Making It about Something

by Jonah Goldberg

Dear Reader (Note: you will lose “dear” status should you decide to read this column and then burn down a U.S. embassy or perhaps a comic-book store),

Well, things are starting to get interesting, and I don’t mean in a “I rarely wear underwear, but when I do it’s usually something pretty interesting” kind of way.

I am through the wall-of-pain when it comes to my dismay with the Romney campaign. I’m sort of like the dad whose kid won’t stop putting a bucket on his head and smashing his bucket-head into the wall. Whatya gonna do? He’s my kid.

And Mitt Romney is, by default, my candidate. This is not to say I’ve stopped being bowel-stewingly vexed with Stuart Stevens’s campaign strategy to date (maybe we should call him bowel-Stu Stevens?). But I’m also probably too close to the whole thing.

It is interesting that the folks who were most opposed to Romney – rank-and-file tea partiers, social conservatives, the “base” – have more or less fully rallied around Romney while the supposed “Beltway” types who were always more pro-Romney than the base have now turned on him. I find the whole “you’re doing it for the cocktail-party invites” epithet ridiculous for the most part (I can think of one or two exceptions). But two points are worth making: 1) Most of Romney’s critics over the last week still really, really, want him to win. The hope is he’ll get better (see below). 2) Unlike activists, it really is my job to say what I think. If that pisses some of you off I understand it, but as Paul Newman says in the Road to Perdition, this is the life we chose.

Still, I think the base might have the wiser take on all this. Win now, argue later.

Speaking of the Road to Perdition

After all, if Romney loses this thing there will only be a vicious civil war on the right that will make the fight scene from Anchorman seem like one of the slower moments in My Dinner with Andre. I fully expect Sean Hannity to throw a trident at Rich Lowry and the folks from Breitbart.com to ride in tandem on horseback and ensnare Ramesh Ponnuru in their net (with appropriate Planet of the Apes music in the background). I expect to find myself in some sort of pit, my pain collar intact, as a brain bets 10,000 quatloos that I will be able to beat John Podhoretz in a hatchet fight.  

Also, if Romney loses, one of two things will likely happen to the country. Either, despite Obama’s best efforts, the economy will finally rebound and his policies will be hailed as a vindication for technocratic Keynesian money-vomiting and corporate-branded secular messianism and that perceived vindication will be engraved in the national psyche for generations to come or, thanks to Obama’s willful blindness to fiscal realities, our arterial bleeding of debt, and our military retrenchment, the economy will truly go tits-up and we’ll be sitting around next to our hoards of gold, bottled water, and canned beans snapping at our kids in pidgin Mandarin, “You think you’re tough for eating beans every day? There’s half a million scarecrows in Denver who’d give anything for one mouthful of what you got. They’ve been under siege for about three months. They live on rats and sawdust bread and sometimes . . . on each other. At night, the pyres for the dead light up the sky. It’s medieval. And besides, don’t blame me, I voted for Romney.”

Okay, maybe I’m overstating things slightly – slightly.

But seriously, this is kind of an important election. 

Making It about Something

My basic problem with the Romney campaign is that until about two days ago I couldn’t tell what it’s about except to repeat over and over again that the politics of failure have failed and that he believes in “America.” That’s fine. Obama’s a failure. I can dig it.  What has two thumbs and believes in America?

This guy.

But Romney needs to offer more than that. He needs to present a serious alternative. Their plan was to make 2012 a referendum on Obama. Depending on how you look at it, the plan has either succeeded or it’s failed. It’s succeeded in that pretty much everyone determined to vote against Obama is now determined to vote against Obama. That’s the 45 to 47 percent Romneyhas locked in. The remaining 5 to 7 percent need something more (and many of his base voters would very much like something more as well).

Unfortunately, by embracing the referendum strategy for so long, the Romney campaign didn’t bother to define Romney for voters. So Obama swooped in and did it for them, particularly in places like Ohio. As a result Obama made this into a choice election.

So now the Romney campaign must embrace that fact and figure out a way to make the choice for Romney – not just against Obama – an appealing one. One way to do that is to offer a sustained explanation, in a series of substantive speeches or maybe some interpretative dance (I’d strongly suggest the former), of why he’s a good choice on the merits, not just in comparison to Obama. “I believe in America” is a fine slogan, but the guy needs to show his work and make an ideological case.

But bowel-Stu Stevens doesn’t believe in ideology, doesn’t believe in ideas, doesn’t believe in labels. He thinks it’s all a numbers game (and if he’s the source of Romney’s numbers in the hidden video Stevens needs to be given a honey bath in fire-ant country). I get that he doesn’t want to call Obama a socialist, and I think that’s tactically wise. But he doesn’t want to call Obama a liberal. The theme of the GOP convention shouldn’t have been “It’s okay you voted for Obama and now it’s okay to switch.” It should have been, “Obama’s been too liberal for too long.”

GOP messaging should never, ever, be about tactics. Because Republicans don’t take politics as seriously as Democrats, they have an infuriating tendency to not only think about it as a game, but to talk about it as if it’s a game. As I’ve written [BROKEN LINK] a billion times, give or take, they read their stage directions out loud.

