-center CNN noticed Romney’s new God thing. They talked to Jacques Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University professor , whose area of expertise is religion and politics. Berlinerblau, CNN reports, “says he sees the change as a response to a president who is doing better in recent polls” [Obama is leading in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia].

“When (Republicans) get nervous about a loss, they go into base-whip-up stage,” Berlinerblau said. “They try to energize the base even more… They are totally getting off-script. We hear that this election is all about the economy, but now we are talking about religion and faith issues.”

Just as since 2010, with the focus of the nation also on the economy, all we heard about from Republicans and Tea Partiers were the evils of same-sex marriage and abortion and contraception. Not a jobs plan to be seen. Not a lot of facts but a whole lotta emotion. Faced with a popular president, Republicans threw facts out the window and turned straight to emotion.

The “whip-up” stage is an interesting observation. That is exactly what Hitler was doing in 1932 when he wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped in the elections. In fact, Hitler embarked on a whip-up tour by plane, an unprecedented mode of campaigning i those days. He wasn’t providing any detailed plans. He was just whipping up the masses.

He talked about God a lot too. Even when he wasn’t talking about God  specifically, he couched things in religious, mystical terms.

As Marc Caputo writes at Newsday, it pays to be vague: “Elections often hinge more on emotions than on facts.”

It’s that “enthusiasm factor” the media likes to talk about, the enthusiasm they say is missing from the Obama campaign; the enthusiasm factor that helped Obama to victory in 2008.

In the 1930s, even as late as 1932, people were not taking Hitler seriously, They thought he was absurd and laughable and would go away. By 1933, he ruled Germany with an iron fist. People like to laugh at the Religious Right, too. They have laughed at it and signed its death certificate again and again since the 1960s but it comes back stronger than before.

It is ultimately foolish to laugh at the power of emotion. Hitler’s opponents – liberals among them – pointed to the results of polls, talked about numbers. Hitler kept going back to emotion. Liberals today have been foolish to laugh at the power of emotion. Liberals point to facts; conservatives to feelings. But facts do not lend themselves to emotion. Nobody is emotional about facts and facts cannot fire up a voter base. Emotion does that and today it is the Republicans who wield the power of emotion.

Wave your facts in the face of any Republican rally and see how far it gets you. They’ll call your facts and raise you God. And they’ll win, not because of God but because people get more fired up about God than about facts.



Thomas Friedrich. Hitler’s Berlin: Abused City (2012), pp. 248-251.

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