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.
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.
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’.)
The Republican National Convention’s first day was cancelled out of deference to tropical storm Isaac, but for most of Monday Tampa was rainless. At around 4 p.m. I was standing a block from the convention centre, next to Charles O. Perry’s 1985 sculpture Solstice, which looks a bit like a space age Christmas tree ornament, or a pair of Slinkys copulating, beneath the Bank of America Tower. On a Saturday in January 2002 a 15-year-old-boy called Charles Bishop crashed a stolen Cessna into the tower, killing himself and nobody else, because, as on Monday because of the storm scare, there were few people downtown. ‘Osama bin Laden is absolutely justified in the terror he has caused on 9-11,’ Bishop wrote in his suicide note. He has brought a mighty nation to its knees! God blesses him and the others who helped make September 11th happen. The US will have to face the consequences for its horrific actions against the Palestinian people and [illegible] by its allegiance with the monstrous Israelis who want nothing short of world domination! You will pay – God help you – and I will make you pay! His parents at first blamed the incident on acne medicine-induced psychosis but before long dropped their $70 million lawsuit against its manufacturers. On Monday the skies were protected by helicopters. ‘Here comes a mob,’ a pedestrian said. At the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Tampa Street beige-clad policemen in riot gear formed a line to meet a protest march. The ‘mob’ turned out to be the Poor Man’s March, a permitless echo of a demonstration earlier in the day that had resulted in one protester being arrested after getting tackled by a cop for wearing a mask. Leading the crowd was a man on a bike pulling a trailer with an upside-down Stars and Stripes waving on a pole. Several marchers were carrying pizza boxes. ‘I don’t know about the pizza theme,’ one said. A man with a megaphone addressed the cops: ‘I’m an anarchist. I hope you’re not scared of me because I’m not scary. They’ve got you dressed up like turtles.’ He was wearing a black plastic boot on his head, had a rat-face toy gas mask dangling from his neck, and is apparently called Vermin Supreme. ‘Read my op-ed, it’s an open letter to the city to provide you with corn starch to prevent chafing in your riot gear.’ The signs – ‘Capitalism Is Cannibalism’, ‘Dump Both Parties of Wall Street’, ‘Food Not Bombs’ – were more standard-issue than the chants. ‘We are the proletariat, we are the pizza resistance!’ ‘The pizza ignited will never be reheated!’ ‘Fuck Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney is a fuckin’ asshole!’ ‘What does $50 billion look like? This is what $50 billion looks like’ – i.e., like a bunch of turtles in beige.
Be glad Mitt Romney didn’t visit Auschwitz. That could have really been ugly. You know people like Mittens, as his former constituents in Massachusetts used to refer to him, without affection, also Mitt the Shit. You may even be related to someone like Mitt, perhaps by marriage: the sort of counter-intuitive person who, as if by some sinister gravitational pull, will inevitably step in it every time he opens his mouth. You may find something endearing about him, you may even love him in your own fashion, but you try, as best you can, not to go out in public with him if it’s at all possible. You certainly wouldn’t take him with you to Europe or the Middle East.
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: