Opportunist or introvert? D-Day looms

Mon, Nov 5, 2012, 00:00

OPINION:Not since Lydia Bennet eloped with Mr Wickham, not since Anna Karenina ran off with Count Vronsky, has such a hue and cry been heard about purloined affections.

The triangle that flared at the climax, with Chris Christie scampering away from Mitt Romney in the wuthering storm to cling to President Barack Obama, the New Jersey governor’s brown eyes looking up trustingly into the president’s brown eyes, added a frisson to a jaundiced race.

Christie was unrepentantly swept away by his new pal, the commander in chief, who also likes to wear a jacket with his name and title sewn on to the lapel.“So, I do pinch myself every day,” said Christie said in Trenton on Wednesday.

“You know, like when I got on Marine One, I’m pinching myself, believe me. Sandy and Bill Christie’s son on Marine One was not exactly what I thought was going to be happening with my life.”

A president who has taken a lot of abuse from Republicans – one refusing to take his urgent calls on the debt deal, many libelling his religion, race and nationality, all plotting to upend his plans – was getting a little GOP love.

It was a jarring sign to Republicans that, despite Romney’s human-like performance in recent weeks, there is no deep tie, nor real respect, among many of those helping with his campaign.

Romney is idolised by his wife and sons, and in his close Mormon circle of friends, but beyond that, there is an intensity vacuum.

In the final days, with Christie cheating on him, Mitt was left with Jeb Bush, who offered the faint praise to CBS News that Romney had been slow to respond to the president’s attack but had finally “found his rhythm”.

Even some of Romney’s advisers confess they don’t really know who he is. Is he the pragmatist who would curb Grover Norquist, John Bolton and Dan Senor, or the severe conservative who would let them run wild? It’s sad when you are hoping someone is an opportunist and a liar.

Going rogue

Some of Romney’s staffers seemed taken aback by his starring performance in the first debate, musing whetherthe rich stiff actually could have had a chance of sending Obama packing.

Having Christie go rogue – and Colin Powell and Michael Bloomberg cross over from wherever they were – was a compelling plot twist in a race that has looked more to the gutter than the stars. Two uninspiring candidates, one Americans had fallen out of love with, one they could not fall in love with.

The only thing about Romney that doesn’t oscillate, besides the exact quota of salt to pepper in his hair, is his weight. He told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that he regularly gets on the scale on the campaign trail to make sure he doesn’t deviate too much. If only his consistency extended to his positions on the car bailout, abortion, climate change, gun control, healthcare etc.

Romney’s closing argument was that he could spark a stagnant economy, but his false claim that Jeep jobs were moving from the US to China was a huge mistake, allowing the big car companies to call him out as a liar.

Voting for either man seems a shot in the dark. You have to make that vote without knowing if either would have the mettle, as president for the next four years, to face down destructive forces and restore America’s lustre.

“After four years as president,” Obama told voters in Ohio, on Friday, “you know me.” But do we? Why then does he seem so much slighter than the Barack Obama who thrilled the country a mere four years ago?

If we know him, why were we so stunned at his crimped, self-destructive performance in the first debate, when the man usually so in control of his emotions could not contain his contempt that he was expected to justify himself while this superrich, superphony, supercilious Republican dauphin stared at him with a smarmy smile?

Still in the fight

After his disheartened remark that “you can’t change Washington from the inside”, the greying president has to spend his last campaign hours exhorting until hoarse to reassure us that he’s still interested in his job. “I am a long ways away from giving up on this fight,” he said in Springfield, Ohio, on Friday. “I got a lot of fight left in me.”

David Axelrod, the president’s moustachioed medium, strained to paint the president as filled with vigour, telling reporters that Obama’s exhilaration “is coming from his loins”. Twitter users quickly dubbed the president the Loin King.

The campaign played Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered at rallies in 2008 too, but in Ohio in 2012, the words have a more wistful ring to them: “Like a fool I went and stayed too long. Now I’m wondering if your love’s still strong.”

In Florida on Friday, Bill Clinton’s usual lavished praise contained a sting: “I may be the only person in America, but I am far more enthusiastic about President Obama this time than I was four years ago.”

It is clear now that we elected an introvert, which is strange, and a leader who is depleted, rather than recharged, by politics and crowds. As Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a former Obama adviser, told New York magazine: “It’s stunning that he’s in politics, because he really doesn’t like people. My analogy is that it’s like becoming Bill Gates without liking computers.”

As the former community organiser deftly handled the devastation of Sandy – showing all the fleet response and caring reactions that he had lacked during the BP oil spill, it seemed as though he had learned some things about communicating and using the levers of government and that he understood that Americans will expect more of him if he is re-elected.

But I couldn’t help thinking of a Star Trek episode, The Naked Time, in which the starship Enterprise sends crew members to a dying planet. The spaceship is contaminated by a strange red liquid that causes everyone to emote like crazy. Even Spock starts crying inconsolably because he can’t tell his mother how much he cares about her. Spock and Captain Kirk fiddle with matter and anti- matter and get away but fall into a time warp and hurtle back 71 hours, so the emotional outpouring never happened.

Has President Spock, who bounded into action on Sandy and rocked a New Jersey woman in his arms, really grown? Or is he giving us what we want for the moment so we’ll give him what he wants for the next four years?

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