Last January, I predicted here that Mitt Romney would lose, based partially on the Curse of the E-Trochee: American presidential candidates whose last name is two syllables ending with a long e sound have always failed; they just can’t be taken seriously. It may seem ridiculous but, as Novalis said, 'Language is Delphi.' Closer to realpolitik, Mitt failed the Safety and Sincerity tests. Voters like to feel safe, to be assured that things will generally be all right, that there will be no bad surprises. I’ve always believed that Obama won in 2008 thanks to Sarah Palin. McCain – though he’s still with us – looked old and tired, and the possibility that the dim Northern Light might suddenly illuminate the Oval Office was scarier than a black man with a funny name. He at least seemed level-headed and intelligent.
Obama and Romney are each spending about a billion dollars to get elected – four times what Bush and Gore spent in 2000. When one adds the unregulated PACs (political action committees) and Congressional and gubernatorial races, the cost of this year’s election is around $6 billion. The reason, of course, is television advertising. As the election draws near, some 80,000 political advertisements are running every day on American televisions. The entire ecosystem of lobbyists and politicians dependent on donations from corporate and other interests is almost entirely due to television. Eliminate the ads, which are forbidden in many countries, and American politics would change overnight. The astonishing thing is the uselessness of this potlatch.
Mitt knows what it takes. At the second presidential debate, he said: ‘I know what it takes to get this economy going.’ ‘I know what it takes to create good jobs again.’ ‘I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve.’ ‘I know what it takes to bring them back.’ [jobs] ‘I know what it takes to balance budgets.’ ‘I know what it takes to make an economy work.’ ‘I know what it takes to get this to happen.’ Mitt knows what it takes, but he isn’t sharing. Once he gets elected, he’ll tell us, he says, how he’s going to cut taxes by $5 trillion, add $2 trillion to the military budget, and balance the budget while still having some sort of federal government, besides the Pentagon, left to run. He’ll tell us how he’s going to create 12 million jobs, even though he believes, as he said at the debate: ‘Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs.’ (A pause for fact-checking, a tedious necessity throughout the Tales of Mitt.
American political campaigns rely on what insiders call the ‘narrative’, though, like a Hollywood sales pitch, it’s a story that’s never more than a sentence long. One of the problems the Republicans have had this year is that they have three contradictory narratives for Obama. There is Obama in the dashiki: the Kenyan Muslim Socialist who ‘hates America’ (as Rush Limbaugh often says) and wants to turn the country into some sort of jihadi North Korea. There is Obama in the hoodie: the ruthless, corrupt gangsta, ‘Chicago-style sleaze’ (as John McCain said recently). And then there is the barefoot Obama, shirtless in ill-fitting overalls: an amiable but bumbling clown, ‘lazy’ and ‘not that bright’ (as Romney’s spokesman John Sununu said after the debate) who’s in over his head trying to run a government. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the images of Obama as simultaneously the blackface Scarface, Chairman Mao and Stepin Fetchit tend both to cancel each other out and bear no resemblance to the articulate, unflappable, professorial type and his seemingly perfect all-American, however unwhite, family.
In Ajax bar in Oxford, Mississippi, they muted the baseball commentary during the Obama-Romney debate and left the game playing on the screen near the door while the candidates sparred on the big screen over the bar. We couldn't make out the nitty-gritty of what they were saying, just the mood music: Mitt v. Barack sounded like marching band Sousa v. the Well-Tempered Clavier.
The fortress of Charlotte is by now dismantled. Concerns about the weather had moved Thursday night’s speeches from the Bank of America Stadium back to the Time Warner Cable Arena, a discrepancy of about 50,000 seats. It did rain on Thursday, but only a brief thundering downpour in the afternoon. After the skies cleared, I set off for the convention centre. I’d taken to stopping at the protest encampment at Marshall Park on the way in and on the way home. I’d heard a lot about Bradley Manning, about the iniquities of the old nativist AFL, and about the pro-war corporate pawn FDR. There was mention of the Rothschilds and even a bit of 9/11 ‘truth’.
Mitt Romney said last week that his wife would have been successful at anything she might have done. Michelle Obama on Tuesday elided her actual success as a corporate lawyer to dwell on her role as ‘mom-in-chief’. And she converted her emotional life into a talking point attuned to the day’s news cycle. The headlines were covering the parties’ contest over whether Americans were or weren’t better off than four years ago. The first lady assured the convention that she loved her husband more now than she did four years ago. Despite the disagreements over whether or not to include God and Jerusalemin the party platform, the Time Warner Cable Arena is a house full of true believers this week. I heard a corporate lawyer in her mid-thirties say that she still thought Michelle Obama was a ‘ninja killer’, whatever her omissions. She was wearing a blue dress, like many of the young women at the DNC. I didn’t see an equivalent trend last week in Tampa. But then I didn’t see many young women there. Just as there weren’t many hipsters who weren’t in the media, or delegates who weren’t white, or people who were missing a limb.
