To the Republicans of Florida:
I’m writing to discuss with you that sense of foreboding that haunted your polling places on Tuesday; that evil shudder that crawled up your backbone and down your arm, causing your fingers to jag ever so slightly toward the name “Newt Gingrich” before proceeding on their foreordained course to “Mitt Romney”; that vague feeling of having done something tawdry that stalked you on your walk back to your Escalades and pick-ups and followed you home.
Why did you feel it? Why do you feel dirty, even now?
Maybe it’s the way he talks to you. Unlike his competitors for the presidency, Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to care if you think he’s sincere. Remember his victory speech in Iowa, when he made a lame joke about corn:
I love this country. I love the hymns of America. “America The Beautiful!” Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain – corn counts, doesn’t it, as an amber wave of grain? Yes.
He said this with characteristic androidal rapidity – almost all of his public utterances are delivered too quickly to be anything other than recitations – and yet he still widened his eyes here, gesticulated there, in such a way as to suggest he was riffing; that he was actually surprised by what he was saying. But everyone in the audience knew better. The corn riff was something he’d whipped out at every campaign stop in Iowa, and everyone in the room that night had heard it before. Romney didn’t care. Indeed, he didn’t even seem to know that he should.
This is to some extent ordinary political stuff. Anyone with a calendar as speech-packed as that of a leading presidential candidate must deploy fresh material judiciously. But even so, most candidates prefer to seem canned only when waxing wonky or being smart-alecky. Think Ron Paul’s tirades about fiat currencies, or Newt’s nonsense promise to let Barack Obama use a teleprompter in debates. Only Mitt Romney is content to be caught acting when talking about his overwhelming love of country. And that bothers you. Patriotism shouldn’t be phoned in.
Perhaps Mitt Romney has no choice. He is a Mormon, after all – which is to say, he believes Native Americans are Jews, that a polygamist domestic terrorist was the greatest prophet since Moses, and that one day he, Willard Mitt Romney, will be the god of his own Earth – and so he has better reasons than most to publicly cocoon himself in the flag. So he does it daily, hourly, moment-by-moment on the campaign trail to keep you from wondering too much about his bishophood in a strange cult or what his father was up to in that Mexican Mormon commune.
But still. It’s offensive. As Gingrich rhapsodizes about his own boldness and the bigness of his plans, while Ron Paul rails against policing the world, while Rick Santorum lays out his surprisingly nuanced if totally wrongheaded message about the connection between families and the economy, Romney talks to you like you’re children. He stands there winklessly and speed-raps about the miraculous, soul-stirring, undeniable and overwhelming awesomeness of America, and breaks only occasionally to decry the country’s military weakness and moral decline and poverty and immense stupidity for only four years ago electing Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency. That’s how it went this week in The Villages, the vast retirement community in Central Florida. Mitt’s wife, Anne, warned the assembled seniors about the dimming of the light that makes America a “shining city on a hill,” and then Mitt speed-rapped about imperiled Social Security and creeping European socialism and the clear and present danger of Ahmedinachavez and the sudden death approaching sick, fragile little America from a billion evil angles – and then, acknowledging no contradiction at all, he speed-rapped about the beauty of America, the bigness of America, his love for America and his love for America and his love for America. And then he sang about it.
I love this country. And said that earlier. I love America. When I was a boy, my mom and dad put us in their car and took us around to the national parks. They wanted us to see the beauty of the land. We came here and saw Cypress Gardens and the oceans. Went west and saw the canyon and canyons actually — rivers and mountains and fell in love with the land in America. There was a, uh, there’s a song that captures that for me. Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesty, across the fruited plain. Can you sing that song? I love that song. You know that song?
[sings tunelessly the entire first verse]
I love this country. I love its beauty! But you know, even more astounding than the beauty of the rocks and rills and templed hills of America is the heart and passion of the American people. There’s a spirit to this land which makes us a unique and exceptional place. I think it was captured in those words in the Declaration of Independence that I just mentioned about life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I love the people of America …
… and he went on from there, and it was all pap, pure pap, infinitely moreso than the not un-pappy pap being spouted by Romney’s competitors. The policies proposed on Mitt Romney’s campaign website may have substance, but his public appeal to you is simply this: I love you most. Which is ridiculous. And you know it.
But what Mitt knows is that it doesn’t matter. You were able to vote for him in spite of his incredible condescension because you think he can win — because he’s good looking, he’s got a beautiful family, and he’s in the top 10 percent of the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent and he spent a ludicrous amount of money convincing you, not entirely dishonestly, that his only serious competition for the nomination is a disaster on legs. All Mitt has to do to secure his party’s nomination is not alienate you so much that you sacrifice victory for principal. What could be less alienating than love?
If there’s a flaw in his plan, it’s this: That if you love somebody, your interactions with them should probably amount to more than fear and comfort, sticks and carrots, scolding and petting. And you know that, too. But you didn’t think about it too much, and you voted for him even if you didn’t like him. And you didn’t like him because you knew, deep down, that he’s never cared for you much, either.