After watching last week's debate, Buzz Bissinger, the brilliant narrative journalist, decided to vote for Mitt Romney. Do his arguments for doing so seem as strange to you as they do to me?
"At the debate, Romney did not simply act like he wanted to be president," he wrote. "He wants to be president. He showed vigor, and enthusiasm, and excitement, a man who wants to lead. It may all be ephemeral, because most of politics is ephemeral, a cynical means to the end of getting elected. But he also revealed compassion that, during the entirety of this absurdly long march, had never been in evidence before. He recognized the needs of the poor. He recognized the need for regulation."
I'll tell you why I find this strange.
It's exhausting to run for president. In 2008, Romney did it anyway, spending millions from his personal fortune in a losing bid. And four years later, he decided he'd mount another attempt. There is no better evidence that he wants to be president than that. But Bissinger writes as if his almost certainly affected demeanor on the debate stage is better evidence of Romney's inner desires. Meanwhile, Bissinger explicitly recognizes that politicians cynically act in whatever way is required to be elected. And he cites a debate-night expression of compassion for the poor as evidence that Romney really feels compassion for them, despite the fact that, according to Bissinger, he has never shown evidence of that compassion during the entirety of his campaign.
I don't understand how anyone can hold all these beliefs at once. And that's just the beginning of the problems in this endorsement.
Says Bissinger elsewhere in his piece:
I don't see Obama spending much time running the country, unless you count his recent appearance on The View, where he was far more animated and charming than during the debate.
He has said nary a word about the debacle in Benghazi in Libya where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed amidst all sort of questions over adequate security. While getting a tongue bath from Whoopi, he rejected meeting with Middle East leaders during the U.N. General Assembly, so essential in dealing with a region where personal relationships make a profound difference. As Syria burns more fiercely than ever, now enveloping Turkey with its own use of military force, he purposely stays as far away from it as he can, presumably until after the election if at all.
There are rigorous ways to evaluate how actively a president is governing. The idea that voters ought to make that sort of judgment based on a few cherry-picked things Obama hasn't done, plus his demeanor on The View, is so shallow it's difficult to believe an experienced journalist would assert it. On Libya alone, Obama helped arrange an international coalition to depose the dictator, sidestepped Congress to provide the military assets to carry out the mission, and immediately started moving intelligence assets, including drones, into the country to get an advantage in the war on terrorism. Whether you find all that reckless, as I do, or savvy, like liberal internationalists do, the notion that Obama has done too little governing on Libya in particular is bizarre.
I am not sure Obama really wants to be president in any practical way. He hates the rolling up of sleeves and schmoozing that is politics. I respect his principles, the way he does not veer from them, but politics is not principle whether we like it or not. It is friendliness and compromise.
This is written as if from an alternative reality. Sure, Obama hates schmoozing, by most accounts, but he's often shown willingness to compromise, and the idea that he's never veered from his principles is fantasy. Obama has veered from his previously articulated principles on indefinite detention, executive power, whistle-blowing, and state secrets, among other subjects. Blatantly reversing himself on those subjects is an undeniable part of Obama's record.
Here's Bissinger on tax policy:
Those making more than $250,000 should pay more taxes, and that does include me. But I also am tired of Obama's constant demonization, of those he spits out as "millionaires and billionaires," as pariahs. Romney's comments at a fundraiser were stupid, but 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income taxes. Yes, a majority are poor and seniors. But millions do not pay such taxes with incomes of more than $50,000, and whether it's as little as $10, every American should contribute both as a patriotic obligation and skin in the game. This is our country, not our country club.
I haven't heard Obama "demonize" the rich, and the fact that the words quoted in evidence of this are "millionaires and billionaires" doesn't inspire confidence in the characterization. Show me the soundbite. Also, if $10 in taxes for Americans making $50,000 per year is sufficient for Bissinger, he can rest assured that they're all paying far more than that, unless he is more concerned with their federal income-tax burden than their federal tax burden, a distinction he doesn't recognize.
I believe that Romney's move to the center is not yet another flip-flop sleight of hand, perhaps naively.
But, of course, Romney's move to the center is a politically motivated flip-flop. Does Bissinger really think Romney would've done it had his previous strategy resulted in a healthy October lead?
I believe he will send to the political Guantanamo those dirty old white men of the party ready to bomb Iran (speaking of wars, are we out of Afghanistan yet, despite our so-called allies killing our soldiers? See Obama policy).
But old white Republicans ready to bomb Iran aren't being sent to "the political Guantanamo," whatever that means--they're being added as top Romney foreign-policy advisers and courted as voters. Their main complaint about Iraq and Afghanistan is that Obama wants to leave too soon.
Bissinger is a fantastic writer. Forget all this; go read him at his best, and know that presidential elections render a lot of smart people unable to see what's in front of their noses: Election 2012 is a choose-your-own-disaster scenario, with a deeply problematic incumbent squaring off against a challenger who could be even worse.