Mr. Sean goes to Washington

Mr. Sean goes to Washington: what makes Barack and Mitt run? (particularly Mitt)

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Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are, by any standard, exceptional people. They’re extremely well-educated (both have a pair of Ivy League degrees). They’re quite wealthy (Mitt more so). They each got their first marriage right and have produced multiple aesthetically-pleasing children (Mitt’s on top here as well, barring Barack surging into the lead when Michelle unexpectedly announces quadruplets). They’re above average in height and apparently in good shape: while Mitt has been reluctant to release his tax returns, he has enthusiastically shared his Body Mass Index and it’s quite impressive; I expect Barack’s is similarly exceptional. Yet watching these two magnificent men, who if they ever did wind up single would surely prove incredibly popular on, I can’t help but think, They should be doing something else, particularly you, Mitt.

It’s easy to see why someone would want to be president for reasons noble (“I genuinely believe I can make the world a better place”) and less so (“They play a song when I enter a room!”). But each four years, the journey to the White House becomes a more and more brutal trek. A successful campaign from the primaries all the way to the general election may require over a billion dollars in total funding: yes, with a “b”. A candidate must actively campaign for at least two years, not to mention laying the groundwork for a run for years and years ahead of that. Your life is an endless cycle of begging people for money so you can afford to beg other people for votes. And while both candidates are exceptional in so many ways, neither guy seems particularly cut out for it.

By all accounts, Barack is a private person; “loner” is the stock term from profiles, proving that word is no longer reserved exclusively for recently arrested serial killers. He’s insisted on having dinner with just his wife and children virtually every night since reaching the White House. (Dinner is the time when a shrewd politician can work his magic, as people who might otherwise be resistant to your lobbying go, “You want me to do something that is not in my district’s best interest… but I’m so hungry.”) He’s reportedly notorious for not spending as much time thanking big donors/hitting them up for their next donations as his staff would like. Likewise, instead of personally lobbying members of congress like most presidents, Barack often passes that task off on Vice President Joe Biden, who remains the second most famous man from Delaware. (Sorry Joe, but now and always you shall trail Bob Marley.)

None of this is really a knock on Obama as a leader – indeed, it’s rather comforting Barack doesn’t go, “Time with my beloved daughters or chatting with a hedge fund manager? Sasha, Malia, let’s reschedule for next week” – but these tasks, unpleasant though they may be, are how things actually get done in Washington. Quite simply, despite his gifts as a speaker, Obama still often struggles to connect with people, witness his inability to explain why he should be reelected until Bill Clinton spelled it out at the Democratic National Convention. (Clinton is a man perfectly suited to politics: I can easily imagine him going, “I get to make donor calls? This is going to be the most awesome night ever!”) Even when Barack’s basking in applause from an adoring audience, I look at him and muse, That man would be much happier as a tenured professor, particularly if they let him schedule all his office hours Tuesday to Thursday so he’d be able to take long weekends with the family.

So temperamentally, Barack is in many ways a lousy fit for campaigning, but has finessed it pretty well (in the sense that’s he already won the presidency once and all).

“Finesse” is a word that shall never be used in a sentence with the name “Mitt Romney.”

Mitt is intelligent and impressively hard-working. (You don’t graduate Harvard Law and Business at the same time if you’re not; these dual degrees are a true tribute to what a man can accomplish if he has determination, talent, and enough stock from dad to pay for a ridiculously expensive education.) Mitt continues to have massive financial resources behind him. He looks the way most people imagine a president: tall, thin-but-not-too-thin, touch of grey. And he’s been actively campaigning now for six straight years, having unsuccessfully run in 2008 and then thrown his hat back in the ring within seconds of John McCain’s loss.

To recap: very determined, highly capable, unlimited resources, six years of relentless practice.

He’s getting worse at it.

He’s somehow getting much worse at it, as if he’d not only never given a speech before, but until recently hadn’t been allowed to socialize with anyone outside his immediate family. True, this time around Mitt won the GOP nomination, but his most formidable opponents were Herman Cain (who apparently went through a phase where every other woman he met filed a sexual harassment claim against him) and Newt Gingrich (who suspended his campaign for a time because he wanted to go on a European cruise with his wife). (Leading to the Gingrich campaign slogan: “America all the way, unless I find a really good getaway deal on”) It wasn’t so much he won as all the other nominees lost, leaving the Republicans with Mitt, whether they wanted him or not.

Of course, since then the GOP has decided they very much want Mitt… sort of. Victorian quipmeister Oscar Wilde once mused that fellow Anglo-Irish guy George Bernard Shaw “has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” That could also be applied to Mitt. While he wound up on top, some of his “supporters” aren’t particularly invested in him triumphing come November. They prefer Mitt to Barack, mind you, but if Mitt went down… they could handle it.

For if Mitt loses:

-Conservative Republicans can say, “You see? This is what happens when you nominate a moderate who’s pretending to be conservative; let’s learn from this and not repeat the same mistake in 2016.”

-Moderate Republicans can say, “You see? This is what happens when you force a moderate to pretend he’s conservative; let’s learn from this and not repeat the same mistake in 2016.”

-Fox News Channel continues to have the ratings boon that is Barack Obama, because worrying about whether we now live in the People’s Republic of Kenya is infinitely more entertaining than anything Mitt has ever done in his entire life.

The result is New Jersey governor and fellow Republican Chris Christie managing to get 2/3 of the way through the Republican National Convention keynote address before he deigned to mention Mitt’s name. (Happily, Christie did find the time to discuss himself at length well before then.)

Also Clint Eastwood going all mano-a-chairo before graciously categorizing Mitt’s campaign as “dumb” for allowing him to speak and admitting he finds Barack “charming.”

That said, Christie and Clint may have done Mitt a favor, because they drew attention away from Mitt himself. I won’t bother to get into Mitt’s many, many gaffes, except to note that even with the sound off Mitt’s not a sure thing, as far too often he comes across like a robot that somehow taught itself to smirk.

I take that back: it’s unfair to smirking robots; Mitt would be up by 10 points if he had a fraction of the charm of Michael Fassbender in Prometheus.

I’ve been wondering why Mitt has so struggled as a candidate (it’s worth remembering the race is still his for the taking, even if he behaves like he secretly put money on Barack). Perversely, I think the skills that turned him from “quite rich” to “ludicrously rich” now work against him. By all accounts, Mitt was an extremely effective investor. He only put money in a small number of companies after doing mountains of research. Sometimes Bain getting involved helped a company stay afloat and even grow and sometimes they just saddled it with debt that ultimately crushed it, but inevitably Mitt made bank.

If he had questions about a company, he left it alone.

If an investment didn’t meet expectations, he sold it.

If someone gave him trouble, he utilized his much-valued ability to fire them.

Mitt’s life, for all the wheeling-dealing and huge amounts of cash changing hands, was oddly quiet and sterile, like a scientist in the lab or a monk silently illustrating a manuscript.

A presidential candidate – much less an actual president – deals with messes.

They have to spend time with the Chris Christies of the world (who are loud and sweaty and don’t give a crap about anyone who can’t get them Springsteen tickets), and this is something Mitt was not bred to do.

I’d wager no one knows this better than Mr. Romney.

And so Mitt’s a square peg endlessly ramming his head against a round hole, just as Barack looks like he’s aged more in the last three years than he did in all the decades he lived up until now.

On a final note, I recently confirmed myself as a full-blooded New Jerseyan when I saw Bruce Springsteen play the Meadowlands. (Note: I refuse to learn what corporate name it’s now been given, just as for me the Denver Broncos shall always play in Mile High Stadium.) Bruce has just turned 63. He is absurdly rich; we’re talking Mitt-level money. And even with the best musicians and tech people in the world, playing a stadium is grueling work for a frontman – it’s your job to make tens of thousands of people feel like they’ve not only heard but seen something worth all the Ticketmaster surcharges – which is why it’s not hard to envision an artist going, “Let’s see… play for an hour… come back for 20 minutes for the first encore… 10 more for the second… yep, let’s be on the road by 10:30 and in bed by 11.”

Bruce played just under four hours… on a Wednesday. Listening to fellow crowd members, I heard both orgasmic squeals of delight and “No, we cannot stay one more song; the babysitter already left 20 minutes ago!”

At one point near the end of the night, when the audience had long since gotten their money’s worth, Bruce – again, he just turned 63 – raced into the crowd, dropped to the ground, and started spinning in circles, in what can only be described as a joyous rock and roll seizure.

And watching it, I thought, This is a remarkable man who really likes what he does.

Whether they win or lose, may Barack and Mitt ultimately find their own private Meadowlands.

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