Sunday, February 05, 2012

ZERO UPLIFT MAN

Until last night, I hadn't seen one of Mitt Romney's election-night speeches at full length. What struck me about it -- and I gather it's just his standard speech -- is that it's completely devoid of uplift. The anger at Obama seems sincere, possibly because Obama genuinely annoys him, possibly because annoyance is Romney's natural mode. Then, at the very end, the effort at an extended bit of patriotic inspiration comes off as too short and utterly pro forma. Overall, the speech is pure sourness, which isn't going to work in a country that always wants its presidents, not just the current one, to offer hope.

One reason for Romney's approach, of course, is that he's playing to crowds that don't particularly love America (it's too full of people who dare to disagree with them). Liberals are much more likely to dream of an idealized America than modern right-wingers; instead, right-wingers dream almost exclusively of vengeance against their enemies. So, midway through the speech, when Romney tries to slip an uplift line into a series of Obama attacks -- "We want to restore America to the founding principles that made this country great" -- he says it as if he means to add at the end, and we want to do that just to piss Barack Obama off! Watch it, starting at about 4:59:





I'm sure the plan is to switch Romney's tone around convention time, with a soft-focus thousand-points-of-light speech a la Poppy Bush in '88. But there was a part of Poppy Bush's soul that genuinely did have a sentimental love for America, and I think that's true of every post-Nixon president we've elected. I'm not sure it's true of Romney. He can recite the lyrics to "America the Beautiful" all he wants, but I'm not sure he can find any sincere cornball feelings about America in his end-of-the-nation-state financier soul.

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On a somewhat related note, Frank Bruni writes today that Romney should embrace his Mormonism on the campaign trail, because that would humanize him. Bruni cites a recent biography of Romney:

To read "The Real Romney" ... is to realize the utter centrality of religion in his life. One of the book's most arresting passages describes a moment when Ann, his wife-to-be and then a Protestant, asks him what Mormons believe. His detailed explanation moves her to tears, perhaps because it's so heartfelt, perhaps also because he's so nervous about her reaction....

"His church experience is, I think, one of the great humanizing influences in Mitt Romney's life," said Patrick Mason, a professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. Mason noted that if Romney would embrace that side of himself, he could beat the rap that he’s never been exposed to hardship by recounting his missionary experience. "That's usually a very spartan lifestyle, and by definition most of the people you're talking to are going to be poor."

Romney's even longer period as a Mormon lay leader in Boston involved counseling and consoling people dealing with marriage problems, addiction, unemployment: some of life's messiest, scariest stuff. He must have gained a fluency in human frailty. But when The Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg was researching an article about that time, Romney predictably declined her interview request.


But I'm not sure he wants to humanize himself. Obviously, he'd be less cautious about discussing this kind of thing if he'd grown up as an evangelical Protestant -- but I think in that case he'd use his religion as a stick to beat us secular humanists with, the way most modern Republicans do. I don't think any modern Republican wants to seem vulnerable. The point isn't to show empathy, or a sense of unity with all of one's fellow Americans -- it's to show tribal solidarity and disgust for the "others." It's to define and blame the enemy.

I don't think this is going to work for him in the fall. To win, he's going to have to change his tone -- he's going have to emphasize hope and uplift, and seem at least semi-sincere doing it. I'm not sure he's capable of doing that. And given the party he operates in, I'm not sure he'll ever realize he should try.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)

6 comments:

c u n d gulag said...

The people around him are hardly the hopeful and uplifting sort. And that includes the dour scolds he's running against.

The only hope they have to offer, and it's to themselves, not for others, is to create a country that anyone with an atom of liberalism in them will hate.

And only the people who believe in Armageddon and the end times, want to see the end of hope, and the end, in, and for, America and the American Dream.

Their American Dream is a nightmare for anyone who's not a knuckled-ragging, Dominionist Christian cave-dweller.

Ten Bears said...

His detailed explanation moves her to tears, perhaps because... he just scared the living shit out of her and she is suddenly realizing the gravity of the situation she can no longer get herself out of.

Should have listened to her atheist daddy.

Cereal said...

"His church experience is, I think, one of the great humanizing influences in Mitt Romney's life," said Patrick Mason, a professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. Mason noted that if Romney would embrace that side of himself, he could beat the rap that he’s never been exposed to hardship by recounting his missionary experience. "That's usually a very spartan lifestyle, and by definition most of the people you're talking to are going to be poor."

Yeah..usually. Except in Romney's case it mostly meant living in a mansion in Paris. With a private art collection, full-time chef, and butler. While being a "missionary" trying to convert...French people, who have a particularly negative view towards religion, even their own traditional faith, let alone American-Idiot-level backwoods huckster malarkey like Mormonism. Getting posted to a Paris mansion for your missionary time is the Mormon equivalent of bragging that you served in the Korean war by being a cultural attache in Tokyo charged with sake and sushi testing.

Cereal said...

and not to mention - yeah, there are poor people in Paris, but it's not Somalia or Bangladesh, exactly, even in the worst banlieues. And those poor people have access to, you know, public services like free health care and essentially free education and job counseling and so on. I can imagine Romney the selfless missionary in his awful French trying to convince some pious Maghrebin family to convert to his ludicrous faith, or some righteously secular socialist working class dudes to accept the glory of American you're-on-your-own-pal conservatism...and then retiring to the private Mormon mansion for some well-earned rest and a professionally cooked meal. I would have paid to see that. And I suspect Romney has no desire to share it with potential voters, either. Of either side (the Dems will hoot at his privileged hypocrisy; the repubs will only get so far as "France" before loading their muskets.)

jurassicpork said...

I hope Romney chokes to death on his dog whistle while he's patting himself on the back.

Rich said...

Man-o-man! Mitt may be trying to do the ol' dog-whistle thing by saying Obama wants to fundamentally change America, but it sounds pretty darn shrill to me! He might as well be blatant about it "We need to replace that gol durned black president with a white guy like me!"