Saturday, September 01, 2012

Old Men Talking to Chairs Is Romney's Platform

cross-posted from Dagblog

I've been trying to lay off Clint Eastwood's surreal conversation with furniture, even as facebook friends urged me to blog about it. (King Lear also talks angrily to an empty stool, and my friends have suggested I blog about that.) But I do want to talk about what that incident reveals about Mitt Romney. It was the most revealing moment of the Republican convention. That Romney turned the mike over to Eastwood in prime time, with no script, tells us who Romney really is.

Letting rich, cranky old men do whatever they happen to feel like is Mitt Romney's main plan. It would be central to the conduct of his administration, because letting rich and powerful old men do what they feel like is a core value dear to Mitt Romney's heart. It's so important to him that he likely doesn't even realize it is one of his values. He just experiences that deferential indulgence to authority as an obviously and naturally good thing.

According to the New York Times, Romney himself had the idea to give Eastwood that plum speaking slot. Eastwood endorsed Romney at an exclusive fund-raiser. Romney bonded with him. What a great guy! Then an idea: give Mitt's new pal Clint a speech at the national convention! He'll be great! And so they did.

They didn't give Eastwood a speech, which is just barely defensible. They also didn't ask Eastwood to show them a speech beforehand, which is crazy. Clint's a rich old white VIP, which means in Romneyworld that he gets to do whatever he wants. Trust the man! Vision! Romney's vision of the world doesn't so much divide into the haves and have-nots as it does into the managers and the managed. Little people need to be managed, even micromanaged, and almost everyone is little. Big shots need to be allowed the freedom of their creativity, without any hint of question or doubt. (This is why actual creative artists never have anyone second-guess them or give them opinions: novelists have no editors, actors have no directors, and directors have no producers. Because, Creativity!) Eastwood is a big shot, ergo Eastwood was going to be great. You just gotta believe!

They did give Eastwood a time limit: five minutes. He took twelve. There was a red light that signaled Eastwood when his time was up, but he ignored it. (There are lights like that in comedy clubs; a comedian who has five minutes but takes twelve, or who runs the light by seven minutes, should not expect to perform at that club again.) Eastwood is too major a figure to be constrained by petty rules or common sense. He is entitled to do what he wants. And that is the vision that Eastwood and Mitt Romney share, on the most fundamental level: Clint Eastwood is entitled to do whatever the hell he wants.

Eastwood's speech was a microcosm of the whole Romney-Ryan campaign strategy, which (as Jamelle Bouie puts it) is to make up an imaginary Barack Obama to campaign against. (Gotta be easier than running against the real guy, right?)  But the decision to put Eastwood on stage, in prime time, with no instructions is a microcosm of Romney's approach to governing: let a handful of rich and powerful cronies, the kind of guys Mitt identifies and feels comfortable with, do whatever they want. The wealthiest and most powerful, especially the wealthiest and most powerful white men, the people with enough power to real some real damage, will be able to get Romney's ear and operate without any restriction whatsoever. They will be able to indulge their whims, and the President of the United States will help indulge them. It's untrammeled individualism for the 1% (to be fair, really for the top 0.2%), absolute liberty for VIPs. The rest of us can just stay out of their way.

Letting a famous actor go on stage with no script is just the beginning. A President Romney will let coal-mine owners do whatever the hell they want with their mines, without bothering with all that red tape about keeping the miners safe. He will let oil companies do whatever the hell they want with offshore drilling. Mitt trusts that they know their own business, and that's enough for him. He will let bankers do whatever the hell they want with complicated hedges and derivatives. They shouldn't be restricted by all these silly regulations. Those Wall Street bankers are all smart guys! What could go wrong?

Romney's deepest core value may be his reverence for the authority of rich and powerful men, especially older white men. He made a mistake just trusting an eighty-two-year-old millionaire to do whatever he felt like without supervision. But if he gets elected he's going to make that mistake over and over again, in a lot of different ways, as he trusts the Eastwoods of business and industry to do whatever they feel like without supervision.

I've been trying to avoid King Lear references for this whole post, but Shakespeare's play deals with Romney's error of judgment pretty directly. What should you do when a rich, powerful and accomplished octogenarian has a spectacularly bad idea and demands to have things exactly his way? Shakespeare's answer is the obvious one: try to stop him, for his own sake and everyone else's. Try to bring him in out of the rain. Tell him not to banish his favorite daughter, even if telling him makes him furious. (In fact, his irrational fury is another sign that you should stop him.) For God's sake, clean him up and put some clothes on him. Don't give him indulgence and deference when what he really needs are sensible limits. Romney's impulse is to let America's Lears do whatever they want, without second-guessing. ("Look, he's the King, and he's been king longer than we've been alive. You've got to let him run his kingdom the way he wants.") Everyone who watches King Lear can see the problem from scene 1. The tragedy of President Romney would be just as predictable.

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