Category Archives: Romney Family

On Being a Mormon Candidate in America

Not yet twenty-four hours after Mitt Romney announced the end of his campaign, we’ve already seen several people telling him what he did wrong. Most of these post-mortems are limited by their failure to view the race as it was when Romney got in it. The consensus now seems to be that he sealed his fate by running to the right, acting the part of the red-meat conservative instead of the brainy technocrat with the ability to fix our country as if it were a slightly larger version of Dominoes Pizza. But a year ago, when Mitt Romney was receiving raves at the CPAC conference and being hailed as the perfect answer to the inevitability that enveloped Giuliani and McCain (depending on who you asked), that kind of advice would have sounded pathetically misguided.

What the commentators aren’t remembering were both the anonymity of Mitt Romney and the gaping hole on the right end of the GOP field. The man needed a niche to fill, and that niche was there for the taking. One more thoughtful moderate refusing to speak to the base would have flamed out instantly, and Romney was smart enough to know where he could fit in. But he wasn’t smart enough to anticipate the less visible, but far more serious threat to his candidacy- the rise of the “Authentic Christian Leader.”

Long before Mike Huckabee, there was plenty of talk about whether a Mormon could be elected president. Many doubted, and the polls seemed to back them up. But for the optimists (of whom Mitt Romney was one), there was abundant counter-evidence. Those same polls showed voter resistance to a “Mormon candidate” steadily decreasing from spring to summer to fall. Romney saw a corresponding bump in his numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. For every big story in the mainstream press about nutty Mormon beliefs, there were three or four small-town papers running pieces on the very normal, upstanding Mormons in their own communities. The press became better informed about Romney’s faith, and slowly stopped mentioning it in every story about the “Mormon candidate.” Romney had a chance. Continue reading On Being a Mormon Candidate in America

Is Bruce Reed for Real?

Given that he’s accusing everyone else of being fictional, we might as well ask him the same thing.

That’s right, in his latest smear, Reed takes Tagg Romney to task for . . . the fact that a possibly fictional person has written blog posts about him and even commented on his blog. Do we really want a president that has a son that receives notes from fictional people? Also, Tagg is a cyborg, like his father- so stiff he’s “frozen,” . . . but he also shoots from the hip, preferring to “speak first and ask poll questions later.” Also, Tagg is a square . . . but he has a frat-boy sense of humor.

Perhaps these contradictions are just signs of good nuanced fiction. One hopes that is what Reed is aspiring to write here, because this bizarre, derisive piece would look far more at home coming out of a community college creative writing program than from one of our preeminent online magazines.

Slate’s campaign to brand Romney and his family as too good to be true (an angle of attack inextricably linked with the “up with people vibe of [their] cultural Mormonism” as Andrew Sullivan has unctuously put it) continues. But the latest episode is not worth serious response. I think this blogger’s take is much better fitted to Reed’s brand of “journalism.” (And funnier than Reed, too).

Emerging Campaign Meme: “Too Good to be True!”

The Romney campaign recently posted a remarkable video clip on its site.  The 13 minute video depicts, over soft guitar strumming, the family’s get-together this last Christmas at their vacation home in Deer Valley, Utah.  One of the purposes for the reunion was to let everyone in the family weigh in on Romney’s decision whether to run for president.  Here is the clip:

I find this a very effective bit of political theater, not least because of the authenticity lent to the proceedings by the down-to-earth narration of Ann Romney.  Her meandering thoughts on feeding such a large family and keeping the kitchen clean bring a logistical earthiness to a gathering that might otherwise look too effortless.  (And I can say, from experience in my own large, Mormon family, that these scenes look quite realistic to me).

Ah, but there are some who find the remaining effortlessness far too disgusting to swallow.  In a mean-spirited takedown under the sub-head “The Irresistible Creepiness of Mitt’s New Home Video,” Slate’s Bruce Reed mocks the “Cyborg” family, with its five “dull,” “wrinkle-free” “frightenly wholesome- and shallow” sons, “whose very sameness is hypnotic.”  Meanwhile, the New York Times’ political blog less-cruelly describes the “Romney-Rockwell Video” as arguably “high on cheese,” but an effective portrayal of what sets Mitt apart from Guiliani and other rivals. 

 Both pieces mention the meal-time grace offered by Romney, and both include allusions to Leave it Beaver (the latter piece only in the comments, which are worth reading to gain a sense of how many people hate the idea of a religious, happy family man leading our country).  The implication is clear:  This video stinks because it is artificial.  No family is that perfect, and even if they were, we’d only hate them for it. 

And so emerges what is likely to be a consistent theme for Romney critics:  He’s just too perfect.  There is rarely an explanation of why this seeming perfection is a problem, but usually the implication is that such a glossy sheen can only be 1) artificially and cynically constructed (as Slate’s Reed says “He looks like he made up his mind 40 years ago, then built a family to consult about the decision”), and is therefore clearly fake or 2) superficial, and therefore hides a less-appealing core that is either vapid or, worse, dangerous.

What support is offered for the view that the Romneys are not truly what they purport to be?  Sure, they’re a good looking family, and they have some money and even a bit of fame to boot, but it’s not impossible that those gifts, plus a bit of religious virtue, could all converge in one family.  The charge of flip-flopping on a few issues is often raised as if to say that Romney clearly holds no principles at all.  But can a change of mind regarding abortion really be the basis for an inference that this man isn’t sincere in his love for his family and his commitment to his faith?  And what of the accusation that the family is “shallow” and “dull,” because they are wholesome and lacking in disinguishing characteristics? (One wonders what kinds of differences would set Mr. Reed at ease– a few mustaches?  Tattoos?).  Is it not enough that each of the Romney sons has accomplished laudable things in his own right, including the kinds of graduate degrees that usually buy a bit of respect with the liberal crowd?  Apparently not. 

In the end, this kind of attack is never based on any rational grounds.  It rises from a visceral reaction among a certain kind of American- the kind that believes the traditional American ideals of family and faith are both impossible and undesirable.  We are a double-minded nation, seeking to elevate the family nationally, and each seeking familial happiness personally, yet agreeing publicly to mock anyone who succeeds in approaching the ideal.  Watch for this specialized, jealous kind of attack to continue as the Romneys continue in the spotlight.  And watch for its next phase, in which the Romneys will be splattered not only with imagined shallowness, but with real imagined transgressions and hypocrisy. 

Those are the attacks that will make Romney’s hope of “minimizing the downsides” for his family sound quaint, and ominous in the end.