I generally wake up before dawn to the sound of the News Briefing on BBC Radio 4. This morning, the dulcet tones of the presenter informed me that Mitt Romney had won the primaries in both Michigan and Arizona. As I took my vitamins in the darkness, my first thought was “good.” While Romney is not my cup of tea, the differences between him and his erstwhile rival Rick Santorum are as stark as the contrast between tap water and battery acid. Any development which means that religious bigotry and intolerance are knocked backward should be welcomed.
Similarly, I was relieved when Romney beat Newt Gingrich in Florida on January 31st. Again, the disparity between the two is vast: Romney, whatever one may think of him, has been married to the same woman for 42 years and by all accounts has been faithful to her. It seems unlikely that a self-indulgent thought beyond having an additional cup of coffee with breakfast has ever crossed his mind. Meanwhile, Gingrich proved himself to be a terrible hypocrite: not only did he preach family values yet fail to practice them himself, he also slammed President Clinton for succumbing to moral lapses just as severe as his own. Florida voters rightly drowned his mendacity in the waves.
Ron Paul’s failure to launch, if that was ever a prospect, is also a source of cheer. While Dr. Paul has a good grasp on the futility of war, his ideas on the gold standard are completely unsuitable in an era in which most money doesn’t even register as bank notes, rather, it appears in the form of database entries. While he may understand the fiscal challenges facing the United States, his remedies are unbalanced, and suggest only cuts are the key: this is a curious position for a physician to take. After all, a medical doctor will only risk a cure that might kill the patient under extreme duress: blindly savage cuts are presently shredding the tattered remnants of the Greek economy. Rather, a genuine healer is balanced, cautious: he administers palliatives as well as anti-biotics and purgatives, observes and adjusts until the trouble has passed.
Romney, in contrast to the Rogues Gallery that opposes him, thus seems inoffensive. There are pyrotechnics associated with his rivals akin to a visit to the circus: the candidates could easily wear spinning bow ties while stating policy positions. There are the clown car crashes of scandal and the gasps of the crowd as the safety net fails to stop the killing fall from spectacular gaffes. Santorum sticks his head into the lion’s mouth on national television by saying that JFK’s ideas on religious tolerance make him physically sick. Gingrich parades a blonde trophy wife like a ringmaster showing off his lovely assistant. One wonders if the Republican “big tent” has evolved into the “big top”. But then Romney sits serenely by: his Republican critics appear mad to the rest of the world, for they are furious that he has not donned a red nose and picked up a squirting seltzer bottle of his own. This fury plays into his hands: he hopes to be the vanilla choice in a world too full of tutti fruitti.
That said, this spectacle is a shame, because Romney’s blandness obscures the fact that he shouldn’t be President either.
Romney’s myopia when it comes to the poor and struggling is well known: his gaffe regarding his lack of care for the very poor was astonishing. He is certainly disconnected from the struggles of the average American, who has been trapped in a scenario in which the standard of living has declined and prospects are diminishing for all but the very few. Furthermore, his very wholesomeness, the brylcreemed hair, the pressed suits, the picture perfect wife and family, may also indicate he is alienated from America’s social realities. This is not an endorsement of Gingrich-like behaviour: however, there are few indications that he has tried to overcome this gap in his knowledge.
Or has he? After all, his wife did give Planned Parenthood money and up until 2004, he was pro-choice. Furthermore, he denounced “Reagan / Bush” during his Senate bid against Ted Kennedy. Perhaps this leads to the most disquieting aspect of Romney’s aspirations: I believe he is a Marxist, of the Groucho variety.
Groucho Marx once said:
“Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
Romney likes to portray his positions as having “evolved”. The accusation naturally comes back that he’s a flip-flopper that cannot be trusted. If Romney’s people have heard of John Maynard Keynes, they then probably reply with Keynes’ quote, “When the facts change, I change my mind: what do you do?” But this is all indicative of deep thought: Romney’s embrace of conservatism is his true self, his supporters boast. No, his critics reply, he’s really a liberal, a socialist, a moderate, a “squish”. But as a Groucho Marxist he’s none of these things: he’s Rufus T. Firefly, he’s Captain Spaulding, he’s Mr. Hammer, trying to pull a fast one and insulting Margaret Dumont in the process. If you don’t like his principles, he has others. Are you a North Eastern, socially liberal, fiscal conservative middle class businessman? Romney’s your man, offering lower taxes and a less aggressive tone on social issues than his rivals. Are you a Southern Baptist minister living in a small town? No problem, Romney’s for you: he leads an exemplary family life and is pro-life. Are you a rust belt blue collar fellow who doesn’t care for homosexuals and wants the plant to re-open? Romney’s got policy goodies targeted at you and he’s not gay.
This pantomime wouldn’t be amusing if it didn’t involve electing the most powerful person in the world. Despite America’s declining stature, from the moment the President takes office, he can theoretically blow up the world. The President can take the lead on solving international crises, whether it is the ongoing rebellion in Syria or hunger in Africa. The character and interests of the President have a ripple effect out to the wider world: anyone who doubts this need only consult with the Iraqis. Does America want the spectre of Groucho Marxian nonsense, without the accompanying laugh track, to linger in the halls of the White House? If you don’t like Romney’s principles, after all, he has others. And if you don’t like his agenda, he’ll rewrite it. And if you and the international community want him to be reliable, he’ll be steadfast until he’s not. In short, if America voted for him, they’d have no idea what they would get except a lot of quick changes.
Will Romney win? Unless the economy takes another dive or Obama gets caught up in a scandal, it seems unlikely that any of the Republican field will beat him. The circus performers will eventually have to take off the greasepaint and face the judgement of the wider electorate: the verdict is likely to be unfavourable. I suspect I will awake on a cold November morning to the dulcet tones of a BBC Radio 4 presenter, and then the mournful drone of a concession speech. A pity it won’t be Groucho himself reading it.