At one level, unless Romney is elected president, this post is pretty ephemeral. However, I’m using Romney to illustrate a larger point.
Although Romney is doing fairly well in certain primary states which he has assiduously courted with all the leisure time and money at his disposal, he hasn’t made any progress in narrowing the gap with Giuliani or a Johnny-come-lately like Thompson.
Mind you, his limited success in primary states is not to be underestimated. You don’t get nominated without winning primaries.
But why is he going nowhere in the national polls? Well, I can only speculate, but I think he suffers from three handicaps.
1.He’s Mormon. I suspect that a lot of Republicans are leery of voting for a member of a religious cult. I mean, would you cast your vote for Tom Cruise or John Travolta if they were running for high office?
2.He’s not a credible conservative. Sure, he’s now using all the right code words to reposition himself, but that’s the problem. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he governed as a liberal. (At least, that’s what I’ve read.).
That’s his track record. If you want to guess at how he could govern as president, the only frame of reference is his gubernatorial record.
Oh, and despite media myopia, his liberal positions weren’t limited to abortion.
Ironically, Romney has cast himself in the worst of both possible worlds, for he’s a liberal Mormon. So—on the one hand—he suffers the stigma of belonging to the one true Church of the Holy Underwear, while—on the other hand—he can’t cash in on the compensatory benefit of the family values image which Mormonism likes to project and promote for public consumption.
3.But I suspect there’s a final problem dogging Romney. He’s too princely. Indeed, he’s like the stereotypical candidate that Democrats prefer to run for the top office, viz., Wilson, FDR, Stevenson, JFK, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, &c.
And this cuts against the grain of the American mythos or American Dream. By and large, modern-day Democrats are elitists and wannabe Europeans. As such, they’re out of touch with most Republicans and swing voters.
What I call the American mythos or American dream is dramatized by popular and perennial cinematic theme of the working class athlete or small town sports team that must overcome various obstacles to beat the system. There are many variations on this theme, but think of movies like Hoosiers, Breaking Away, Gladiator, Remember the Titans, Rudy, Rocky, Vision Quest, Friday Night Lights, Miracle, or The Longest Yard.
As long as it’s done with a certain freshness, most Americans never tire of the story of the underdog from the wrong side of the tracks who triumphs over adversity through sheer spunky determination.
If you wish to see Romney’s problem in graphic terms, just try to visualize him in Hoosiers or Friday Night Lights. It’s the difference between bubbly and beer, Mozart and blue grass.
Romney is a Northeastern liberal who strayed into the wrong party. He’s going to the rodeo in a tux and top hat.
As a result, there’s a discernible pattern to the way the parties win or lose. Democrats can sometimes win if they hold their nose and run a candidate who comes from humble origins, or they can win if their patrician candidate is able to conceal his aristocratic roots.
In terms of his background, Bush is just as preppy as Kerry. Two Ivy League plutocrats. But the problem is that Kerry sounded preppy while Bush sounded like a West Texas cowboy. Ever since JFK, is almost a fluke when a Democrat captures the White House.
Likewise, the eminently forgettable and soon-to-be forgotten John Edwards is a laughingstock precisely because of the lurid disconnect between his pitchfork oratory and his goldplated lavatory.
We can also draw the contrast at a religious rather than political level, and the parallel will hold. Just compare the Episcopalians with the Baptists.
Anglicans exude the Old World. The church where the kings and queens of England used to worship, along with the peers of the realm.
By contrast, the Baptist ethos is proudly and profoundly blue collar. And this, in turn, taps into a certain Biblical emphasis as well. In Evangelical, and especially, Reformed theology, there’s no room for putting on airs of spiritual superiority.
Catholic theology is patrician whereas Evangelical theology is proletarian. Having lost the patronage of the monarchy, Catholicism flirts with the dirt-poor rhetoric of liberation theology to conceal its patrician roots and aspirtions. The princess dresses up as a peasant—like a Halloween costume for Paris Hilton. But Catholic theology is irredeemably aristocratic.
You can see this in its hierarchical polity, as well as the cult of the saints, where the saints are a spiritual aristocracy, capped by Mary as the Queen of Heaven.
To some extent, every presidential election is a ritual drama in which one party projects upper class values while the other class projects working class values. Sometimes the lines are blurred in practice since the process is not that self-conscious, but each party has its own center of gravity, and its respective candidates generally gravitate in that direction.
It’s an interesting question what this is grounded in. I suppose it’s due, in part, to the fact, that Americans deposed the Royalists in the Revolutionary War. It’s also due, in part, to the fact that we’re a land of immigrants. So we value achieved status over ascribed status.
But I also suspect there’s a religious component that underwrites this bias. Indeed, I think the religious and sociological dynamics reinforce each other. Baptist religion tends to select for a certain social class, just as Episcopalian religion tends to select for a certain social class. And these, in turn, tend to cultivate and confirm that sociological attraction. So the initial appeal is able to build on itself—although that can also and eventually undermine its own appeal if—in the case of the Episcopalian church—it becomes so secularized and worldly that there’s no longer any reason to attend church in the first place.