And the first rule of politics is to show, not tell. That’s (one of the reasons) why the 47 percent thing was so infuriating, it cynically blended (boneheaded) tactics with philosophy and messaging. The “it’s okay to vote against Obama” theme is a perfect example of telling rather than showing. And it ack, erk, burp.

Sorry I’m a little too worked up, I almost hacked up my gallbladder. I need to focus on the positive.

How about Bernese Mountain puppy trying to eat a lemon!

Serenity Now

Okay, let’s move on to something positive – and relevant. Sort of like Inspector Clouseau falling through the floor and landing on top of the bad guys, Romney’s 47 percent “gaffe” seems to have been something of a boon.

Like Richard Gere spluttering at Lou Gossett Jr., “I’ve got no place else to go!” Romney has no choice now but to own the ideological case for his presidency. This is particularly the case after Obama’s wonderful admission that he can’t change Washington from the inside. I understand why Obama said that in 2008. He was trying to build up a populist tsunami at the polls. It worked.

But the dude has been president for four years. His only successes as president have been entirely inside operations. Obamacare wasn’t an outside thing, it was the consummate shady insider deal. It was so shady and underhanded that it ignited the most significant outsider movement in a generation – the tea parties. Quick: How many of you would hire a mechanic to work on your car if, after four hours under the hood, he said “I’m sorry we can’t fix this thing from the inside?”

Romney is, if anything, an inside guy. That’s his story. He goes in and turns things around. It’s his thing. Cosmo’s thing is to eat meat products, judge cats harshly, and chase and herd things that interest him. A shark’s thing, as Richard Dreyfuss explains in When Harry Met Sally Jaws, is to swim, eat, and make baby sharks. Anthony Weiner’s thing is junk-tweeting his man business. Harry Reid’s thing has something to do with those knocking sounds coming out of his basement. And Mitt Romney’s thing is fixing messed up institutions from the inside. If he can’t make that argument, then he deserves to lose. And if he loses, start boning up on your pidgin Mandarin.

Raaaaaaaaaaacism Watch

I missed the Massachusetts Senate debate. But I gather Scott Brown called attention to the fact that his opponent has a long record of speaking with forked tongue about her Indianness. From the NY Daily News:

Brown began the debate by saying Warren “checked the box claiming she is Native American, and clearly she is not.”

Brown called on Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School, to release records related to her hiring at the school to show whether she got an unfair advantage.

“I think character is important,” he said. Warren said that her parents told her growing up that her mother was part Cherokee and part Delaware Indian and that as a child she never questioned that story.

In response to this Joan Walsh from Salon tweeted:

“I cannot believe Scott Brown talked about Warren’s racial background so stridently. It’s like the old ‘white hands’ ad.”

I love this. L-O-V-E this.

It’s nothing like the old white hands ad (which you can watch here if you don’t get the reference).

You could make a fun kids-menu placemat game for politics junkies at your local diner “How many ways is this not like the white-hands ad?” But the most important one is that Elizabeth Warren liiiiiiiiiiied about being an Indian. Or, if you want to be more charitable, she told a story for nearly her whole professional life because it conferred benefits on her, all the while considering it simply too good (for her) to check. This isn’t a dog-whistle reference to something else, it’s a description of what actually is. It reminds me of that scene from the movie Barcelona:

Fred: Maybe you can clarify something for me. Since I’ve been, you know, waiting for the fleet to show up, I’ve read a lot, and . . .

Ted: Really?

Fred: And one of the things that keeps popping up is about “subtext.” Plays, novels, songs – they all have a “subtext,” which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that’s right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what’s above the subtext?

Ted: The text.

Fred: OK, that’s right, but they never talk about that.

Sometimes I think higher education has so totally corrupted the leftwing press they can’t see the text anymore and immediately go to the subtext. The problem is sometimes the text is more important than the subtext. That’s why they call it the text.

Various and Sundry

I realize today’s was an even streamier stream of consciousness rant. I really screwed up over at my AEI gig and got the dates wrong for their big video contest for which I am a judge. So I need to watch a whole lotta free-market loving videos today. I also have some other pressing family stuff. I also like chicken wings.

But not as much as Steve Hayes. I hope he doesn’t take offense at this, but while I knew he liked wings, I was stunned at the Democratic convention when I saw him in his element at Wild Wing Café. I now call him my chicken-wing sommelier. He orders wings like Meg Ryan in Jaws When Harry Met Sally but without the haughtiness.

Oh, if you want to read more about the ass-clownery of liberals seeing only the subtext you can read my piece in the new issue of NR. It’s not my best work, but it does have more Anchorman references than you’re likely to see in NR for a generation (that is until the American Film Institute finally recognizes it for its genius).

If you want to read my third – yes, that’s right my third – column in a row on this bizarre attack on free speech in the wake of the Libyan terrorist attack, well, here it is (bonus James Burnham mention!).

If you want to hear me on NPR’s All Things Considered talking Romney from earlier this week, I suppose you can find the link somewhere.

But if you want to read about a Japanese chef cooking and serving his own penis, you’re in luck!

Chuck Norris vs. Abraham Lincoln!

Every flight in the world.

A short visual history of the Obama Cult. (Seriously, can you imagine if a Republican president cultivated this sort of cultiness? The screams of faaaaaaaaascism would be like permanent background noise.)

Bad White House household tips.

 

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg