By Robert Becker
Enough with that down-home, baseball glove moniker for Willard. Let’s identify Mitt the unfit with his most compelling doppelganger, that paragon of phoniness so fully satirized by Sinclair Lewis he’s America’s icon for narrow-mindedness: Babbitt. Indeed, tainted Babbitry today rules the GOP, uniting materialistic complacency with unthinking conformity – ever fostered by the God of Progress and sponsored by rabid, small-minded Boosterism. Thus, today’s self-righteous spawn: deluded American Exceptionalism.
Now that full public glare unzips what remains of Romney’s sanitized image, what emerges is a most disagreeable huckster, a Babbitt on steroids. Romney creeps us out because he’s so much richer and more predatory, yet still the calculating striver, oblivious to others, rushing to conform to the latest and lowest rightwing denominator. Exchange bank accounts and Protestant denominations, brother Romney tops Babbitt for hypocrisy and presumption, for the latter only idly dreamed of becoming a governor.
Equally devoted to Romney’s campaign slogan, “Believe in America,” Lewis’ smug Zenith booster also insists a hard-nosed businessman should run the federal government, like an efficient, unyielding machine. That echoes the most infamous paean to 1920’s capitalism from President Calvin Coolidge, the “chief business of the American people is business.” Nor would Babbitt nor Romney challenge this other, transcendent Coolidgism, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.” Yes, the religion of business, and vice versa.
Manipulators, not makers
Does not Romney the unfeeling, buffoonish vulgarian exemplify Lewis’ introduction to Babbitt, as middle-aged, middle-brow, midwesterner who “made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay”? The protean Romney pitchman is just as meretricious, proving again America still blesses greed and conformity, anointing today’s “severe conservative” despite the glaring contradictions with years of past centrism. Is not Romney the zenith of modern campaign pandering? Does not his political exploitation augment his exploitative Bain rampage, likewise profiting not by “making things” but manipulating people, pensions, loopholes and assets.
Aptly enough, Romney is ever behind the times, a 1950’s throwback whose formidable hustle is inventing the most plausible, whitest candidate against a minority, still implausible president. In fact, this born-again zealot transcends Babbitt as a far nimbler, more audacious con man, pitching a fistful of business and tax subsidies we can’t possibly “afford to pay.” Babbitt just cheated his neighbors and practiced small-time vulture capitalism; Romney won the sweepstakes and his shadow looms larger.
Look how “Babbitt” synonyms snugly fit Romney: philistine, boor, bounder, conformist, low-brow, nouveau riche, square, upstart, vulgarian, and yes man. Both follow a ruthlessly greedy creed: let the sucker beware. The essential link appears willful ignorance of inner needs, thus you hear cant, not sympathy for the pain and suffering of others. That way lies abusing pets on car racks, bullying and assaulting a gay-seeming fellow student, or maliciously bragging about firing people.
For Babbitt and Romney, the highest values are status, leverage, and financial gain, thus why bother to figure out who you are. Then, you’d have to worry about consistency or authenticity of character. Unlike Obama, whose two books probe a complex, conflicted past, here are two characters (along with dullards like W.) who scoff at internal voyaging or therapy as modern psychobabble – all unfit for True, Pioneering Yankee Heroes who unflinchingly “get things done.”
Beyond knee-jerk extremism, what makes Romney especially sinister is how seamlessly he merges the worst qualities of the super-wealthy Plutocrat Right with the glorification of mediocrity and surface mercantilism that is Babbittry. In contrast, right off W. was crude, unlearned and inarticulate, and eventually everyone saw his vacancy and nastiness. Romney is slicker than an oil spill, and nothing much sticks because he trivializes gaffes and writes off indiscretions with that foolish smile.
Likewise, unlike JFK or FDR, who acknowledged great family wealth, or Bush I (detached, upper-cruster), Romney wants to be admired as world-class vulture capitalist plus be one of the boys, the self-satisfied Rotarian laughing off “mere pranks” as “hijinks.” Romney’s high school call to arms, when corralling his posse to abuse the newly-blond-haired victim, would fit Babbitt morality to a tee: “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!”
Behavior is character
Character, when all is said and done, is a patterned series of high and low points by which good balances bad in a rough mix. Thus, why now trust an established liar like Romney on yesterday or yesteryear, whether five or fifty years? Why not judge everyone not only by intentions but consequences, intended and unintended? Even when fraudulently apologizing, Romney distorts, conceding he “might have gone too far” but denies recall of any hair-abuse details. Instead, and worse still, he follows up with this laugher: “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s.” Note blatant indirection: “I certainly don’t believe that I thought” or that was the “furthest thing from our minds.” As if “minds,” not emotion rule merciless bullying.
Right, anti-gay feeling only started last month, maybe last year, hardly noticeable (to rich, spoiled kids) in the ‘60s. “Since no one even thought about homosexuality then, see, I can’t be guilty of homophobia.” How many of us vaguely normal people would blank out orchestrating, then executing a violent group attack on a fellow student wailing for mercy? Who but a psychopath then compounds the crime with a manifestly untrue dodge? Finally, who but a lout offers wholesale, thus meaningless apologies for any and all incidents beyond recall: “back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.” “Obviously.” Why only then? Geez louise, this guy, not yet nominated, is already a certifiable menace.
And were Romney to gain the White House, then disgrace himself, wouldn’t we hear the same vacant non-apology apology? “If anything I did offended anyone, at any time, for any reason,” then “obviously I apologize.” Famously, W. never apologized, never reconsidered, barely erred. Just as bad, Romney apologizes constantly, thus seeming more unscrupulous every time. So far, Romney is a figure of ridicule (and self-ridicule) but that changes if and when he takes an electoral lead by spending millions to offset his (completely justified) 31% likeability dilemma.
In short, a President Romney could well surpass W. in failed policies plus make unpredictable, unthinkable lurches. After all, Bush had veterans Karl Rove, Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to save him from perdition? That worked out well. Who’s the adult in the Romney camp? Certainly not the Ann Romney talking doll dreaming of an unzipped Mitt? Where’s any recognizable grown-up stalwart with Romney’s ear, maybe his addled brain, strong enough to restrain a centerless president from careening out of control? Inquiring minds want to know – and earlier than the last Babbitt in power.