Sunday, 26 January 2014


I was intrigued to see this tweet appear in my Twitter feed yesterday morning.

I couldn't help but wonder what on earth would prompt Mitt Romney to emerge, over a year after his defeat in the 2012 Presidential election, to slowjam the news on Fallon, a few days before Obama's State of the Union address.

Is he planning another tilt at the presidency in 2016, I initially wondered, but there is no chance of that.  You lose in a presidential election, and you have L For Loser stamped on your head for life as Romney himself once joked: "Michael Dukakis can't even get a job cutting grass these days".  (Nixon's come-back in '68 after losing to Kennedy in 1960 was a remarkable exception, tied to the unique circumstances of that decade).

Then mention was made of Mitt, the Netflix documentary by Greg Whiteley that had been released that day, providing an intimate behind-the-scenes account of Romney's two presidential runs.

Click the link above to go to Netflix and watch the trailer.
Now Romney can't have much of a financial interest in the film: being a squillionaire any potential money he could theoretically make from this is bound to be small beans to him, so I decided to watch the film to see what was the message that he feels he wants people to take away from it, since that is the only reason I could think of why he would undergo the indignity of appearing on Fallon to promote the film.

Having watched Mitt, I can only conclude that Mitt feels he was unfairly portrayed by the Obama campaign during the election as a snobbish plutocrat (car elevators, Olympic horses and the like), and wants the American people to see the real him: a religious, well-meaning family-man who loves his country and wants to do the best by it.  I doubt many Americans actually believed Romney was actually a bad man, but I sense that is his concern and the one he is trying to counter.

The film is unusual in terms of the amount of private, family access that Whiteley was given during the two campaigns.  This is not a campaign documentary, in the sense of a behind-the-scenes look at his presidential bids.  Completely absent from it are the campaign operatives and political advisers who keep the show on the road.  What we do see is the involvement of his family and their participation in his presidential bids, beginning with a family vote in 2006 on whether he should run for president in 2008.

Romney does indeed come across as a man who deeply loves his family and country, who has moments of insecurity and introspection, such as when he wonders aloud whether the "flipping [as in flip-flopping] Mormon" is ultimately a "flawed candidate".  We see him admit his heart is no longer in the debates and campaign stops in 2008 when he knows John McCain has the nomination sewn up, and then on the eve of the election in 2012 genuinely believing he is poised to take the presidency (he had written an acceptance speech on his plane that morning.  He had not thought about a concession speech until it became clear that Ohio was lost).  We see his genuine concern for small-business owners, and observe him picking up trash in hotel rooms in moments of stress, expressing his sense of intimidation at debating Obama before the first presidential debate and seeing his relief and pride at having trounced Obama once it was over. The disappointment of him and his wife as they say goodbye to their Secret Service detail and return to their Massachusetts home after conceding defeat is both palpable and poignant.

But what else is there to take away from this film, other than the fact that Romney is probably quite a nice man?  In truth, not a lot.

A few interesting vignettes arise relating to other Republican operatives.  One of his political advisers announces to the room that "Karl [Rove] is still out there battling for us on Fox" (dispelling any notion, not that it were needed, that Fox's 'political analyst' is nothing other than a Republican shill), referring to Rove's now-famous refusal to accept Fox News' analysts call that Ohio had been won by Obama.

Paul Ryan, Romney's vice-presidential pick, makes two very brief appearances, and comes across as a sort of douchey/geeky Kermit the Frog.  A truly muppetly man.

Glad to see I am not the only one to notice the resemblance.

For me, however, the most interesting element of the whole 90 minutes relates to Romney's infamous "47%" comments, and his feelings about his father, George Romney.

We get the video of the 47% comments, without rebuttal or comment from Romney or any of the other family members, (though Whiteley has stated that he wasn't around when this occurred, which is why the film contains no reaction to it).  This contrasts with Romney's subsequent comments that his father, presumably unlike himself, was "the real deal... He was born in Mexico, didn't have a college education and went on to be the head of a car company and a governor".  Romney as good as admits he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, with wealth, Harvard Law and Harvard Business School, and the self-awareness to know he would not be running for president if it had not been for the success of his father.

Yet that self-awareness clearly has its limits: there is no sense that he makes a connection between the advantages given to him and others at birth and the 'failures' of the "47%" who have no such similar advantages.  To my mind, what this does show is that the Obama campaign's crude caricature of the man as so wealthy as to be out-of-touch with ordinary Americans was not so wide of the mark after all.  He clearly cares deeply about and admires America's small business owners, but is so blinded by that admiration that he fails to see that not everyone can be a small business owner, and is perhaps slightly contemptuous of "ordinary Americans" who are not.

Still, that doesn't make him a bad man, which is what I suspect he worries history will remember him as, and I suppose is proof, in some ways, that in fact he is not.

No comments: