Presidential death match Pt 1 - Mitt Romney
It's on. It is so on. In the Republican corner you have Mitt Romney, the most unlikely... sorry, unlikeable Presidential candidate in decades, while over in the Democratic corner you have Barack Obama, tarnished hero of progressive politics, who resembles Omar from The Wire (Obama's favourite character) more and more by the day – a man with a fierce moral code who is probably making things better by being around, but who also has a nasty habit of killing people without trial. Over the next seven odd weeks they'll be standing face-to-face and flogging one another with wet towels of rhetoric while the world watches in slack-jawed disbelief. With its heightened emotion, hollow punches, pratfalls, clear-cut divisions between good and evil and occasional chair hits, it's not so dissimilar to a WWF Death Match. Yes, the US Presidential race really is the greatest show on Earth.
So, who are these folk and what's the state of play right now? Over the next two weeks I'll be looking at each camp and providing an overview of the who, what, where's and how the shit are people supposed to vote fors of each candidate. First up, the Republican offering to the political/comedy Gods: Willard "Mitt" Romney.
Mitt "The Mittster" "Ol' Mitty" "Papa Mitt Mitt" "Baseball Glove" Romney
Here he is folks, final definitive proof for the adage that money really can buy you anything, up to and including a tilt at the world's most powerful political position. A man who looks like an escapee from Madame Tussaud's and whose flexibility on all points of principle suggests a similar consistency. He's a man that even John Boehner, leader of the House Republicans, has admitted is unloveable. Boehner's words were to the effect that most people who vote in November are going to be voting for or against Barack Obama, rather than for or against Mitt Romney, so it didn't really matter that the Republicans have essentially nominated a man with the charisma and vision of cement.
As you can see here, Mitt Romney loves an America that is an infinite loop.
Mitt Romney's actual wealth is the subject of some discussion. On paper it's around $275 million. As is that makes him, by quite some margin, the richest man to ever have run for President. By comparison, Obama ran in 2008 with a personal wealth of just over $1 million. But even that $275 million figure may be understating it. In true patriotic fashion, Romney has stashed vast portions of his fortune in Swiss bank accounts, offshore holdings and Scrooge McDuck-style pools of money. No-one is entirely sure how much he has in these distant repositories because Romney has been reluctant to release more than one year of his tax returns – as opposed to the 12 years released by most Presidential candidates, dating back to the candidacy of Romney's own father, George. There is at least one man on his case though: Hustler head honcho Larry Flynt, who is offering $1 million for anyone who dishes up the dirt on Romney's financial dealings. Inquire within.
There's a telling parallel here between the father and son. George was a classic US industrialist, a one time CEO of American Motors and community-minded advocate of the building of America, whereas Willard/Mitt is the modern incarnation of America's entrepreneurial spirit, a man for whom profit is the singular motive and for whom community has been trumped by the advancement of individuals. The great tragedy of modern American economics is that the country's unarguable rise correlated so cleanly with the deregulation of their economic markets. It's vogue/easy to see this as direct causation, but the actual relationship was a lot more fragmented and driven by the sorts of geopolitical circumstance that dates back to the Second World War. And now you have a nation where the corporation has been awarded semi-divine status, a vengeful God that cannot be angered for fear of bringing its wrath down upon the village. But keep on appeasing the almighty and the benefits rained down upon you and your children shall be unending. Right?
It's tempting to see Romney through the prism of our own political scene, to see his odd mix of unpopularity, ambiguity, power and extremist politics as an analogy to one Mr Tony Abbott. But while both Romney and Abbott are unpopular, are running on a purely anti-incumbent platform and in all likelihood simply want to be leader for the sake of being leader (are you proud of me now, Dad?), even Tony Abbott would shy away from the bouncy castle of insanity that the modern Republican party has become. It's truly strange to think how rosy the days of George W. Bush look in comparison to what has happened to the GOP over these last four years. The wishful naivety with which we embraced Barack Obama could also be extended to our expectations of the next step for America's new opposition party. Having been trounced so comprehensively in the polls, having lodged the country in two unpopular wars, having destroyed their own economy and having become an international laughing stock, us outsiders looked on and assumed that the only way the Republicans were going to regain any semblance of legitimacy was by skewing back towards the rational centre. After all, they had to steal those centrist voters back from the Democrats somehow.
