Friday, November 23, 2012

Romney's Next Campaign

The election results came more as a relief than reason for jubilation. For those living in New Jersey, the long campaign had registered as a distant rumble in battleground states, and yet there was no question that the stakes were high. After the first eight years of this century, followed by even further rightward drift by the Republican Party, few could entertain Nader's 2000 illusion that the two political parties are indistinguishable.

As election day approached, and Romney drew enthusiastic crowds in Pennsylvania, his voice sounding strong and confident on newscasts, I wondered if his campaign for freedom--freedom of the economy from the yoke of regulation, freedom of belief from fact, freedom of candidates from the tyranny of conviction--could prevail after all. Having seen some football games where the fates, or maybe the hand of God, had seemed to steer the outcome, I wondered if whoever is truly in charge--perhaps in this case the people--might have given Romney the nod, along with a giant wink for his well-documented veerings from truth.

Climate Change, running as an independent candidate rudely excluded from the debates, and without the financial wherewithal to buy media time, finally made landfall as a real contender for attention, riding on the coattails of Hurricane Sandy.

My greatest hope for Romney was that he had achieved his place at the top of the Republican ticket in the guise of a Trojan Horse, spouting views sufficiently rightward to gain access. Then, his presidential victory achieved, he would climb out of his wooden, ideological encasement, and move his party back towards the more moderate views that Romney had once claimed as his own. The doors of the heavily defended barricade would finally be opened to such realities as climate change, the role of regulation in preventing market meltdowns, and the lack of evidence that tax cuts raise revenue. It would have been a brilliant coup, but I had little confidence that he could escape from the wooden horse he had built around himself.

There's been some speculation about what Romney will do now. Mondale, trounced by Reagan in 1984, sought seclusion in a log cabin in the north woods. In Romney's case, however, his greatest campaign may still lie ahead. Having successfully staked out, over the course of his political career, dramatically contrasting positions, extending from center to far right, he is now well-positioned to launch a campaign against himself. As clearly demonstrated in his first debate with Obama, he has enough energy and mental agility to argue both sides. His Mormon background could inform the complex task of embracing two points of view simultaneously, in contrast to his past habit of divorcing one point of view in favor of another. And when the campaign inevitably gets nasty, he'll have enough wealth to sustain attack ads against his dueling selves indefinitely.

This solo campaign could go beyond filling the needs of political junkies in off years. Might his campaign function as a surrogate for irresolvable polarization the way sports can safely channel impulses that might otherwise lead nations to war? Romney will serve as a sort of medicine man or sin eater, absorbing and internalizing a nation's debilitating disease so that Congress can become functional once again. And if at some point he ran out of money and had to declare a winner, he would not have to suffer the humiliation of writing a last minute concession speech. Victory will have been pre-ordained.

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