See ya, wouldn't want to be ya.
Some of my fellow libs said that Mitt Romney was the most palatable of the Republican candidates for president this year; I can't say I shared that opinion. I certainly think he would've been the easiest to run against in November, but as far as actually being an acceptable candidate, whatever moderate tendencies Romney had policy-wise -- and upon closer inspection, there were never anywhere near as many as people would have you believe -- were negated by a slick unctuousness that just made my skin crawl every time I looked at him. He was malleable and overly accommodating in a way that always signaled there'd be something unpleasant around the corner: I'm pro-gay rights . . . oh, you say you're anti-gay rights? Then I'm anti-gay rights too! By the way, we're invading Iran in 15 minutes. Some compared him to a used-car salesman, and they weren't wrong; I'd go further and compare him to the creepy second husband that the protagonist should never have gotten together with in all those Lifetime movies. He's nice, he's got a steady job, he's great with your kids and even knows how to speak their language with the hip-hop and the bling-bling and whatever -- maybe his only problem is that he tries a little too hard to be cool. In fact, he's trying so hard to be cool that he's taking your teenage daughter's side against you in arguments, and he seems to be way too eager to drive the girls home from cheerleading practice. And then one day you come home early from work and he's bending your daughter's best friend over the kitchen island.
So anyway, that's my long, rambling way of saying that I'm not exactly weeping over Mittens's departure from the presidential race today:
I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.
Yup, that's pretty much the tenor of the whole speech. He hits every last flashing red "fear" button: terrorist appeasers, welfare queens, pornographers, homos, they're all coming to take our country away, ho ho, hee hee, oh noes!!!11! He even stoops to some throwaway France-bashing, which is so 2003, even if it elicited the desired Pavlovian response in the two or three remaining Americans who still give a shit about Freedom Fries. (Diss France all you want, Mittens, but if the Citroën DS and the world's hottest newsanchor don't earn a country permanent "superpower" status, then howsabout you tell me what does.)
In spite of the fact that Romney's speech marked an end to a campaign as opposed to a beginning, it was in many ways every bit as hateful and demagogic as Pat Buchanan's infamous keynote address at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston. Looking back, most now agree that that petty, vitriolic tirade signaled the beginning of the end of the Republicans' 12-year stint in the White House -- and with any luck, Romney's concession speech will signal the beginning of the end of their current eight-year reign.
Plenty of people, at other Web sites and in the comments threads right here on this one, have tried to poke holes in Barack Obama's bipartisan "hope" rhetoric, alternately for being too flowery or just too unlikely. But let me promise you this: If America's choice in 2008 comes down to picking between Obama's rhetoric and the hate and fear Romney tried to sow at CPAC today, Obama's going to win and it won't even be close. The bipartisanship Obama has espoused, I think, has been misunderstood by a lot of people: He's not trying to bring an end to disagreement, he's simply trying to bring an end to the spiteful, demonizing way those disagreements have been expressed over the last decade-plus. Mitt Romney, evidently, doesn't want to do that. But the thing about that kind of ad hominem, fearmongering strategy is that people really get fatigued by it after a while, and in 2006 that fatigue was strong enough for the American public to turn the Republican practitioners of that strategy out of Congress en masse. Is that the kind of strategy that Mitt really wants to stick with? I guarantee you, fellas, if America faces a choice between "let's dial the hate back and see if we can't come together a little" and "no, let's get our hate on for another four years," they're going with the former.
I realize that the very event this speech was meant to announce renders the relevance of these criticisms somewhat marginal, seeing as how Mittens isn't even in the race anymore. But it's up to presumptive Republican nominee John McCain to decide whether he wants Mittens's tone to be the tone of his own campaign. He would do well to note that while that kind of brimstone played real well with the far right wing and the Rush Limbaughs of the world -- those who have, not coincidentally, laid into McCain for being "too liberal" -- it obviously didn't play too well with the actual average Joes and Josephines of the Republican Party, or else Mittens wouldn't be backing out of the race right now.
So America's choice is your choice too, Sen. McCain -- get your hate on and throw some read meat to a right-wing base that apparently isn't nearly as powerful as it thinks it is, or turn the page and do your part to bring a little unity to this country for the first time in a long while. But if I may offer a little rule of thumb here, following Mitt Romney's lead doesn't exactly seem to be the path to success in this election, does it?