Mitt Romney, Antihero
The presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney seems at first glance a lightening rod of un-enthusiasm, a man who is provocative for being unprovocative. This is of course a media-created illusion. In fact, Romney has the liberal media quaking in their boots. The media's weapons are smirk and scorn, derision and ridicule.
The left wants desperately to diminish Romney out of the fear that he will grow to become an even more formidable politician. They seek to alienate him -- to make him into what is known in psychobabble as "the other." This is the admitted strategy of the Obama campaign. Instead, Romney fits a paternalist archetype at a time when the country seriously needs a dad at the wheel. Think Don Draper without the sinister plot lines. This is why Romney is feared.
Professional critics always seem to parse their words. They cannot whole-heartedly embrace anything or anyone without caveats. Let's jettison that approach: Why not embrace Romney's candidacy with an uncritical eye, instead of the jaundiced, bored, critics' glance? No, I don't suggest we now drop our analytical functioning, but let's lose the cynicism.
When Romney explains that he does not want to "transform America", as does Obama, but rather to "restore America", rest assured that Governor Romney means to restore our country in the political, economic, and even ethnic sense (though of course he won't spell that out for his audience). This wistfulness for the past, and steel-hearted hope for the future is elegantly put. Let's internalize that slogan, and not forget what it really signifies.
Pundits shouldn't urge Romney to "be himself", with the assumption that a classy reserve is inauthentic. As broadcaster Mark Simone posited once on radio, perhaps America is ready for another patrician president. Historian and National Review editor Richard Brookhiser once identified the WASP culture as one that values a strong work ethic, and one that shuns public sensuality. Clearly Romney embodies these values. Richard Lowry, also of National Review, has deemed Romney "the last WASP, Mormon edition." Waspiness, as Brookhiser has pointed out, has less to do with actually being a Protestant at this point in history, and more to do with prudence and industriousness. It is no wonder that Romney seemed so at ease receiving the endorsement of the equally patrician George H.W. Bush. Both these men have a quiet dignity which is very becoming to the office of president.
This WASPish reserve, combined with his hyper-articulateness, is why Romney does not meet the pop-culture standard of "authentic." Romney does not conform to the new-age, baby-boomer practice of nauseating self-expression and shameless emoting. And why, we shouldn't want him to do so. After all, is there not a conservative backlash against the baby-boomers on the part of "Generation X'rs", of whom I count myself one?
We are too cynical a culture to put anyone up on a pedestal. As Paul Simon once asked, "where did you go Joe DiMaggio?" Simon also asked, "who will be my role model, now that my role model's gone." If these lyrics were relevant at the time of his music's publication, they are even more so today. For if we were to lionize an individual, whom would we choose? Those who have been deified in my generation have either killed themselves or turned out to be child molesters. Granted, those were bad choices for deities.
Romney is an antihero. Whereas an antihero used to signify a rebel, such as Holden Caulfield in the '50s, now a rebel is a generic type, and therefore not "anti" anything, really. With his patrician mannerisms and puritanical lifestyle, it would seem that Romney is the real rebel, a rebel against rebellion, if you will.
Romney presents himself as the archetypical leader of men. This in an age when, as columnist Rebecca Bynum recently put it, "everything is suited to satire, and nothing is sacred." Because of the unchecked cynicism of the electorate, Romney is yet to be taken as seriously as he deserves, and it is hoped that April 3rd's victories in Maryland, D.C., and Wisconsin will change that. But with the incompetence of both the Bush and Obama administrations, we are a country hesitant to sign on enthusiastically to the leadership of any individual.
Malcolm Unwell is that rare bird, a conservative educator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.