Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.
At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney. The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary. He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.
You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?” Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination. So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.
Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control. Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing. Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.
Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies, and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity. Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:
The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…
A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures. (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)
This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will. For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.
Oh, come all my friends, pray gather round me;
I’ll sing you a song of a man called Willard Mitt Romney.
Oh, Willard Mitt Romney had millions of bucks.
He cut a fine figure in a well-tailored tux.
He was groomed from the first to become President.
He looked Presidential wherever he went.
He came from fam’ly distinguished and famed,
And his policies in Massachusetts were highly acclaimed.
But there was one problem besetting this man;
A problem that threw a wrench in his Executive plan;
A problem which many a comic did often exploit:
‘Twas that he was a complete social maladroit!
Everyone stood in silence whene’er he cracked jokes,
With his horses and jets, he didn’t fit in with common folks.
He once bet 10,000 American on a light little whim,
And he couldn’t tell why all the voters couldn’t relate to him.
And as for his healthcare plan, well, it’s sad to tell;
It turned out it had succeeded entirely too well!
But ‘midst all these clouds, Mitt glimpsed some silver lining them:
He’d got lots of cash from the rich by wining and dining them!
It all boiled down, (as it always does), to the issue of money
Would it be a curse or a blessing to Willard Mitt Romney?
The Republican Party
Cut tax and spend less.
And Heed the Word of the Lord.
But mostly, cut tax.
The Democratic Party
We must tax the rich.
Unless they’re in Hollywood.
Then we’re conflicted.
Cut Government Waste!
Like useless departments that
The Tea Party
We hate government
Unless it does what we want.
So… basically… yeah.
We can disagree
On Reagan’s policies, but
His hair was perfect!*
If there’s more to it than that,
We don’t want to know.
We won’t vote for Obama.
We’re not Democrats.
No, really, we promise you!
Not the same at all!
We strongly believe
We’re slaves to biology.
Go build some robots.
We are all selfish.
It worked great in the novel.
Check your premises.
Why do we have to adhere to this stupid form? We will use however many freakin’ syllables we damn well please!
*Apologies to the late, great Warren Zevon for stealing this line.