the circus

Frank Rich on the National Circus: Why Romney Is So Ripe for Parody

Almost everyone agrees that Romney locked up the nomination after his Illinois blowout. Why is no one in the GOP celebrating beyond Mitt’s wife and sons?
It is weird. I think the fact remains that he excites no one and there’s a sinking sense in his party that if the economy continues to improve (and even Romney is now saying it is), it has a candidate who is both pure wood and bereft of a message. Even the loyal Republican Bill Kristol said of last night’s victory speech that it “consisted basically of the claim that the business of America is business” and that “he’s a businessman who understands business.” Not only is that an empty and increasingly dated pitch, but it also reveals that Romney somehow thinks he’s survived the attacks on his Bain career when in reality they have only just begun and he’s never figured out how to counter them.

In his victory speech, Romney also said “It’s time to say this word: enough. We’ve had enough.” Is that kind of hollow, fightin’ mad rhetoric really going to be his line of attack against Obama?
The Republican right, not just Romney, seems to believe that the country is in a cataclysmic state of total meltdown. So much so that Santorum this week called the 2012 election the most important since 1860 — yes, 1860. And Joe Scarborough, the former GOP Congressman on Morning Joe, lamented Romney’s win on Wednesday morning by asking, “Is this the best we have, when we have such a historic opportunity in front of us?” It’s hard to understand for those of us outside the conservative bubble why this moment is regarded as so apocalyptic or historic. The whole GOP gestalt seems to be that Obama is such an epic disaster, and so radical, that the entire country is screaming “Enough!” Not only is that patently untrue of a president who is generally liked personally and whose approval rating is lapping up against 50 percent, but it’s a very gloomy theme for a presidential election campaign. 

Romney’s other rhetorical attack is to keep repeating the word “believe,” before attacking Obama as not believing in America. Could that really work against the man who got Bin Laden?
This isn’t about foreign policy — this is about trying to brand Obama as an alien who, in the Palin formulation, does not represent “real America.” We all recognize what that code is now. And it won’t work, except in the obvious “real American” districts in states that are mostly already sure-wins for the GOP

The “Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up” video, which mashes up Mitt and Eminem, has gone viral. What could Romney learn from Slim Shady?
It is pricelessly funny because it shows exactly what Romney is incapable of learning: humor, any fluency with the pop culture devoured by his fellow citizens, or any understanding of any milieu beyond the gates of a patrician country club in Belmont, Grosse Pointe or La Jolla. Though Romney and Eminem are both white products of Detroit, they might as well be from two different countries. And as Jonathan Chait has argued in New York, the 2012 election is likely to be the last stand for the older, demographically antique America that Romney embodies.

Romney may be almost too ripe for parody. Won’t the gags and Web parodies get old?
Never. Letterman landed a new dog joke just this week. (“It was such a beautiful day today, Mitt Romney was riding on the roof of his car.”) Comedy is the only business we can be certain that a Romney presidency would grow.

Robert De Niro was caught making a totally innocuous joke about the country not being “ready for a white first lady.” Both the White House and Newt Gingrich called it offensive. Does no one have a sense of humor anymore?
Yes, people do, but not in politics. It’s particularly ridiculous that Michelle Obama’s spokesperson weighed in on this. You know damn well that the current not-white First Lady found it funny.

Speaking of race, what’s going to happen when the GOP candidates respond when they are (perhaps inevitably) asked about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida?
Their party has very few African-American adherents and is prone to claiming that all cases like this are hoaxes trumped up by liberals. To make matters more complicated, the killer is a Hispanic and the GOP has been openly hostile to Latinos throughout this cycle, right through Santorum’s dictum last weekend that Puerto Ricans learn English before they can qualify for statehood. Now that Michael Steele has abdicated, it would be no surprise if the GOP candidates outsourced the question to Herman Cain if he can be dragged out of whatever boudoir he’s in.

Last year, Paul Ryan again proposed a budget that cut and privatized Medicare, and the GOP ran away from it after it polled terribly. Yesterday, he did it again. What gives? And does this play into the presidential race?
Again, you see the impenetrability of the GOP bubble, and just how far right the party has moved. Privatizing Medicare was one of Bush’s top domestic initiatives but it proved so politically toxic that he had to abandon it after his own party’s caucus in Congress bailed. Even the early tea-party protestors had placards saying “Get Government’s Hands Off My Medicare!” They may have been ignorant of the fact it’s a federal program, but they sure didn’t want anyone to fool with it. But here that idea is back again from Ryan — along with other bad ideas — and there are already some GOP radicals in the House saying his plan does not go far enough! This is a political gift to the Democrats. Since Obama tried in good faith to negotiate serious reform for Medicare and the other entitlements, only to be rebuffed by the Party of No, he can ram Ryan’s schemes down the GOP’s throat this fall with a clear conscience.

This weekend —  Mad Men or Hunger Games?
I confess to having already seen the first, two-hour episode of Mad Men. The deal with the press is that you don’t give away any spoilers, and I won’t. But it is giving away nothing to say that one of the first props you see in the first scene is a handmade “Goldwater for President” poster, and that the ad men who posted it are behaving both badly and self-destructively.

Frank Rich on the National Circus: Why Romney Is So Ripe for Parody