Chameleon Romney Turns Race on End

Gaffe-Prone GOP Candidate Finally Finds Way to Center

Getty Images

By Leonard Fein

Published October 14, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The gaffable Romney has become the affable Romney, Obama misses the basket as often as he makes it. Earlier assumptions have been upended.

Does this mean that Mitt Romney deserves a second look? He and his people, in the aftermath of the debate, clearly think he does. Whether that’s because Romney seems less ominous, and whether, if so, that’s because of a stylistic shift or because of something deeper, no one can confidently say — most likely, not even Romney himself. His vertiginous shifts of recent weeks confirm earlier impressions of a Zelig-like candidate — but they also describe a man more subtly adaptable than any of us had imagined.

Now, “subtly adaptable” is a squishy phrase. If you begin, as I admittedly do, with a powerful anti-Romney disposition, “squish” doesn’t bring you very far. You need something tougher to hang on to. You need a fatal flaw. And Romney, upon parsing, does not readily offer that. He offers, instead, as he has all along, his own mysterious self. Zelig.

Where does one go from there? Nowhere, really — which is, after all, exactly where Zelig lives.

Or one goes to Romney’s earlier record, the record of an apparently remarkably unreflective man who all along wanted to “be” somebody but who could never quite define the somebody he wanted to be. And truth to tell, why bother? Handsome, rich, to the manor born. Isn’t that enough?

In the case of Romney, apparently not. Making money is fun and all that, but it’s not sufficiently substantive, lacks genuine social significance. (American Motors, the firm his father founded, was as much an expression of idealism as it was a conventional automobile manufacturer. That cannot have escaped Romney’s father-worshipping attention.) Romney père outclassed Romney fils every time.

Or perhaps class was in fact the underlying issue all along. For a Harvard MBA and a Harvard JD, though estimable achievements, are not all that much to write home about, the more so when your father is so obviously an almost super-star. I leave it to the Freudians in our midst — there are still some, I am told — to disentangle the familial implications of all this. We appear to be left with an unfathomable Romney — and that may be the missing clue. Unfathomable because no fathoms. Which is to say, the standard critique of Romney: depthless.

Where, then, to put him, how to classify him? Just another poor rich kid? Searching for the “essential Romney” is, it turns out, a hopeless endeavor; there is no “essential” Romney. Squish again, squish still. His father’s laggard son, a penchant for making money, his father a constant reminder of how far behind the quasi-idealistic Romney family standard he’d fallen and by now seemed doomed to remain.

What does one do with outsized parents when intergenerational competition is unavoidable — and when the outcome’s been foreordained? For so it surely was here. An also-ran, huffing and puffing and unable ever to catch up, the rules of a confounding — or, telling it like it is, of a cruel and unfair game.

One sidesteps the competition. What’s the point, after all? This is a game that was lost before it began. Why pretend to an idealism that does not come naturally, an idealism embodied by your worshipped father, an idealism from which you are therefore condemned from the beginning to fall short?

So: Choose a different game. Make some money, settle for wealth, which is hardly disreputable — and at which you appear to be adept. Going public — biting the political apple, as did your father — may be an appealing option, but it is not your prescribed destiny. And it is a destiny your father has effectively pre-empted.

That, roughly, is what Romney has tried. And at which he had considerable success. In those early circumstances, there was no need for Romney to define such exotic things as, say, foreign policy. Expertise in such things was neither expected nor required of him. Even now, so late in the day, no one can confidently summarize the Romney foreign policy, if there is such a thing. Hawk? That makes sense, given his emphases during the Republican debates and the campaign that has followed. Dove? That makes sense, given his painstaking search for a political center.

Or neither, if you’re Zelig.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.