The Importance of Being Earnest

The noise about Mitt Romney’s supposed lack of authenticity went up a few decibels yesterday, due to this column in the Las Vegas Sun about “Silky Smooth, Almost Human Romney.” It’s interesting to notice how the lack of authenticity is proven in these kinds of stories, with the LV Sun column serving as the perfect example. Notice that the writer always backs into the thesis by highlighting how smooth, gifted, polished, articulate, quick on his feet, and even-tempered Mitt Romney is. Indeed, if you separated all this fawning praise from the actual tone and conclusions of the piece, you’d think this was nothing more than a pure puff piece meant to brandish Romney’s image even further.

But something happens on the way to hagiography. As it turns out, none of the above qualities are actual assets. Instead, they serve as proof of something else, a lack of substance or an uncertainty about core principles, or the desire not to be exposed as an extraterrestrial, or something. This would be understandable if there were some independent evidence that Romney truly does lack a core set of values, but there is nothing more fully on display than Mitt Romney’s deeply-felt beliefs– his family, his religion, his belief in discipline and details, etc. People who see evolution on specific policy issues in this still-green politician and take that as a fundamental lack of personal principles know nothing about personal principles. You and I don’t build our characters around our opposition to illegal immigration. We establish a foundation based on things like hard work, family focus, education, patriotism, etc. To say that those things aren’t clearly apparent in Mitt Romney is to invent one’s own Mitt Romney.

Regardless of the lack of actual evidence that Romney lacks sincere beliefs, this journalistic game continues. No one ever raises the possibility that the candidate’s lack of obvious flaws could mean that he’s a pretty decent human being, instead of an evasive snake oil salesman. Instead, you just look for any flaw in your mark, and if you can’t find a flaw, you just accuse him of being too smooth. Either way the journalist wins, and the politician looks like a schmuck. The Sun writer closes with the following:

We also discussed Romney’s Mormonism, which caused him to launch into a soliloquy on secular leadership and religious influences. Indeed, he ultimately struck me as many LDS politicians here have – deliberate, modulated and opaque.

Scarily, and effectively, opaque.

After an entire column of hiding his suspicions, the author finally closes with some clarity about what drives his discomfort about Romney. It’s that he’s like other Mormons– secretive and robotic. It’s even “scary” how opaque this guy is– a loaded term if there ever was one. This is a bit ironic, given that all politicians become “opaque” to the extent they need to to deflect off-topic questions and avoid land-mine topics. Mitt Romney became opaque when asked about Mormonism. Well, if you asked this author about details of his personal religious beliefs in a public setting, chances are he’d become somewhat “opaque” too. If Mitt Romney is more opaque than anyone else (a highly suspect proposition to begin with) it’s because he fields twice as many questions on irrelevant topics than any other candidate, and knows each one is a grenade waiting to go off in his lap.

But at least the Sun column moves the ball a little, adding the opacity charge to the growing list of stereotypes about Mormons. Frankly, I’ve never heard this one before, but it’s a politely backhanded way of saying that Mormons have something to hide. And what is it that they’re hiding? Who knows, but with someone that smooth, how can there not be something, right? So far, that’s pretty much the only evidence we’ve got.