Friday, May 25, 2007
A Ralph By Any Other Name: From the start of his presidential bid, Mitt Romney has seemed unsure of his political identity. As governor of Massachusetts, he embraced the right to choose, paved the streets with health care, and hired illegal immigrants to mow his lawn. After climbing into the phone booth of the Republican primaries, however, mild-mannered Mitt emerged a new man—lifetime NRA member, xenophobe, pro-life, and anti-rabbit.
Mitt Romney is the Jay Gatsby of American politics—a fiction within a fiction who was born in the Midwest, made his fortune in the East, and never stops reinventing himself to impress those he meets along the way.
It turns out that in one respect, at least, Romney is consistent: He's as unsure of other people's identities as he is of his own. Last week, Romney saw Ralph Reed across a crowded room and called him Gary Bauer. But longtime Romney watcher Seth Gitell writes that it wasn't the first time. Romney made an eerily similar mistake during his 2002 governor's race, mixing up two of his general-election opponents in a televised debate. Romney got into an exchange about bilingual education with the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. His first words to Jill were, "Carla, I agree."
"Carla" was the name of the Libertarian candidate, Carla Howell. She didn't look like Jill, or think like her, either. As Gitell wrote at the time in the Boston Phoenix, "Romney's faux pas seemed to suggest a candidate who could not be bothered to listen to the differences between the Greens and the Libertarians."
To Romney, not only all Christian conservatives look alike, but all women look alike, too. The cyborg programming must be even more primitive than we thought.
All campaign long, Romney has seemed like a serial identity thief. But perhaps he's really a serial identity jumbler. Legal and illegal, one-time and lifetime, pro-choice and pro-life—these normally bright-line distinctions aren't easy for the identity challenged. We don't criticize the color blind for not being able to tell the difference between green and orange. Should we be so quick to call a man a flip-flopper when he can't even tell one opponent from another?
Memorial Day can be an ordeal for the politician who can't remember—in this case, who he is, what he stands for, where he comes from, and to whom he is speaking. As a special tribute to his special challenge, Slate is proud to announce the Mitt Romney Look-Alike Contest. Other candidates look in the mirror and see the next president. When Mitt Romney looks in the mirror, he sees yet another face whose name he can't quite place.
What person comes to mind when you look at Romney? Some bloggers think he looks like Wink Martindale. Slate's separated-at-birth team came up with a host of other suspects, from Stone Phillips to Ricardo Montalban. Send your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner gets a copy of Romney's favorite book, Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard—or, as Mitt likes to call him, "Tom." ... 3:17 P.M. (link)
Wednesday, May 23, 2007