The Romney campaign recently posted a remarkable video clip on its site. The 13 minute video depicts, over soft guitar strumming, the family’s get-together this last Christmas at their vacation home in Deer Valley, Utah. One of the purposes for the reunion was to let everyone in the family weigh in on Romney’s decision whether to run for president. Here is the clip:
I find this a very effective bit of political theater, not least because of the authenticity lent to the proceedings by the down-to-earth narration of Ann Romney. Her meandering thoughts on feeding such a large family and keeping the kitchen clean bring a logistical earthiness to a gathering that might otherwise look too effortless. (And I can say, from experience in my own large, Mormon family, that these scenes look quite realistic to me).
Ah, but there are some who find the remaining effortlessness far too disgusting to swallow. In a mean-spirited takedown under the sub-head “The Irresistible Creepiness of Mitt’s New Home Video,” Slate’s Bruce Reed mocks the “Cyborg” family, with its five “dull,” “wrinkle-free” “frightenly wholesome- and shallow” sons, “whose very sameness is hypnotic.” Meanwhile, the New York Times’ political blog less-cruelly describes the “Romney-Rockwell Video” as arguably “high on cheese,” but an effective portrayal of what sets Mitt apart from Guiliani and other rivals.
Both pieces mention the meal-time grace offered by Romney, and both include allusions to Leave it Beaver (the latter piece only in the comments, which are worth reading to gain a sense of how many people hate the idea of a religious, happy family man leading our country). The implication is clear: This video stinks because it is artificial. No family is that perfect, and even if they were, we’d only hate them for it.
And so emerges what is likely to be a consistent theme for Romney critics: He’s just too perfect. There is rarely an explanation of why this seeming perfection is a problem, but usually the implication is that such a glossy sheen can only be 1) artificially and cynically constructed (as Slate’s Reed says “He looks like he made up his mind 40 years ago, then built a family to consult about the decision”), and is therefore clearly fake or 2) superficial, and therefore hides a less-appealing core that is either vapid or, worse, dangerous.
What support is offered for the view that the Romneys are not truly what they purport to be? Sure, they’re a good looking family, and they have some money and even a bit of fame to boot, but it’s not impossible that those gifts, plus a bit of religious virtue, could all converge in one family. The charge of flip-flopping on a few issues is often raised as if to say that Romney clearly holds no principles at all. But can a change of mind regarding abortion really be the basis for an inference that this man isn’t sincere in his love for his family and his commitment to his faith? And what of the accusation that the family is “shallow” and “dull,” because they are wholesome and lacking in disinguishing characteristics? (One wonders what kinds of differences would set Mr. Reed at ease– a few mustaches? Tattoos?). Is it not enough that each of the Romney sons has accomplished laudable things in his own right, including the kinds of graduate degrees that usually buy a bit of respect with the liberal crowd? Apparently not.
In the end, this kind of attack is never based on any rational grounds. It rises from a visceral reaction among a certain kind of American- the kind that believes the traditional American ideals of family and faith are both impossible and undesirable. We are a double-minded nation, seeking to elevate the family nationally, and each seeking familial happiness personally, yet agreeing publicly to mock anyone who succeeds in approaching the ideal. Watch for this specialized, jealous kind of attack to continue as the Romneys continue in the spotlight. And watch for its next phase, in which the Romneys will be splattered not only with imagined shallowness, but with real imagined transgressions and hypocrisy.
Those are the attacks that will make Romney’s hope of “minimizing the downsides” for his family sound quaint, and ominous in the end.