Mr. Nocera is off today. Bobo has decided to take a whirl at writing comedy. (I know, I know… Republican comedy is an oxymoron…) In “The Real Romney” he gives us a biographical sketch in which he outlines one man’s hardscrabble journey to the top of the Republican ticket. There are parts of it that actually made me smile. Well, more of a grimace or a rictus, actually. Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s Team of Idolizers,” sniffs about a transformative election failed to produce a transformative president. He managed to make one tiny passing reference to Republican obstructionism. Mr. Bruni, the poor soul, is in Tampa. In “Huggability and Helium” he says the Republican convention in Tampa will be a pantomime of passion for a candidate who doesn’t inspire it. Here’s that laff riot Bobo:
The purpose of the Republican convention is to introduce America to the real Mitt Romney. Fortunately, I have spent hours researching this subject. I can provide you with the definitive biography and a unique look into the Byronic soul of the Republican nominee:
Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and several other swing states. He emerged, hair first, believing in America, and especially its national parks. He was given the name Mitt, after the Roman god of mutual funds, and launched into the world with the lofty expectation that he would someday become the Arrow shirt man.
Romney was a precocious and gifted child. He uttered his first words (“I like to fire people”) at age 14 months, made his first gaffe at 15 months and purchased his first nursery school at 24 months. The school, highly leveraged, went under, but Romney made 24 million Jujubes on the deal.
Mitt grew up in a modest family. His father had an auto body shop called the American Motors Corporation, and his mother owned a small piece of land, Brazil. He had several boyhood friends, many of whom owned Nascar franchises, and excelled at school, where his fourth-grade project, “Inspiring Actuaries I Have Known,” was widely admired.
The Romneys had a special family tradition. The most cherished member got to spend road trips on the roof of the car. Mitt spent many happy hours up there, applying face lotion to combat windburn.
The teenage years were more turbulent. He was sent to a private school, where he was saddened to find there are people in America who summer where they winter. He developed a lifelong concern for the second homeless, and organized bake sales with proceeds going to the moderately rich.
Some people say he retreated into himself during these years. He had a pet rock, which ran away from home because it was starved of affection. He bought a mood ring, but it remained permanently transparent. His ability to turn wine into water detracted from his popularity at parties.
There was, frankly, a period of wandering. After hearing Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” Romney decided to leave Mormonism and become Amish. He left the Amish faith because of its ban on hair product, and bounced around before settling back in college. There, he majored in music, rendering Mozart’s entire oeuvre in PowerPoint.
His love affair with Ann Davies, the most impressive part of his life, restored his equilibrium. Always respectful, Mitt and Ann decided to elope with their parents. They went on a trip to Israel, where they tried and failed to introduce the concept of reticence. Romney also went on a mission to France. He spent two years knocking on doors, failing to win a single convert. This was a feat he would replicate during his 2008 presidential bid.
After his mission, he attended Harvard, studying business, law, classics and philosophy, though intellectually his first love was always tax avoidance. After Harvard, he took his jawline to Bain Consulting, a firm with very smart people with excessive personal hygiene. While at Bain, he helped rescue many outstanding companies, like Pan Am, Eastern Airlines, Atari and DeLorean.
Romney was extremely detail oriented in his business life. He once canceled a corporate retreat at which Abba had been hired to play, saying he found the band’s music “too angry.”
Romney is also a passionately devoted family man. After streamlining his wife’s pregnancies down to six months each, Mitt helped Ann raise five perfect sons — Bip, Chip, Rip, Skip and Dip — who married identically tanned wives. Some have said that Romney’s lifestyle is overly privileged, pointing to the fact that he has an elevator for his cars in the garage of his San Diego home. This is not entirely fair. Romney owns many homes without garage elevators and the cars have to take the stairs.
After a successful stint at Bain, Romney was lured away to run the Winter Olympics, the second most Caucasian institution on earth, after the G.O.P. He then decided to run for governor of Massachusetts. His campaign slogan, “Vote Romney: More Impressive Than You’ll Ever Be,” was not a hit, but Romney won the race anyway on an environmental platform, promising to make the state safe for steeplechase.
