Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Romney Stumbles On

After a huge effort, in terms of both time and money, Mitt  Romney pulled out a win last night in his home state of Michigan, keeping his edge over fundamentalist home boy Rick Santorum. Every non-fundamentalist American ought to cheer this result. I know some Democrats salivate over a match-up between Obama and Santorum or Newt Gingrich, and barring disaster that race would be a Democratic landslide. But the gain of a few more House seats has to be balanced against the chance that there might be a disaster -- another worldwide financial crisis, say, or a massive Middle Eastern war that sends gas prices past $10/gallon. If something like that happens, you want Romney heading the Republican ticket.

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that some conservatives are asking themselves why Romney keeps going:
What, if anything, could convince Romney to drop out? If he underperforms on Super Tuesday, would that do it? What about the primaries after that? I find myself wondering more and more why he’s so determined to win when he receives so much negative feedback at every turn. He has few passionate supporters and many passionate detractors; he has no big cause or grand issue that animates him; his victories are owed chiefly to carpet-bombing his rivals with negative ads rather than stirring up enthusiasm for his candidacy. It’s almost a test of wills with the base, or some sort of exceptionally complex organizational problem he’s determined to solve. Is Mitt so skillful a manager that he can propel a candidacy built on virtually nothing to the Republican nomination despite resolute opposition from activists?
I think wanting to be President is a form of mental illness, so pointing out that Romney's behavior is strange does not really differentiate him from other candidates. But the one thing that you have to put on Romney's plus side is that he has always been, throughout his life, determined and successful. I think vulture capitalism is wicked, but Romney was certainly very good at it, amassing a huge fortune in a very risky trade. He did a good job with the Olympics and was a good governor. And once he decided to become President, you had to know he would put his all into it. If Romney, with his moderate background, sane demeanor, and lack of connection with evangelical voters, can win the nomination in this Tea Party year, that would be another remarkable accomplishment. So of course he won't quit. And likely he will win, if only to lose to Obama in November amidst a strengthening economy.

Meanwhile, his struggles with Santorum remind us of some important things about the modern world. The Enlightenment gospel of freedom and tolerance has not won over everybody, and there are still big pockets of resistance to an open, secular society. There is also a big reservoir of resentment waiting to be tapped by demagogues. Some of it seems to be about the unfairness of life, and this can blast out toward the rich, political insiders, the beneficiaries of affirmative action, or people who collect disability when they could still work if they had to. More of it, though, seems to be about respect, and a sense that other people are looking down their noses at you. Rick Santorum hates being treated as a yokel by liberal professors so much that he rails in public against college, no matter that every economist of every party thinks more education is the key to the future. Dislike of busybodies like environmentalists and feminists seems to be a core trait of Americans. Thinking over it all I end up with a sense that a happy human society is in some deep sense impossible. We can't live without each other but we can't live with each other, either, and the strains of getting along wear on us in ways that democratic politics may manage but cannot cure.

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