Following what seemed like a decade of vulgar and demoralizing primaries, Americans have been returned to the choice that seemed pretty clear from the outset: Obama or Romney. It was never going to be Bachmann or Cain, but the media did its due diligence in clouding the debate by giving every wing nut contender ample air time. We can of course be grateful that Gingrich kicked himself out of the race through his own hubristic arrogance and all around shittiness. This has made the coming election feel like a war of attrition waged by both parties and their media counterparts upon the faith and patience of a confounded nation. And one can only imagine how it looks from the outside, by those many developing and perhaps occupied countries waiting with baited breath to see who will determine their future. Let’s consign the reality series called “Primary 2012” to the farthest reaches of our memory and face the music that confronts us now: two enigmatic men who ask us to trust them with the stewardship of the world.
By now many of his early supporters probably have a sense of what they can expect from President Obama: elegant speechifying, a hologram of common sense, and a whole host of contradictions (liberty vs. surveillance, torture and rendition; economic reform entrusted to the very robber-barons who vitiated Glass-Steagall; Greenwashing; pandering to AIPAC and the super-lobbies; the Afghan quagmire; etc.) And yet. And yet! One still feels a sense of “accountability” in Obama — he is of this earth and radiates a kind of frustrated intelligence that makes his supporters hope that it is just the impossible size of the job and the grim inheritance from Bush that forces him to make such painful compromises. And within that hungry hope is an even more spirited one: that a second term (with less to lose) would allow him to throw off the yoke of an immovable, even spiteful, Republican leadership (Boehner et al) and really be the person we thought he was.
Then there is Romney, the Republican candidate of least-liability. (This is coming out of a list of contenders who were barely suited to be distant relatives, let alone executives in chief.) Mitt Romney has, through a series of quick contortions, made himself to be the man of the hour; each hour, hour-by-hour. His handlers are keen at sniffing the wind and finding out where the base sits each day in terms of Choice, Same-Sex Marriage, the Wars, Immigration, the Environment, etc. Thus Romney acts and speaks accordingly, modifying or altering any previously held position by speaking to the momentary needs of his people. He has been fairly artful at sliding between the hard right requirements of God, Business and Small Government and a more opaque, conciliatory gesture towards “everyone else.” In many ways this is the same kind of craven self-representation that made people distrust Bachmann, Gingrich and Palin: “If you are this ready to throw the truth under the bus just to get the job, what won’t you lie about once you have power?” That’s the question I wish all of us would ask of our leadership, be it media outlets or presidential candidates.
The above polyptych, arranged in an unconventional “top down” scheme, is less a piece about Romney than a cenotaph to accuracy. Romney, I think, is only the latest cipher to be run up the flagpole by his divided party. His success depends on suspicion, half-truths and partially remembered facts. Above all, it depends upon a grievous sense of personal injury. The genius of Karl Rove and the Evangelical wing of the party (to which Romney is undoubtedly beholden, despite the spiritual conundrum this seems to invite for both him and the Religious right) is that it has transposed an impersonal Christian-Corporate ideology into a rootsy, folksy, homespun and totally emotional tenor. The Republican base is cultivated by emotion and opposition, hence the thundering impact of the Tea Party. In this fashion, Romney has been clear that a vote for him is a vote against the last four years (or a vote against how your life and work and house have felt in this half-decade). This naturally occludes the question of how bad you may have been smarting for the past twelve years, neatly eliding the Bush/Cheney bequeathal and laying a smoking pile of ruin at the doorstep of the current administration.
Before I slide into full Hazlitt mode here, I’ll draw back here and let the beguiling scroll ask its own questions. I’ll add only that I let my hands and pens freely articulate the many smoky mirrors of sacred science that has been coughed out of the pipe in the 2012 season: the Founders, grit, industry, self-determination, historical and geographical solipsism…