After his governorship, Romney suffered through a midlife crisis, during which he became a social conservative. This prepared the way for his presidential run. He barely won the 2012 Republican primaries after a grueling nine-month campaign, running unopposed. At the convention, where his Secret Service nickname is Mannequin, Romney will talk about his real-life record: successful business leader, superb family man, effective governor, devoted community leader and prudent decision-maker. If elected, he promises to bring all Americans together and make them feel inferior.
Here’s Mr. Cohen:
When Barack Obama was on the presidential campaign trail the first time, he used the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography, “Team of Rivals,” to describe the entourage he would seek at the White House, a combative group from across the political spectrum who would challenge his every idea.
(He also compared himself to Abraham Lincoln in announcing his candidacy at the Illinois State capitol: “The life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible.”)
Well, four years have passed and Obama has adroitly steered the bankrupted United States he inherited away from the precipice but has not provided a “different future” worthy of the hope invested in him; and that imagined team of rivals became a team, or rather a coterie, of idolizers.
There is only one star in the galaxy at this White House and his name is Barack Obama. Everyone in the Sun King’s court has drunk the Kool-Aid.
The failure of hope, the absence of profound change, has much to do with the Republican obstructionism that has helped keep unemployment above 8 percent. But it is also related to Obama’s refusal to entertain a real team of rivals, to place around him big characters with big ideas who would challenge his instinct for cautious politics and foreign policy. And so a transformative election failed to produce a transformative president.
In the end the trust of a cool man who had sublimated abandonment into a singular willfulness was limited. The sense of a controlling leader, unable to provide connective tissue to fire the economy, lies behind the fact that many Obama voters will cast their ballot in November with more grudging respect than enthusiasm.
Nixon, like Obama, was a loner, but he had Kissinger generating ideas. Carter had Brzezinski. Reagan had Shultz. The first Bush had Baker. Obama has Tom Donilon as national security adviser. Donilon is an affable pro who has been described as a one-client lawyer. It is clear who the client is.
Then there is Hillary Clinton, a superb secretary of state. But for various reasons (her future is very much ahead of her), she has generally acquiesced to the White House being the locus of major foreign-policy decisions (salvaging things where necessary, as in Pakistan.)
The Obama inner circle remains a group of tough political tacticians: David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Valerie Jarrett. The White House national security team does not boast a single name of strategic stature. Anyone outside Washington would be hard pressed to name one.
The policy upshot has been predictable: cerebral, cool, and with one big exception, cautious. Obama has corrected big mistakes — abandoning the unwinnable global war on terror and pulling out of Iraq. To his immense credit he took a big gamble on killing Osama Bin Laden. But elsewhere he has been cautious to a fault, eyeing the political calendar.
He held out a hand to Iran but promptly reverted to tired old carrots and sticks; his response to the great popular uprising of 2009 was slow. He took half-steps on Israel and Palestine — criticizing Israeli settlements, saying the ore-1967 lines were the basis for a two-state peace — only to offer zero follow-through. Nothing changed.
On Egypt, he toyed with preserving Mubarak ad interim before the tide became irreversible. On Syria, he has in essence dithered. On Afghanistan, domestic politics dictated the agenda, at a cost in American lives.
One citizen inspired to stand outside the Illinois State Capitol back in 2007 was John Kael Weston, then a State Department officer coming out of a harrowing assignment alongside U.S. Marines in Fallujah, Iraq, and headed for Afghanistan.
This month, troubled by events in Afghanistan, Weston wrote to the president: “When you ordered tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan, I personally did not agree with your decision from my Helmand Province vantage point. I believe Afghanistan remains a marathon, not a sprint — and the short-term escalation sent our forces into non-strategic terrain and complicated our transition strategy. I knew, however, that our troops — especially our Marines — would fight hard in Helmand. And they did. You subsequently awarded the Marine Expeditionary Brigade the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC). It is well deserved. Their effort came at a cost. Ninety Marines were killed, including friends of mine, with many more wounded.
“Next month, Marines will gather at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to receive the PUC award. Secretary of the Navy Mabus is set to present it. While an honor, I know Marines hope you opt not to delegate the day’s special gathering to someone else. I feel the same way given ongoing Marine and troop sacrifice in Afghanistan.”
