Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Wrenching Reality Of Romney

The Wrenching Reality Of Romney

Three more primaries, and the grim and joyless march to a Romney nomination continues. 

There is bleakness about this, like an early Ingmar Bergman film.  In memory, it all seems in black in white, personalities splayed against a barren and forbidding landscape.  Soon the young Max Von Sydow will appear on the screen, ready to play chess with Death, hoping to distract the Grim Reaper long enough so that others may escape.

But no escape is really possible.  As in the old sword and sandal epics, slowly, one contestant after another is called, dispatched, and the pale corpses of the departed litter the road like ancients gladiators after a battle, stripped of their armor, left to the carrion-eaters and Fox talent recruiters.

When Wisconsin’s results rolled in, Romney was ebullient. While this was no smashing victory, he won a clear, albeit moderate (in a sternly conservative moderate way) plurality and scooped up the delegates.  This, coupled with wins in Maryland and Washington, gave him what appeared to be an almost insurmountable lead. One handicapper now says Romney has a 96.5% chance of getting the requisite number of delegates before the convention.  For all but the die-hards, it’s mathematically over.

But what of the others, those left behind?  Ron Paul remains missing, although he did take the bronze in Wisconsin and a second (of three) in Washington.  Ron has his ideas and his appeal, and raw numbers are less relevant, and he will soldier on honorably without interference. The tragedy of Ron Paul is that no one of influence cares about what he says, and they should.

Newt’s quixotic campaign continues, but black-hooded, pale-faced Death is beckoning.  No medalling in any of the primaries, and no prizes for Mr. Congeniality either. The bell has tolled for Newt, and although he may not care to listen, he runs the risk of being treated like an unsightly patch of eczema, annoying, but mostly ignored. 

Rick?  A harder nut.  He should have done better in Wisconsin, with the GOP electorate feverishly defending Scott Walker, the current Governor and patron saint of labor-hatred.  But Rick wasn’t nimble enough and Mitt out-flanked him, quickly moving to seize Walker’s clammy hand. And the establishment has begun to close ranks. Marco Rubio is now wearing a tailored Mitt T-shirt.  Former President George H.W. Bush has brought his top-siders, and Paul Ryan has ordered his VP special edition smoking jacket. 

What to do with Rick?  He is pinning his hopes on his Pennsylvania redoubt. But time isn’t on his side; Pennsylvania is three weeks away, and his support is eroding by the day.  Rick, autodidact brawler that he may be, is going to have to give in to the inevitable.  He knows it.  He’s mad, but he knows it.

The conservative columnist and author Peggy Noonan sometimes talks about “grace”.   The grace she experienced writing for Ronald Reagan and basking in his sunshiny personality, the grace she thought the older generation of Washington power brokers showed, fighting like cats and dogs when necessary, but also working things out.  Noonan presently indulges herself in a particular dislike for Mr. Obama, and a more than a little selective amnesia, but she’s correct. There’s no grace here right now, just an abiding sourness.

There is a price for all this finger pointing and scolding.  It has become the defining narrative of the primary campaign;  a lack of joy,  a lack of really big personalities talking substantively about big issues, a race to the bottom of a barrel of anger and accusations.  The GOP party pros know it. They worry they may squander an election against a definitely beatable President by fielding an unlikable candidate supporting an unpleasant platform.  So, the move to shove Rick and Newt aside isn’t just to focus all the big guns on Mr. Obama-it’s also self-protection-let’s stop talking about things that are so very unpopular with everyone but the base.   

Mr. Obama has been fighting back.  Yesterday, he took apart the Ryan Plan.  Earlier in the week, he (perhaps ill-advisedly) critiqued the Supreme Court.  Predictably, the GOP expressed shock and horror;  imagine, an elected official criticizing legislating from the bench-how very awful!

They might all take heed of Noonan.  In a column for the Wall Street Journal, she wrote “What will be needed this autumn is a new bipartisan forbearance, a kind of patriotic grace. This is a great deal to hope for. The president should ask for it, and show it…Would it help if the president were graceful, humble, and asked for help? Why, yes. Would it help if he credited those who opposed him with not only good motives but also actual wisdom? Yes. And if he tried it, it would make news…. And I don't see how anyone can think grace and generosity of spirit wouldn't help. They would. They always do in big debates.”

Timely, even timeless advice, don’t you think?  Patriotic grace and a bipartisan forbearance.  Words to live by. 

In case you are curious, she published that column September 1, 2007.  A lot of people must have been out of town that day.