David Javerbomb wrote a rather excellent opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but one quote in particular stood out to me:
Mitt Romney’s political viewpoints can be expressed only in terms oflikelihood, not certainty. While some views are obviously far less likely than others, noview can be thought of as absolutely impossible. Thus, for instance, there is at any given moment a nonzero chance that Mitt Romney supports child slavery.
The line is obviously tongue-in-cheek…or is it? It occurred to me, shortly after I began chuckling at the idea of a modern American openly supporting slavery of any kind, that if this became a campaign issue – perhaps because Romney was found to have hired a Southeast Asian factory powered by child slave labor while at Bain – there really would be no way of knowing what Romney really felt in his heart of hearts. (The preceding sentence assumes that Romney has feelings in his heart of hearts, and that Romney does in fact actually have a heart of hearts. The extent to which those assumptions are accurate reflections of reality is up for debate). He’s taken so many stances on so many issues, its impossible to really know what he thinks – you simply have to hope that he means “it” this time, or that he’s just saying “it” for political expediency, depending on which side of “it” you happen to fall.
I know I’m not breaking any radical new ground here, but successful Presidential candidates have to stand for something identifiable and relate-able; they have to give you a reason to feel good about voting for them. The first time around, George W. Bush stood for “compassionate conservatism” – a vision of governance in which…well, I won’t try to explain it in rational, consistent terms (because it wasn’t), but it was something to do with local control (sometimes) and religious values (sometimes) and lower taxes and returning to a good, decent, sexually responsible America after the various embarrassing dalliances of the last guy. In 2004 George W. Bush jettisoned all that shit, but stood for something even more compelling: security in uncertain, dangerous times. Barack Obama stood for “hope and change;” hope for a bright, vibrant progressive American future; change from the multivarious absurdities and abject failures of the Bush era. Today, Obama stands for largely the same thing, although this time its the somehow-even-more-absurd post-Bush Tea Party Republican Congress that he stands as change from.
Anyone even mildly engaged in politics who is capable of remembering things from 12 years ago could instantly rattle off what the winning candidates stood for in those elections. But what does Romney stand for? Can anyone say for sure? If so, they should be hired by the Romney campaign, which has been flailing around for
months years trying to come up with any coherent message beyond “Hey, I’m a rich white guy with great hair who could maybe beat Barack Obama if the economy stays bad and no one actually pays attention to the things I say.” It seems like that “message” (along with a handy-dandy tankerload of money) is going to be enough to get Romney the nomination, but can Mitt win the presidency without a coherent identity? Can someone who stands for nothing but “I want to be elected” and “The current guy sucks” really win the presidency? History says no. And that’s Romney’s fundamental problem.