By Chez Pazienza: The closer we get to the November election -- the more pronounced and desperate the entirely contrived machinations from the various candidates become as time ticks inexorably toward the moment of truth -- the more I can't help but keep the brilliant words of Shepard Smith in mind. You'll remember he said back in May of this year, in a moment of absolute, blank-faced clarity, "Politics is weird. And creepy. And now I know lacks even the loosest attachment to anything like reality." At the time, what led him to this stark assessment was an official statement issued by Mitt Romney which attempted to follow up one of the most vicious and bitter grudge matches in Republican intra-party politics with a seemingly benign and even friendly "no hard feelings" directed toward Newt Gingrich, who had just dropped out of the presidential race.
Romney's words were supposed to be conciliatory, because that's just the way these things work, but instead they came off like utter bullshit, because that's exactly what they were. It's one thing to acknowledge that even though the past several months have seen a kind of go-for-the-jugular dogfight between party rivals unprecedented in modern politics, in the end all the candidates running for the Republican nomination have a common enemy that they have to come together to defeat -- it's quite another to pretend that you're best friends with the petty, narcissistic sociopath who's just spent the latter part of his campaign on a personal vendetta to pound you into paste.
But this is what politics is: It's all a lie. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney practices it in a more egregious way than most, simply because he genuinely isn't used to being called out for the fact-defying nonsense he spins out of thin air. Nobody insults your intelligence like a politician and nobody's quite the reptilian politician that Romney is -- and to some extent that's what Shep Smith was getting at.
So now, months after Shep's quietly blistering appraisal of where we're at politically in the year 2012, we stand at the edge of the very first presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. And if you think things have gotten better, smarter or more tethered to reality since May you're out of your mind.
Case in point: ahead of tomorrow's debate, Romney's advisers have decided, unfathomably, to cement their candidate's reputation as a hapless, robotic weirdo who lacks even the most perfunctory ability to relate to actual flesh and blood human beings by promising to once again "reintroduce" him to American audiences. For those keeping score, this is the 137th time the Romney campaign has needed to be, appropriately, rebooted -- and that's just since the end of the lackluster Republican National Convention.
According to his handlers, Romney will actually show empathy with the plight of suffering middle-class Americans in the debate -- you know, the ones he blithely dismissed as being beneath his concern during a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Florida several months ago. Apparently, the Romneytron 2000 has acquired and fully beta-tested an updated empathy chip which will allow him to simulate real human emotions and he'll be taking it out for a run around the track for the first time tomorrow night. Sure, it's a tired joke to make, but think about it for a minute. Romney's people are basically acknowledging two things: 1) Romney's shown nothing approaching a full understanding of how difficult a vast swath of Americans have it right now, an understanding that would affect him in a very genuine way, 2) Empathy is something you can fake, even though it involves actually feeling another person's emotions through an innate sensitivity to what he or she is going through.
Romney can sympathize with a recently laid-off single mother or father now relegated to working two or three menial jobs just to feed her or his family, maybe. But he can never empathize, because nothing in his life has ever been that dire and he's not a member of that very special class of people who can comprehend the pain of others on a primal level despite not living through their personal experience. Romney trying to fake empathy by telling a couple of hard-luck campaign stories from the road -- from the self-defined enemy class of freeloaders he himself has admitted to not really giving a crap about -- will be exactly that: faked empathy and nothing more. It won't win Romney a single undecided vote.
Meanwhile, you've certainly heard the word "zinger" more times in the past week than in the preceding rest of your life. The idea that Romney can, again, practice what's essentially an insult joke speaks volumes about him and the way he approaches the world. (The fact that his campaign allowed something so ridiculous to be leaked to the press speaks volumes about its lack of competence.) Only someone as unfunny and out-of-touch with any kind of behavior or lingo beyond the year 1953 would actually use the word "zinger," and given that Mitt Romney is, as Cesca has said multiple times, the unfunniest man on the planet -- remember, his jokes generally amount to odd non-sequiturs, subtle insults and cringe-inducing pop culture references from fifteen or so years ago -- you can guarantee that a Romney "zinger" will amount to Romney actually coming right out and saying the word "zing!" Zany hijinks will surely ensue.
The more I immerse myself in the Keystone Kops campaign of Mitt Romney, the more I actually develop a fondness for, say, Allen West down in Florida. He's fully embraced the fact that he's a raving, psychopathic misogynist. He makes no bones about his propensity for violence, his insane belief that eliminationism is the only hope for America, and his supposedly God-given authority to tell his wife exactly what to do lest she be slapped in the face over and over again with his dick. At least he presents a clear choice; he's willing to risk political suicide for the grotesque awfulness he subscribes to. Strangely, he's less repulsive because of this than Mitt Romney, who can never admit to who and what he is -- who may not even know who and what he is.
Romney's all about modern politics. He's the embodiment of it.
And if we go by Shep Smith's assessment, we all know what that makes him.