Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Jonathan Chait argues that we've actually seen the real Romney in this campaign. Chait makes a very strong case -- but I have some caveats, as I'll explain below:
The vast industry devoted to exploring the unknowable question of Romney's true beliefs has largely ignored a simple and obvious possibility: That Romney has undergone the same political and/or psychological transformation that so many members of his class have since 2009. If there is one hard fact that American journalism has established since 2009, it is that many of America's rich have gone flat-out bonkers under President Obama. Gabriel Sherman first documented this phenomenon in his fantastic 2009 profile in this magazine, "The Wail of the 1%," which described how the financial elite had come to see themselves as persecuted, largely faultless targets of Obama and their greedy countrymen.

... had he retired from public life after 2008, super-wealthy Republican financier Mitt Romney is exactly the kind of person you'd expect to have lost his mind, the perfect socioeconomic profile of a man raging at Obama and his mob. Indeed, it would be strange if, at the very time his entire life had come to focus on the goal of unseating Obama, and he was ensconced among Obama's most affluent and most implacable enemies, Romney was somehow immune to the psychological maladies sweeping through his class.
But is that the real Romney? I see it somewhat differently.

I think Romney has, as Chait says, taken on the coloration of his fellow fat cats -- they hate Obama for his purported hostility to them, and he eagerly nods in agreement. But that's not a core Romney belief. That's just Romney-the-chameleon adopting whatever set of beliefs will get him where he wants to go next.

Which is not to say that Romney was faking it in the "47%" video. The thing about Romney is that he opportunistically shape-shifts in such a sincere fashion that he really believes what he's saying. I bet he really believes he's a centrist now. I bet he really shared those plutocrats' disdain for Obama at that fund-raiser in Boca. I bet if you'd put him through a polygraph in Boca and in the debates this fall, he'd pass as a truth-teller -- even when he contradicted himself.

But that means the important question isn't "Who is the real Romney?" The important question is "Whom will Romney feel the need to please if he's elected president?"

The answer to that question is (1) the people who will have bankrolled his victory and (2) the fellow Republicans in Congress who actually believe in something, even though that something is a set of utterly insane tea party/Limbaugh/Fox News/Koch brothers principles. He'll stop being "moderate Mitt" and turn their color again.

Because if there's one thing Romney really is sincere about, it's finding out whoever has more power than he has and doing whatever that individual or group wants. This month it's moderate voters; if he wins next week, it'll go right back to being the right-wing crazies. And when he shape-shifts back to wingnuttery, he'll mean what he says, just the way he does now.


Victor said...

I thought Chait had the definitive take.

And then, I read your post.


I'm not worthy... I'm not worthy... I'm not worthy...

Thers said...

An additional wrinkle is that I think Romney very much wants to be the first Mormon president. He probably wants this even more than he wants to be, well, president. Which doesn't make anything you say wrong -- it just adds another dimension to his willingness to be whatever the immediate audience wants him to be. It doesn't matter much what he says to the gentiles, if it gets him to the promised land. Of course I could be wrong.

Unknown said...

Outstanding comments. And let me amplify Thers' thesis: The one uncontradicted through-line connecting all of Romney's flip-flops and contradictions is his Mormonism. Stories of his mentorship with a number of high-ranking LDS figures who happened to hold key administrative positions at BYU when he was there do not get the attention that they deserve. We read of his moments at Stanford, campaigning on behalf of the Viet Nam war and his economic "struggles" while at Harvard, but it is easy to forget that his academic maturation truly did occur at BYU after his missionary experience in France. He was a devoted student of Cleon Skousen. He was selected as commencement speaker, largely based on impressions of his "leadership" (despite the fact that other students had higher grades). I think he became convinced of a sort of prophecy. Matters of truth and logical consistency with the hooligans of the secular world are trivial concerns when one is in pursuit of prophecy. And, good lord, the Mormon faith is DEFINED by the notion of divine prophecy.

Susanna said...

I agree with your take on Romney. And I'd like to add that one of the groups I'm concerned about him trying to please is his foreign policy advisors, Wolfowitz et. al. I'm worried about what kind of hare-brained scheme they want to get us into next time.