I'm gonna blame Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, but I think we can apportion responsibility out to all of the major Republican strategists and mouthpieces. Together they essentially ran on the gamble that with some canny positioning they could win an election purely by activating the ultra-right, ultra-white end of the party – kinda like a racist version of what the Obama camp managed to do with young people and minorities in 2008. So, the Tea Party was born. Fast forward four years and the Tea Party is a largely spent force, but one with a significant Congressional presence; a monster that has not only grown beyond the control of their master, it has turned around and made the master its bitch. Exhibit A:
This is Paul Ryan. He's Mitt Romney's pick for Vice President. Everyone thought Mitt was going to pick a minority of some description because as a boring, rich, white guy he was really only resonating with boring, rich, white people, but Mitt stunned them all by picking an even more boring (if less rich) white guy, a man who made his name by releasing a much ridiculed budget plan last year. Ryan's political views are so far up the right it's almost beyond parody. He believes in a fantasy land of equal opportunity that has never existed and would like to see the Government replaced with a general sprinkling of pixie dust. He's anti-abortion, anti-climate change, anti-poor people, anti-gay marriage, pro-releigion and anti-fun. He's a big believer in hyper-liberal proto-fascist Ayn Rand and is by all measures the most right-leaning Vice Presidential candidate in history. He's even beating Cheney. CHENEY. Cheney was so intense that he shot a guy and then had the guy apologise to him. To most observers, Ryan – while photogenic and charismatic – was also the only potential VP pick that could make the Romney campaign more unelectable. Mainly because the Republicans are reliant upon the votes of old people and this guy wanted to gut their healthcare.
But here we are. The Romney-Ryan ticket. The Republican party's final concession to the brutal electoral maths of an election they're trying to win wholly from the white vote. And they're not doing that badly all things considered. Then again, with an economy as stagnant as America's and a President that has lost the belief of the American people, they arguably should be doing much better. The New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog currently has the ticket 4% behind Obama, although some of that may be due to a lingering warm glow after the Democratic Convention. I mean, did you see Michelle Obama's speech? Maybe she should be running. But overall votes don't matter for much in the US Presidential election. It's all about swing states and in 2012 there are 9 that actually matter: Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. Obama won them all in 2008 and Romney needs to claw a whole bunch of them back if he's going to do the improbable and take the White House. Still, even with this narrow focus, current polls show Obama taking every single one except North Carolina. It's crisis time for the Romney campaign and the campaign has only just begun.
Still, with the spectre of George W. Bush so fresh in our minds, it's bizarre to contemplate the possibility that America might put another man with such manifest flaws into the most powerful political position on Earth. Yet while Bush had an oddball, rambling, folksy appeal – that is, he was an idiot, but the kind of idiot that other idiots responded to – Romney has none of these redeeming features. He's a man clearly ill at ease amongst other people, a man who seems to stand for nothing, whose life is utterly unrelatable to all except the richest of citizens, who is a member of a fringe religion, whose rhetoric is stilted and facile and who doesn't seem to be able to comprehend that becoming President isn't simply a rite of passage for people of certain standing. Yet he's what they've got, a final symptom of a party whose short-term fear-mongering has trumped every politician of vision that they have. In that they're merely a more extreme version of our own Liberal Party, but in Mitt Romney the Republicans have found their ultimate cipher – an amorphous rhetorical blunderbuss who can be shaped however the powers that be deem it necessary. He's the apotheosis of governing-as-electoral-math and if a few swing votes go his way he could well be the next President of the United States.
And the possibility makes me feel like this:
Man, there's an Always Sunny GIF for everything.