By Bob Cesca: Everyone thinks most politicians are absolutely full of shit.
Too many Americans shrug off the political process under the assumption that politicians are liars and scam artists with little regard for their personal struggles and pet issues. So that’s what voters expect when election days grow larger in the window. Consequently, they either ignore the process or make thoughtless, dart-board choices based on an insufferable “lesser of two evils” brand of pessimism.
But it takes a particularly cynical politician to literally build a campaign around this negative expectation.
Mitt Romney is doing exactly that.
He’s not stupid. He’s not a stumbling, gaffe-prone doof. He’s a soulless, cynical robot who has no problem with saying exactly what he thinks voters want to hear, and he doesn’t care if the subsequent contradictions, flip-flops and nonsense are utterly obvious and transparent. Voters expect politicians to be two-faced and inconsistent, so why not say whatever it takes to make it through the week and over the next hurdle?
The now-infamous line from Romney staffer Eric Fehrnstrom about the campaign resetting its language when the general election begins — like an Etch-A-Sketch — was one of the most glaring examples of meta-cynicism in the history of modern presidential politics. Not only was Fehrnstrom describing the cynical strategy in detail in front of a national audience, but he was cynical enough to believe that voters wouldn’t care — they expect candidates to be shifty, so why the hell not?
Romney is easily the most jaded, cynical presidential politician since Richard Nixon. He operates with the hubristic attitude that voters expect him to be shifty, and therefore he’s allowed to be shifty. The expectation gives him permission to be that caricature.
And so, for example, he accused President Obama of being an elitist because he attended Harvard even though anyone with a cursory knowledge of Romney’s history knows he also attended Harvard. But none of that matters. He’s smart and calculating enough to know for certain that a chunk of Republican voters will accept the claim at face value and not investigate the contradictions and hypocrisy, and the rest of the Republican voters expect him to say whatever it takes to win, so who cares if it’s bullshit?
The list of flagrantly obvious lies are longer than the list of workers that were fired in hostile Bain Capital takeovers. Romney isn’t “severely conservative.” Romney knows the economy isn’t “worse” than before President Obama was inaugurated. Romney knows the president doesn’t want to “end Medicare as we know it” — that’s Paul Ryan’s job. Romney is pretending to be a conservative and so he’s saying whatever conservatives need to hear in order to support him, and then, when he’s the nominee, he’ll soften his language and pretend his primary-era remarks never happened. And Romney’s possible vice presidential nominee, Rick Santorum, will pretend like he never criticized Romney or, quite possibly, he’ll just admit that it was merely the product of a primary contest and wasn’t really true.
George W. Bush ran his campaigns and his administration on a foundation of deception, but he was never this brazen about it. His public statements were mostly consistent and reflected a man who, despite his lengthy roster of faults and incompetencies, had a set of core values guiding his agenda.
Romney has entirely broken down any facade of having a core set of, well, anything. He doesn’t need core values. Core values are an abandoned genetic trait — a worthless vestigial organ — lost in the, ahem, evolution of the party. Mitt Romney is The Modern Republican. He’s an empty suit who has streamlined Republican campaigning down to an even thinner and more corrosive process than Lee Atwater, Karl Rove or Ed Rollins could have ever envisioned.
And it’s helping an already thin, sketchy, marginalized Republican Party become even more anemic, and anyone can see where the trend line is heading. The Republicans, even though they had few accomplishments to ballyhoo after the Bush years, at least claimed some sort of core beliefs. Romney is making that unnecessary. And who cares? People expect politicians to be rudderless automatons. So why struggle against that? This is the height of political cynicism and it’s the centerpiece of the Romney campaign strategy.