Weston added: “Please pardon my bluntness: I believe it is simply the right thing to do.”
Obama needed more people in the Situation Room saying, “Please pardon my bluntness.” Having sent the Marines in (and concluded a Camp Lejune speech in 2009 with “Semper Fi”) he should indeed present the award himself.
But the president’s semper wary political operatives, focused on votes, may well calculate otherwise.
Now here’s poor Mr. Bruni:
My favorite Mitt Romney story comes not from his current campaign, though it has certainly yielded a bounty of priceless Mitticisms, but from his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy.
He’s at a convenience store near Boston, pressing the flesh, when he spies a woman about a dozen feet away. She exhibits no evident interest in his advance. He hustles toward her nonetheless, fleet of step and silver of tongue.
“Don’t run away!” is his smooth come-on.
She lifts her left hand, a gesture that could be a tepid, dismissive wave or, maybe, an attempt to cover her face.
“I know,” he says, sympathizing with her standoffishness. “You haven’t got your makeup on yet.”
She corrects him: she does.
“You do! You do!” he chirps, shaking her right hand with an almost manic vigor. “Good to see you!”
As she slips away, it’s not at all clear that she returns the sentiment.
And nearly two decades later, as the stage here in Tampa is readied for Romney’s coronation, it’s not at all clear that the electorate does, either.
Romney’s political ascent and presidential campaign tell the remarkable tale of a suitor profoundly ill suited to the seduction at hand, a salesman whose enthusiasm has seldom been instantly or expansively reciprocated.
He has somehow managed to pull within inches of the most powerful office on earth — the job that should be harder to get than any other — despite an inability and even unwillingness to connect, and despite the fact that most of his supporters, including most Republicans, aren’t so much swooning as settling for him. That’s worth remembering over the next few days, when hard-partying partisans here will do a pantomime of true passion.
As often as not, a convention is a communal lie, during which speakers and members of the audience project an excitement 10 times greater than what they really feel and a confidence about the candidate that they only wish they could muster. It’s balloons and ginned-up fervor and manufactured swagger and more balloons.
And in Tampa, the helium and revelry obscure a great deal of doubt. While Republicans certainly prefer Romney to President Obama and rightly believe that he has a shot at the White House, they also suspect that a more likable nominee with a defter touch would be the heavy favorite to win, given Americans’ apprehensions about a persistently weak economy. And they cringe at Romney’s clumsiness, diligently reminding themselves that their other options were lesser ones: Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain. You bake your cake with the ingredients you have.
Romney’s a strange cake. He has racked up impressive accomplishments in both the private and the public sectors, including his Massachusetts health care reforms. He’s a man of serious abilities. But he seems unable to accept that a presidential campaign demands more than a résumé. It demands an audible heartbeat, a palpable soul.
His are kept firmly under wraps. In the prelude to the convention, talented journalist after talented journalist set off in search of them, looking for the eureka anecdote, the tear-streaked epiphany. It was a quest as pointless and poignant as any I can recall. You can’t add a John Williams score to a corporate balance sheet. You can’t turn venture capital into “Terms of Endearment.”
At times Romney and his intimates do their awkward best to serve up the desired emotional goods.
“I love tithing,” Ann Romney told Parade magazine, referring to donations to the Mormon Church. “When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry.”
At other times Romney just throws up his hands and seeks to turn his aloofness into a badge of honor. “I am who I am,” he said three times in a 30-minute interview with Politico for an article published Monday. He used the same line on Sunday with Fox News, naming the inspiration for it: Popeye. You know, the spinach-loving sailor man.
In a confessional era, Romney is stilted. At a time of increased worry about the distribution of wealth, gobs of it have been distributed his way. He’s a font of precisely the sorts of gaffes that a 140-character news universe spotlights. His timing, all in all, could be better.
And his latest reaction is to suggest, as he did in the Politico interview, that the whole likability thing is overrated. So what if he’s not so huggable or compelling? Doesn’t mean he’s not competent. Doesn’t mean he won’t be effective.
That’s not the most stirring of pitches. Then again he’s not the most stirring of politicians. And the triumphant oddity of this convention is that its purpose and atmospherics compel everyone here, including him, to pretend otherwise.