The best line so far in the 2012 presidential derby? This from Joe Klein:
“Authenticity is rapidly becoming a euphemism for simple ignorance. (Herman) Cain was authentic; Sarah Palin was authentic. Elitists — people who have actually studied complicated stuff and become experts at it — are phonies. Just ask Rush Limbaugh.”
Klein was contemplating the ongoing challenge for Mitt Romney in coming across as human, not humanoid.
His point: Romney has a lot going for him — education, experience, smarts — but “authenticity”?
It’s odd that anyone would comment on Romney’s genuineness, when; well, consider . . .
Authentic? Serial adulterer Newt Gingrich professes his Catholicism.
Authentic? Rick Perry, he of ballot security schemes that purge the poor, says Virginia “disenfranchises voters” because it won’t bend rules to let him on its primary ballot.
Authentic? Rick Santorum pontificates on evil government health care. And, um, his parents worked for the VA, and he grew up on VA hospital campuses.
Still, this authenticity thing is a real concern for Romney, as it was for one other Massachusetts governor of note.
What is Mitt about, except one who for eight years has been offering his hair for national office?
Disquieting (if you are a Republican) similarities seem to exist between Romney and Michael Dukakis, the squat Massachusetts governor who out-vagued a very puny Democratic field in 1988. Dukakis became short work of George H.W. Bush.
Republican voters want to fall in love with Romney, just as Democrats wanted to fall in love with Dukakis.
Are voters destined to find in Romney, as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, that “when you get there there isn’t any there there”?
Believe or discard: Like Dukakis, Romney is running on his resume. And like Dukakis, Romney is also tapping the potency of vacuousness in not saying much that will get him in trouble with any constituency.
Will it work in the general election? Sure, it could. But it probably won’t. Romney is going to have to show that there is a “there there.”
What was telling about Dukakis was that the only time his anemic candidacy started to show any traction with voters was when he started showing some red corpuscles and stopped running from the “L” word, something he had dodged vigorously.
Seemingly tied to that formula (made in Massachusetts?) Romney has been expertly dodging any number of matters throughout a very successful primary quest. Consider the debate when Santorum said he agreed that states should have the right to ban birth control.
Romney, given the chance to state his position, evaded most expertly, leading a lot of people to ask, “Really?”
Wrote Miles Mogulescu in the Huffington Post:
“Now, it might be easy to dismiss Santorum as an extremist outlier and assume that a President Romney would never do the same. But as Romney's evasive response . . . makes clear, that would be a profound mistake.”
At this week’s debate in South Carolina, Romney was similarly slippery when Santorum pressed him about federal law allowing allowing ex-convicts to vote if they completed their sentences. Romney's evasiveness was particularly odd because a pro-Romney ad attacked Santorum for voting for the law in the Senate.
So, this is Romney’s authenticity problem. It’s not whether or not he can summon a “ya betcha” to win the adoration of Palin’s moose-killing set, or whether as a businessman he can pull off the “The Herman Cain Show.” It’s what in fact he is about, policy-wise, principles-wise. It’s about how long it will take for voters to figure that out, and/or whether Romney will figure it out in advance of when voters decide for themselves.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.