Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Romney Problem

Southern California

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Okay, I may have missed a deadline—you decide.

I predicted here that the Republican nomination race would be settled for all practical purposes by the end of the first week in February. Instead things are being dragged out a bit, with Rick Santorum having won a couple last week. Rick, a/k/a Sanctum Sanctorum, the Holy of Holies, is an interesting knave in the euchre deck of presidential wannabes this year. As luridly compelling as Mitt Romney’s story is, Rick’s is in some ways even stranger. Let’s look at the salient aspects of each man’s life, taking him all in all, as Shakespeare said:

First name really Willard;
Worked as night security guard at Stanford to fund secret trips home to girlfriend;
Served as Mormon missionary in France during the Vietnam War;
Involved in deadly car crash;
Probably wears secret long underwear;
Thought by some to have engaged in vampirism while governor of Massachusetts;
Unfounded rumors that he appeared in several Mexican snuff films;
Was separated at birth from the actor Bill Pullman;
Uses white shoe polish on hair at his temples.

Father’s name is Aldo;
Represented World Wrestling Federation to try to exempt it from federal ban on anabolic steroids;
Seriously entertains Intelligent Design alternative to theory of evolution;
Introduced law to prohibit Nat’l Weather Service from giving out free info;
Claimed to have found evidence of Iraqi WMD in his own backyard in Pennsylvania;
Rumored to have engaged in torture of small amphibians in the Amazon;
Guarded Republican desk filled with candy in Senate for ten years;
Thought to be a member of secret Catholic organization Opus Dei;
Alleged to have been accidentally castrated by a pit bull at the age of 19.

Regarding the last point, I should mention that the word “accidentally” is used in its narrow insurance-law sense, i.e., that the alleged occurrence was an accident from the standpoint of Rick himself. We do not know the state of mind of the pit bull.

I still think Mitt is a shoo-in, but it might take until Super Tuesday for him to ice it. So reluctant are the GOP voters to give the nomination to Romney, even though they know they’ll have to do it eventually, that they continue to tease him by granting victories to his opponents, even as his delegate tally inexorably rises. Others have expounded on this phenomenon, and it’s time I weighed in.

Why do the Republicans hate the idea of Mitt Romney? The word “hate” has a good deal to do with the answer. For one thing, Mitt’s not quite enough of a hater himself. This isn’t to say that he’s not a good Republican in the classic sense—supporting rapacious capitalism in its many forms, believing in the cliques of privilege that underpin his social class and his religion—but there’s something missing from the equation for Mitt, or rather something added on his side. As a member of a minority religion he’s bound to be just a trifle more tolerant than many Republicans feel is appropriate. And he did govern a state whose attitude toward its citizens is somewhat more generous than the national average--considerably more so than the bastions of southern and western paranoia that form the underpinnings of the modern GOP. These things make him suspect, and an outsider to boot, even though the Mormons are as indelibly Republican as any group could possibly be. But it’s one thing to let Mormons, or South Florida Cubans, or Catholics, contribute to the general cause of fear and loathing and narrow mindedness, and another thing altogether to make a member of such a group the party’s national standard bearer. Bobby Jindal the Indian, for instance, is fine as the Republican leader of a hopelessly miscegenating bunch like the people of Louisiana, but for president? I think not.

Which brings us to the second reason for the Mitt Romney dilemma, namely, that some people hate the idea of a Mormon becoming president. Why? Not because Mormons aren’t sufficiently sober, industrious, upright, conservative, driven, secretive, and clannish. They’re all that and more. It’s because they don’t worship the Lord Jesus Christ the same way most Republicans do. They’ve taken the basic mumbo jumbo of Christian doctrine and kicked it up a notch, with multiple heavens, baptism of the dead, Jesus visiting North America. And as I’m fond of mentioning, they have that secret underwear. Lock Moses and St. Paul in a room with L. Ron Hubbard and Timothy Leary and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is what you'd get. If you aren’t down with the predictable orthodoxies of Protestantism as it’s practiced in the U.S., you simply aren’t good candidate material in the minds of most folks. Take away that pesky Mormonism and Mitt would win in a landslide in places like Maine and Iowa. He has no other serious liabilities. He’s a younger John McCain without the taint of years in the Senate. But there’s that strange impenetrable religion, so superficially similar to the One True Faith but so bizarre-o and sci-fi in other ways. . . .

The GOP tent is not a large or welcoming one. Most real Republicans absolutely must
believe they’re part of a well-defined and exclusive group. It’s the group that starts with being good Americans, then narrows itself to being relatively pure Americans, then draws even further into itself by being religiously and ethnically correct. When the votes are needed, the party will welcome the unwashed masses into its midst, but it will never really let them in to the sacred halls of power. It’s like the bit from that movie The Good Shepherd, where Matt Damon is talking to the Mafioso down in Florida. The gangster says to the WASP Damon character, “Let me ask you something...we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish they have the homeland; Jews their tradition; even the niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson? What do you have?” To which Damon replies, “The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.”

Perhaps Republicans in the modern era can best be understood in terms of the parliamentary style of governance. They are a minority party which will, in order to get a majority, ally themselves with or lure in such disparate groups as white trash, members of the working class, Asians, Cubans, upwardly-mobile Mexicans, the occasional person of color, Mormons, Catholics—even fringe utopians like the Libertarians. But that’s just to get into office. The funny thing is that because they’ve been pandered to, members of these outsider groups sometimes delude themselves into believing they’ve overcome their newness in the country or their ethnic or cultural distance from the mainstream. Sorry. Even counting the Democrats we’ve seen only one Catholic and one brown-skinned president. And just two with brown eyes. (Can you guess who the other one was?) Even Obama, in spite of the fact that his mother went native, is a mainline Protestant and half English and traces his ancestry back to Massachusetts in the 1640s.

But the reason Republicans hate Mitt Romney most is that they know he's probably going to lose. And that’s the best reason of all, from a purely practical point of view. They sense they are headed for defeat in November, and are pissed because no one has come along to rid them of the dusky interloper in the White House. Who would have thought the Party of the White Man would be unable to find a suitable, safe, and sane candidate among all the oligarchs and patricians this country has to offer? Many of the faithful have to be wondering, Has the nation that produced George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Herbert Walker Bush fallen so far that it is to be given over entirely to ninnies, Bible thumpers, cultists, papists, and the racially impure?

Students of Republican history remember another time the party surrendered itself completely to its far right wing in a desperate attempt to unseat an incumbent. The year was 1964 and the product was Barry Goldwater (the son of a Jewish dry goods merchant, of all things), who led them down the shitter. All the while there were Lodges and Rockefellers who would have been happy to bear the standard. Such is the state of disarray in the Grand Old Party that at the beginning of the selection process this time around there wasn’t a regular Protestant male in his right mind from a good eastern family in the lot. It’s enough to make an elephant cry.

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