by Jeffrey Cavanaugh
ProBizMS Contributing Columnist
The Clarion-Ledger announced recently that the once inevitable and now immutable Republican nominee for president, the one-and-unfortunately-only Mitt Romney, will make an appearance in Jackson, MS on July 16th. Mississippians, no doubt, can hardly wait.
For those with a memory for such things, you will recall that the last time the Magnolia State was blessed with Mitt’s august presence was in early March when, the GOP nomination contest still in some doubt, the robotic Mr. Romney intoned in that “Golly-Mr.-Cleaver” 1950’s voice of his that “something strange” was coming over him. He was, you see, becoming an honorary Southerner because he had eaten grits and was learning to say “y’all.”
As far as pandering goes it was rather standard. No one, after all, campaigns in a state by alienating folks there with stories about a wealthy upbringing spent eating foods most Mississippians have only read about in books in an accent that highlights one’s origin as a Yankee capitalist. Or, at least you don’t do so in public.
But even more than most politicians, Romney’s bald-faced and poorly executed panders to regional cultural sensitivities comes off as especially forced. He has none of the mastery of the pander that, for instance, exemplified Bill Clinton’s popular touch, while George W. Bush’s down-home country-bumpkin-ness was legendary. You have to go back to the inability of the equally patrician George H.W. Bush to comprehend a supermarket checkout scanner to be seen as out-of-touch with the common man as Mitt Romney.
This will matter little for the Republican Amen chorus, however. They will line up to pay $50,000 a head to co-sponsor the wealthy former governor of Massachusetts’ event, $10,000 to have a picture taken with him, or $2,500 a plate to eat over-cooked chicken at a table some distance from Romney at the general reception. No, despite the high price and bad chicken they will flock to Romney even despite the fact that their revered former King, His Majesty Haley Barbour, said not long ago that Mitt Romney really wasn’t all that conservative, severely or otherwise, after all.
If you were a conservative, all this might seem disconcerting. After all, when your party’s candidate has so little contact with the truth as Mitt Romney that his own campaign staffers say he has “Etch-a-Sketch” positions that can be reset at any time, you would think that would be taken as a sign to be worried. At the very least, voting for Romney is like voting for something as firm as melting plastic – you just don’t know what you are going to get once the final product has solidified.
That, however, doesn’t matter to Republicans, least of all to those most likely to contribute this July or vote for him in November. This is because in this hyper-polarized political world we now exist in Romney is not Romney – whoever he actually happens to be on a given day – but the anti-Obama. And, if Obama is the demonized “Other,” then Romney is the down-home all American every small-town, middle-income conservative in Mississippi can identify with almost as if he was family. Romney’s background as the rich son of an auto company CEO-turned former governor is clearly more authentically “up-by-your-bootstraps” to this crowd than that of a son of a poor single mother. Even Romney’s religion, which most Southern evangelicals would call a cult in private, is taken to be superior to the allegedly (if you watch Fox News) “black power” Church Obama once attended.
So, what Romney is, says, or does isn’t important. It’s what he isn’t that counts. He isn’t that guy who ordered Osama Bin Laden’s death. He isn’t that guy who passed a health-care reform bill that will help millions. He isn’t that guy who significantly reduced our troop presence in Iraq. He also isn’t that guy whose administration, by the account of all reputable, non-partisan economists, pulled us out of a Second Great Depression. Most importantly, in this most racially-polarized of states, he isn’t you know what.
And that, my friends, is probably all that really matters, doesn’t it?