The above clip has been getting a lot of play on the comedy shows and blogs in the past week, and deservedly so. Mitt is in super-stiff mode here, and Josh Marshall today referred to it as "the best Mitt video in history". I have got to be the only person who found Mitt Romney's the "trees are the right height" remark genuinely endearing.
I grew up in suburban New York, which in its natural state is a lush forest. That feeling is "home" to me. Much of Michigan is a very similar type of forest, and while I've never been to suburban Detroit, I have been to Ann Arbor, and I imagine it's pretty much the same.
I've lived in Chicago, and Milwaukee, and Arizona, and now Omaha, and I have always said in my travels that the thing I miss most about where I grew up is the trees. Illinois and southern Wisconsin are NOT forests. Yes, there are trees, but those places are prairie, and the trees that grow there are of a variety that never get higher than about 30 or 40 feet tall. No oaks and maples towering 100 feet into the sky. No forests of trees too big to wrap your arms around. Which reminds me, even the maples in the Midwest don't get the same kind of color that you get in the northeast. It's always a pale imitation of autumn, as I remember it.
Arizona is obviously another world when it comes to nature and vegetation. It's an almost alien environment for anyone not used to the desert southwest. You have to journey to high altitudes to find any forest at all, and the trees are of completely different varieties than you'd find in the Northeast.
Omaha, strangely enough, is not like most of the Midwest. There is an arm of what is known as the "upland forest" that reaches up the Missouri River valley to Omaha, and makes the hilly city feel much more like New York than Chicago or Milwaukee (which are both rather flat in comparison, especially Illinois). This upland forest stretches southward down the river, across humid, forested Missouri, and up the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, to the east across Pennsylvania, New York and New England. Omaha is just the westernmost outpost of this climactic region. Travel 30 miles in any direction but south, and you're back in prairie or grassland. It's one of the reasons I find Omaha comforting, despite the plainness of so many things.
So yeah, Mitt Romney is kind of a douche, and his policy positions are horrible (and apparently completely mutable), but that moment in an extremely awkward speech showed a little bit of his humanity to me. I would not be exaggerating to say it was my favorite thing I've ever heard him say.
I saw another interesting website today that pulled some of the armor off of the Mittbot. This page features numerous family pictures of Mitt with his wife and kids and grand-kids, and he looks like a normal (albeit wealthy) grandpa. As John Cole remarked, "And I guess I just don’t get it. Look how happy he is in those pictures on the beach, playing with his grandkids. If I were in Mitt’s shoes, with a half a billion or however how much money he has, there is simply nothing you could do to make me go through the fresh hell of running for and then serving as President." I have to agree. He kind of reminded me of my own dad in those pictures, who is about the same age, and is very much enjoying his comfortable retirement.
In reading the responses to Cole's post, the explanations ranged from the caustic to the obvious to the genuinely sympathetic. The most popular explanations involved variations on the theme of an egomaniacal elitist with the need to one-up his successful father. A fair amateur psychological analysis, I suppose. Many brought up the White Horse Prophecy and the pressure from the leadership of the LDS church that Mitt has felt for much of his adult life to be the one who would bring a Mormon to the White House. This has got to play some part as well, I'd think. I guess it's kind of mystery why anyone would want to go through what you need to go through in order to become President, and it's why it's so rare that a person deserving of the power and responsibility comes near to the goal.
My favorite comment however was one that compared Romney the politician to Hillary Clinton the politician. "I remember wondering something similar about Hillary: By all accounts of anyone who actually knows her, a smart, wickedly funny, extremely nice woman who is fascinating to talk with in real situations, who seemed to give campaign speeches with a thought bubble over her head that read “Gee, they don’t LOOK like morons, but Mark Penn told me to talk to them like they are, so here goes …”"
It's the phoniness of Mitt Romney that will ultimately be his undoing. I can't imagine there are many outside of the LDS community or the 1% who are enthusiastic backers of the man based on his policies. Apart from showing a true dedication to protecting the wealth of the wealthy, he doesn't really seem to have any solid policy positions that he is not willing to revise in order to appeal to whomever his audience is at that moment. This doesn't play to the Republican base, and it's not going to carry independents if he survives to the general election.
The phoniness is perhaps so apparent when he speaks because he has such internal conflict with his very soul. This is a devout man, and as odd as the Mormon beliefs may be, most Mormons are shockingly nice and honest people. So when he must stand before a crowd and say things he doesn't really believe, there has to be some serious internal conflict, and he attempts to mask it by being the stiff Robo-Mitt that we have all come to know very well. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have no such issues, as they believe every crazy word that comes out of their mouths. Conversely Newt Gingrich has no such internal conflict because he doesn't truly believe anything.
It's all particularly sad when considering that the father Mitt is trying to best was a man of deep conviction who would not sully himself by pandering to the crazy fringe of the right in order to advance politically. He may have had regrets in his career, but selling his soul to win his party's nomination just so he could get his ass handed to him by his Democratic opponent could never have been one. And now George Romney is forgotten to most outside of Michigan or the ranks of political junkies, and will most likely only be remembered as the father of the unprincipled, and yet strangely inept politician that is his youngest son.