On the drive downtown from the Charlotte airport you ride the Billy Graham Parkway and are greeted by a billboard that says: ‘Don’t Believe the Liberal Media.’ I went for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The TV was tuned to CNN. Aaron Black from Occupy Wall Street, who’d taken me to Romneyville in Tampa, was walking his bike down the street in Sunday’s March on Wall Street South. He said that some of the OWS protesters from Tampa hadn’t come north for the DNC: ‘A lot of our people are not interested in protesting Obama.’ Yestersday around noon I was walking to the Planned Parenthood rally at the Nascar Hall of Fame when I came across the tent encampment in Marshall Park. There were a couple of dozen tents and signs spread out across the ground: ‘Obama Is a Fucking Traitor!’; ‘Avoid Corptards’ with anarchy symbols for the As; Obama riding in a flying saucer, looking a bit like Mr Spock, launching drones from above a row of ‘sheeple’, one of whom had woken up to say ‘Holy crap’, only to have his ‘dissent’ float up to be stifled by ‘weapons of mass distraction’.
If you sit long enough in the company of jolly Republicans, you will hear that the president’s problem is that he’s a ‘pansy-ass’, that he wouldn’t come to Israel’s aid against Iran because he’s ‘too Muslim himself’, that he’s trying to hide his family from the country because he’s ‘not a real American’, that it would be easy for him to prove everything with some ‘microfiche’ from the hospital where he was born, that the best thing about America is our defence, and that Obamacare is ‘full of terrible, terrible things’ called ‘entitlements’. I have heard this stuff in Tampa, not, it should be said, from delegates or officials, but from nice people who believe things if they hear them repeated enough times. I’ve also heard that the best years ever were the ones between 1983 and 1987, that no one ever did as much for American women as the dynamic duo of Ronald Reagan and the personal computer, that the parties at the RNC have never been as good as they were for Goldwater in San Francisco in 1964, that New York is a bad place to live because of rapists, and that the hottest guys at the convention are the officers of the Secret Service. I saw a woman swoon as she said the words ‘tax cut’.
‘Don’t look at me, you might catch poverty.’ We were on Ashley Drive, where the Tuesday night convention crowd was being funnelled out through a hole in the fence. There were five men holding ‘Mr 1%’ signs and calling at the delegates. ‘How’s the middle class doing?’ The occasional delegate answered either ‘just fine’ or ‘terribly because of Obama’. Obama’s ‘all-out assault on free enterprise’ had been the evening’s relentlessly hammered theme. The assault had two elements: ‘an environment of regulatory uncertainty’ and his remark in July at Roanoke, Virginia, ‘If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.’ This was evidence of his scorn for the American Dream. The Dream, which can usually be reduced to home ownership, was in the hall reduced to being ‘a small business owner’. Trotted out on stage were a metal worker, a designer of trade show exhibits, and a sign maker. The metal worker doubted Obama’s ability to maintain an adequate supply chain, and the sign maker was bitter that Obama altered federal procurement policies for signage. (He still makes signs for the Forest Service and the State of New Mexico ‘thanks to Governor Susana Martinez’.)
Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, is a seven-term congressman from small-town Wisconsin, best known for his radical shrink-the-government fiscal proposals, though he's also quite conservative on everything else. A year and a half ago, the ‘Ryan budget’ put him in the national spotlight – with some help from Obama (on which more below) – and made him a hero on the right. It proposes making big cuts in many federal programmes and turning Medicare into a voucher system that would not keep up with healthcare inflation: the government would save money because old people would go untreated or pay more. Compared to many Republican proposals, it’s full of detail, though its arithmetic appears not to hold up.
For weeks now, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have tripped over one another in the frenzied competition to announce their love for Israel. Mitt Romney has promised that it will be the first country he visits as president. Rick Perry insists that he will confront Iran head-on to protect Israel from being 'wiped off the face of the earth'. Newt Gingrich took it to another level when, in an interview with the Jewish Channel, he said that the Palestinians are an ‘invented people’. He repeated the assertion a few days later, comparing himself to Ronald Reagan for having the 'courage to tell the truth'.
Rick Santorum loves America, lobbyists’ cheques, sweater vests and his seven children. An eighth, Gabriel, was stillborn at 20 weeks in 1996. When staff from the morgue arrived, the Santorums refused to give up the foetal corpse. That night they slept with it between them in the hospital bed, and the next day took it home so that their children could snuggle with it before a funeral. Since his surprise near-victory in Iowa, the candidate’s supporters have lashed out at journalists who’ve revisited this story, but it was Karen Santorum who publicised it first. ‘Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!’ she wrote in Letters to Gabriel (1998). She describes giving the corpse to their eldest daughter, then five years old, to hold. ‘This is my baby brother, Gabriel,’ she said. ‘He is an angel.’ The book has a foreword from Mother Teresa.
Some evangelical Christian websites have been reproducing my LRB blog post on Mitt Romney, presumably less interested in his trochaic surname than in his Mormon underwear. One of them reprints, on the same page as my post, an article by Gary Bauer, president of American Values, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, and perennial television talking head for the Christian right:
There are many reasons Mitt Romney will never be elected president. These include, in descending order of importance: 1) He is a Mormon who wears funny underwear. 2) On a family vacation, he drove for many hours with his dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of his SUV. 3) He is a stuffed shirt, full of 'pious baloney', as the incomparable Newt recently put it. 4) He has been on both sides of every issue, while denying that he ever held the opposing view. But what will sink Romney is his last name. Americans do not find two-syllable names ending with a long e presidential. They are associated with diminutives and baby-talk and lack the requisite gravitas. American history is littered with these losers: