Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mitt Romney: straightest straight man to run for president recently

Lee Siegel's opinion piece on how Mitt Rommey "is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory" has been rattling around in my brain for several days now. Time to get some thoughts out.

Siegel explains his observation:

I’m referring to the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways he telegraphs to a certain type of voter that he is the cultural alternative to America’s first black president. It is a whiteness grounded in a retro vision of the country, one of white picket fences and stay-at-home moms and fathers unashamed of working hard for corporate America.

… he offers to [some] people the white solution to the problem of a black president. I am sure that Mr. Romney is not a racist. But I am also sure that, for the many Americans who find the thought of a black president unbearable, he is an ideal candidate.

This rings true, but I think there is even more going on there. Romney feels to me like the straightest candidate for president we're had in a long time. I mean straightest not in the contemporary sense of heterosexual, but in the old 60s youth culture sense, as not "with it," a fuddy-duddy, out of touch with the animating currents in the country's life.

It takes some doing to think back to a candidate who was as straight in this sense as Romney. John McCain's sole attractive attribute, his POW history, set him apart from such ordinariness. George W.'s drinking history as well as his cowboy pose also cut him off from the storybook conventionality of the truly straight. Recent Democrats have tried to avoid being labelled straight: John Kerry to escape being held elite and effete; Bill Clinton because seeming a charming scoundrel offered his best path to the country's heart. Tipper Gore's crusade against pop music lyrics might have carried Al Gore far into straightness if he hadn't insisted on embracing science, whether in climate studies or through the internet.

The last set of passably straight presidential candidates we've had were Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush, though the latter was running a con to disguise a complex establishment pedigree more substantial than John Kerry's. And Dukakis was a Greek, after all ...

Part of Romney's straightness involves living aloof from simple fact that this is not a white people's country anymore -- we come in many colors and the country works best when all of us (including white folks) value some historic traditions while being enriched by our neighbor's differences. Romney thinks he can stigmatize blacks as dependent on food stamps and Spanish speakers as mere illegals and not alienate all those of us including whites who live in a more culturally rich environment. He's got many of us wrong in that.

Romney is also straight in that he implicitly presents himself as the embodiment of perfect patriarchy and hetero-normativity. No deviations here from the fairy tale image of this perfect 50s family.

The Siegel piece was illustrated with this:

It reminded me of this from Chief Justice John Roberts' introduction to the nation:

Evidently there's some part of our population which revels in images of Barbie and Ken doll-like perfection in their rulers.

But really, the 50s are so over. They weren't really so wonderful as Romney-ites remember them being. They were a lousy time for people of color, until folks got uppity and started demanding respect and even sitting in. Many women felt themselves trapped in suburban nuclear family tableaux and ran for the exits when birth control, access to more jobs, and no fault divorce finally gave them an out.Why even queers first organized in that dreary decade!

Earth to Mitt: that world is gone. We certainly miss the prosperity that being the only power left standing at the end of World War II gave us, but that's gone for good. This has to be a more complicated, more subtle, and more diverse country. Nostalgia just won't serve though we've got a political party devoted to little else, plus a dose of free-floating resentment and envy of those of their fellow citizens who've managed to make peace with changes. Even in a recession, it is hard to believe a majority of us want to remain chained to a world that never was. The 2012 election may tell.
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