This column was written by Marc Cooper.
I drove 227 miles on Thursday to get from Council Bluffs to the hamlet of Hampton in order to catch an "Ask Mitt Anything" meet and greet with Mitt Romney. In a flyspeck of a northern Iowa town where the only two eateries were a Hardee's and a Subway, Romney drew a bank basement crowd of about 50 — all-white and decidedly elderly, i.e. a very representative cross-cut of the Iowa GOP electorate.
Anyway, please remind me not to do that again!
I'm not really complaining. I readily confess that being able to cover any portion of a presidential campaign is a privilege and a treat. But, damn, it's hard to take some of this very seriously.
The BS factor is heavy in almost every event of any candidate. But Mitt Romney is in some special category of his own. I had trouble believing that anybody in that room could believe anything he said. Tanned, wonderfully dressed, tall, and enviably fit for a 60 year old, Mitt comes off as too slick by one-half. Someone once said he ought to learn to stammer a bit more, in the posed manner of, say, a Bill Clinton.
Not Mitt. He doesn't botch a word as he delivers one rehearsed graph after another. I'll save you the rhetoric and cut to his main point: "STRENGTH." A Strong Military. A Strong Economy. Strong Families. A Strong America. Strong. Strong. Strong.
Got the point?
But the shamelessness factor was sort of out of control. He's the man to bring "change" to Washington, but his stump speech omits any single policy matter on which he differs from Bush. He asks us to thank Bush for keeping us safe for the last six years and goes out of his way to praise the rough treatment of detainees at Gitmo. No cheers for those ideas, not even from the loyal Republicans in the room.
If elected, he says, he would work closely with Democrats by "lowering the rhetoric" but then chides Hillary Clinton for a recent call by her for more emphasis on community needs. "It's out with Adam Smith and in with Karl Marx," Romney proclaimed to an audience that seemed to draw a blank on both references. And as to what he called the Democratic plan to impose"government-run" health care, he said: "I don't want the guys who ran Katrina running our health care."
Neither does anyone else. Which is one reason those guys — the Republicans — are so likely to lose the next election.
When asked about his background, Romney had the chutzpah to say: "I come out of the private sector. I've really only been in politics for four years." His father, you see, "was in the automobile business." Well, yes, George Romney was CEO of American Motors. And, um, he was also elected Governor of Michigan three times and also ran for President of the United States if memory serves me. So other than that, yes, his son has has virtually no exposure to politics other than his own tenure as Governor of Massachusetts.
The good news: when asked by a wingnut if he supported the 10th Amendment guaranteeing states' rights, Romney went way out a limb by affirming: "I support all the amendments."
The lemonade served was tart and cold and the oatmeal cookies were soft and tasty. The audience was polite and courteous in the best tradition of Iowa Nice. But like this reporter, they seemed rather underwhelmed by it all. Most of Mitt's applause lines fell flat except for the outburst of approval he harvested for supporting teenage celibacy. OK.
Romney's spending a bundle on Saturday's Iowa GOP Straw Poll in which he's the easy favorite. Latest statewide opinion surveys show him running first in the state with about 26 percent support among Republicans. That puts him four points behind "undecided" among probable Iowa Republican caucus goers. Talk about general underwhelm-ment!
No mystery in those stats. Like all of his GOP rivals, Romney still can't figure out what he's offering except four more years of what 7 out of 10 Americans now reject. Not an easy task even for a smart aleck like Mitt.
By Marc Cooper
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation