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Mitt, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Perry showed even more ingenuity in mangling the English language. He was trying again to remind everyone that Romney is from Massachusetts, this time by aligning him with John Kerry as a “flip-flopper.” Of course, anyone who is aware of his record in Massachusetts knows Romney is a flip-flopper. As Steve Kornacki wrote in Salon, Romney has “changed his tune on abortion multiple times”—always in a way that suited his political needs. Supporting abortion rights in a debate with Ted Kennedy in 1994, he told the story of a relative who died from an illegal abortion, and said, “You will not see me wavering on this.” By 2005, as governor, he had switched, vetoing a contraception bill and saying he was pro-life.

The only hope for Democrats contemplating a possible Romney presidency is for more flip-flopping, not less, as when, having been elected governor, he tried to close corporate tax loopholes in Massachusetts, only to be reprimanded by the powerful antitax lobbyist Grover Norquist. Perry’s accusation against Romney on the abortion issue—so little time to memorize, so little time to speak before his time was up—came out something like this: “Was it—was before—he was before the social programs from the standpoint of—he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against first—Roe v. Wade?”

In No Apology, Romney calls for “a national rededication to the practice of writing.” It is refreshing to have a presidential candidate point out that Idylls of the King, which Romney’s mother read aloud to him as a child, is in “iambic pentameter blank verse,” though Mr. Wonnberger might have added that blank verse is always in iambic pentameter.

What Mitt calls for, specifically, is “An American Education.” Like the other Republican candidates, he has an aversion to Europe (and a professed love for Israel, a fervent cause for evangelicals, who worry about his Mormonism). Obama “takes his political inspiration from Europe and from the socialist democrats in Europe,” he said in Orlando. Romney spent two years in France during the late 1960s, peddling Mormonism door to door, as is expected of young members of the church, while disapproving of the student uprisings in May 1968. Not only is Europe bankrupt financially, Romney likes to argue, it’s bankrupt spiritually. “I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe,” he said in his faith speech. “They are so inspired, so grand, so empty.” In a debate devoted to the economy held at Dartmouth on October 11, Mitt dismissed as “hypothetical” a question about what he’d do if the European financial contagion spread to the US, implying that no one should expect a bailout from a tough businessman like him. Religion didn’t come up at Dartmouth (except for Michele Bachmann’s joke about turning 9-9-9 upside down), and Mitt was free to portray himself as a “job- creator” who knows how to turn a country around.

One often hears that Mitt could be the first “CEO president.” But a CEO of what, exactly? Mitt, whose first big success at Bain was investing in the Staples office supply store—“We started Staples,” he told the Dartmouth audience—likes to draw an analogy between running a country and running a big-box store. Romney loves big-box stores, especially low-end ones that make him seem an ordinary guy. No Apology opens with a comparison of Walmart and Target. “It was a few days before the Christmas of 2008. I was standing in the checkout line at a Walmart, waiting to purchase the Tonka trucks and Buzz Lightyear action figures I had selected for my grandsons.” Sounding the Emersonian theme of how institutions reflect their founders, he notes approvingly how the store, with its “helter-skelter” and “entertaining” organization, reflects the mind of Sam Walton and his “near maniacal passion about low prices.” And for keeping out unions, he might have added.

Gradually, Mitt weaves his way from Sam Walton to Jefferson and John Adams, who are also said to exemplify the “spirit of invention, creativity, derring-do.” But not all big-box stores are created equal. Some are tonier and, well, maybe even a little un-American. “At Target, for example, aisles are wider and shelves are stocked and segregated like the Swiss might have done it.”

The Swiss! He’ll resist their influence, we can be sure.

—October 13, 2011

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