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Hullabaloo


Thursday, October 25, 2012

 
Summing up Mr. Romney, Generic Candidate

by David Atkins

Hunter at Daily Kos:

There is now less than two weeks to go before this election season is, at long last, over. Regardless of the outcome, however, at least one thing has now been conclusively proven: post-truth politics works. It may or may not win elections, but it has been granted credibility by the press, and by the pundits, and by the electorate. That is not particularly shocking, mind you; we've been merrily skipping along this path for a good long time now, and were bound to get here eventually, but thanks to truly massive amounts of cash and insincerity, we made damn good time. We are less than two weeks before the election, and even if you had a gun to my head I could not tell you what one of the two candidates for leadership of this nation (1) has as his core, avowed principles, (2) is proposing as actual legitimately credible path forward, economically or in any other realm, or (3) would really do if elected, regardless of whatever he and his campaign was saying about (1) or (2).

What does Mitt Romney stand for? What are his core beliefs? Why does this man want to be president? Does he merely like the shape of the room?

We often have elections in which candidates bend their personal beliefs or past history in order to appear more palatable to a wider electorate, but I cannot remember one that featured a candidate so apparently devoid of those beliefs. If Mitt Romney has a position on various social issues, there is precious little evidence of what it might be. If he has any actual plan for the nation other than a few entirely self-serving planks about his own taxes and how to regulate his own and allied industries, he has yet to give credible voice to it. Mitt Romney may be, if his own campaign is to be believed, the most generic person to have ever lived. There is apparently not a damn thing that he might have believed ten years ago that he feels the same way about today—and that includes his own signature accomplishments, by the way. Here is Mitt Romney, of RomneyCare, now the standard bearer against ObamaCare. Here is Mitt Romney the moderate, now Mitt Romney the "severe" conservative, now Mitt Romney the cipher. Here is the man who spent an entire summer campaigning on a twenty percent tax cut, only to toss it all away as soon as the debate season has started, claiming it is a tax cut that will not actually be a tax cut because it will just be a shifting of taxes that has no actual tax impact, which leads to the obvious question of why even bother with the thing, much less hold it up as your signature campaign theme only weeks earlier. He surrounded himself with the most neo of neoconservative foreign policy advisers, ultra-hawks who have continued to grace American op-ed pages with all the various reasons why America needs three wars instead of two, etc,. etc—and upon reaching the foreign policy debate, promptly flushed it all down the campaign toilet, apparently unable or unwilling to describe any foreign policy approach other than the bold and mostly inexplicable we should spend more money on boats plank.

There has not been a single case where, when Mitt Romney was pressed on a past inconvenient action, or belief, or issue, the Etch a Sketch did not simply shake off all the old assertions in favor of some new ones. Problem solved.

There are two separate issues here. First is the obviousness of the lies. The you didn't build that campaign continues to be the crowning, Orwellian achievement there—a swiftboat-styled editing of something that happened not decades ago, but something that happened right before our very eyes, with no shame whatsoever on the part of the liars. That is post-truth politics, summed up. The second issue is the politics of Ultimate Vapidity, the push to so empty the candidate of values and beliefs that he stands for literally nothing, a campaign heralding an expensive suit on a translucent man. You might presume that the pick of Paul Ryan for the vice presidency might signal an appreciation for Ryan's remarkably brutal cull-the-herd approach to the social safety net; you would be equally correct to presume it to be nothing more than the latest empty pander to the groups that need pandering to. There is no way to tell. It is at least telling, however, that after that selection Mitt Romney did not suddenly start promoting the ideas of Paul Ryan; instead, Paul Ryan began to be studiously genericized, like Mitt Romney.

I do not believe Mitt Romney is an ultraconservative. I do not for a minute think Mitt Romney has put enough thought into his own political beliefs to even have an opinion on them.
I think that Hunter is being a little too kind to Mitt. Taibbi had similar thoughts after the Great Etch-a-Sketch Debate, but I think his original expose on Romney nailed down the man's true convictions, such as they are.

But Hunter's piece isn't really an indictment of Mr. Romney. It's an indictment of the press that has allowed this post-truth environment to exist. A press that is far more interested in the horserace and in political maneuvering than in the the actual policies of the candidates. After all, a journalist who actually understood and cared about tax policy wouldn't let Romney off the hook on his equivocations about imaginary deductions. She'd insist on answers until Romney stormed off the interview.

The American Presidency may be the most important job in the world. It has the most scrutinized job interview process in the world. The press is ultimately the arbiter of the job interview, with the final hiring decision left to the American people.

And at the end of the job interview, we still have no idea how one of the applicants would approach the job.

That's a good reason not to hire the applicant. But it's an even better reason to fire the interviewer.


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