Those of us who loved H.S. Thompson especially appreciated that he understood Nixon and all he stood for better than any other journalist of that time. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 remains a signal work b/c of Thompson's ability to plumb the depths of Nixonism. Pierce has a similarly unique ability to plumb the depths of Romneyism, and he apparently does so w/o consuming large quantities of drugs and alcohol. This piece on Pierce's blog today shows how deeply and profoundly he understands his former governor.
Pierce begins the piece by noting how the son of a one-time presidential candidate who was largely undone by one gaffe has survived a series of equally or more serious gaffes:
It is a capital mistake in judging an American political campaign to fail to take into account the effectiveness of the purely cynical. Over the past month or so, the campaign of Willard Romney, the onetime, one-term, now largely unrecognizable governor of Massachusetts, has engaged in a series of gaffes and missteps, a positive gavotte of dick-stepping both here and abroad, from which most political wise guys agree it should have difficulty recovering. He can't talk about domestic issues with sounding like the worst patrician foof in the history of watercress. He goes overseas and pisses off the Brits, praises the pale pink socialist wonderland that is the Israeli national health-care system while also gleefully tossing a few matches into the open gas tank of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, and, on the whole, demonstrates that, in the field of foreign policy, he'll pretty much believe anything he's told by the rags-and-bones neo-con retreads he's hired.Romney is the Rasputin of American politics. He has, thus far, survived pitfalls, pratfalls and fundamental weaknesses that would've killed most any other presidential candidate. His obvious parallels to a recent Harvard MBA POTUS who was the manifestly arrogant scion of a political dynasty are generally ignored. As Pierce notes :
Romney continues to stubbornly refuse, in the face of a general outcry from within his own party, to release more than two years of his tax returns. He is the most easily mockable candidate in decades. (By contrast, it took real work, and a lot of money, to make John Kerry look ridiculous.) And, most spectacularly of all, only four years after the excesses of unregulated vulture capitalism nearly ate the world, stealing everything it could steal and wrecking what was left behind, with 25 million Americans either underemployed, unemployed, or vanished from the statistics entirely, the Republicans not only have chosen as their nominee a guy who made almost every dime of his money in the legalized freebooting that passed for a business community over the past 30 years, but also they have decided to run him as the guy who will fix the broken middle class, and return the country to full employment, by re-instituting all the policies that created the disaster in the first place.
And, by and large, it's working.
This 'graf analyzes the threat that Romney's campaign poses to basic concepts of self-government. Quick subtraction shows that the profound cynicism of that campaign traces its origins to Nixon's time:
For going on 40 years now, we have been encouraged in our cynicism by the very forces of which Mitt Romney is a perfect product. The ideal of a self-governing political commonwealth did not break down in the public mind because we got smarter, or it got obsolete. It was deliberately demolished, brick by brick, by people who knew what they were doing and did it very well. They replaced it with an artificial form of populism by which self-government was destroyed as a viable option so that something called "government" could be created in its place as a kind of alien entity. The political commonwealth that was the underpinning of self-government was replaced by a consensus of cynicism freely arrived at. The entire political system was complicit in this development, but the political rewards fell almost exclusively to the rising vandal conservatism that reached its apotheosis under George W. Bush. Barack Obama supposedly was elected as a reaction against all of this and, by the time he was in office for a month, people already were calling him a failure. Now, running for re-election, the strongest and most effective sub rosa argument against the president returning to office seems to be that he failed to break down the cynicism that we are too terrified to admit is the only viable political energy left in a desiccated political process. So, perhaps, the country turns to a man who has fashioned his entire political career out of the energy of that cynicism, who can ride it like a wave.
I have vague memories of growing up in a country where trusting the president was the default option and in which news anchors like Cronkite and Huntley were viewed like favorite uncles. I confess that I mist up a little when I see the "Newsroom" intro showing B&W clips of Murrow and those 2 legends. One can argue endlessly how and why that country is now basically as dead as the liberal brand of Republicanism for which Aaron Sorkin so visibly pines. One can't argue, however, that, like Nixon, Reagan, and the 2 Bushes (esp. the latter one), Romney is throwing shovefuls of dirt on the coffin in which that country is buried.
Pierce closes w/ the following observations:
Romney is the ideal presidential candidate for people who have been taught to hate and fear the government he purports to want to lead. He is the triumph of the cynical paradox of the person who runs for political office on the premise that he is not a politician, a sucker play for which we fall, over and over again. He is the perfect marionette in the puppet show that the new big money has made out of our politics, an exercise in political mummery guaranteed to intensify the cynicism that most people feel about the system by increasing their distance from it. (The spate of voter-suppression laws work to do this, too. Distance people from the political process that produces the people who make their laws, and you distance them from influencing how those laws get made, which makes them either futilely angry, or depressingly docile. In either case, you get what you want.) He is the perfect product of the political age we created for ourselves.I have little to add to this masterpiece except to note that it doesn't address the impact of U3 figures that spent many months over 9% and that linger over 8% now. No postwar president has ever been re-elected w/ U3 over 7.2% in November of the election year, and it's widely assumed that U3 will stay over 8% until November. If it somehow falls below that threshold, I suspect that the dynamic of this race will quickly change.
So mock him, if it makes you feel better. Hell, I do, pretty much every day. He's a very big fish in a very small barrel, Willard Romney is. But do so full in the knowledge that, in his cynicism, and in the almost gleeful way he parades his least attractive qualities, and his most monumental lies, through the public square, Willard Romney is more in tune with the political zeitgeist than Barack Obama has been since the fall of 2008. And know that this election is still tied.
That quibble aside, this piece demonstrates the profoundly toxic impact of Romneyism on the body politic, and it places Romneyism in its proper historical context. I wish that the MSM would perceive even part of what Pierce perceives. Perhaps the shabby treatment of the press corps on Romney's Less than Excellent Adventure abroad will change that perception.