I’ve been watching presidential campaigns pretty closely for more than twenty years. And I’ve certainly never seen a presidential cycle when the Republican field looks more feeble, dispirited and generally languid than this year — which is a real turnabout. But I can’t get past this one point. Mitt Romney. Set aside the familiar propensity to name themselves after small bits of fabric. This guy really rubs me the wrong way.
Of course, by most measure, who cares what I think? It’s not like any of the Republicans are going to get my support. And the target audience for these candidates doesn’t care what I think if they even know who I am. But Romney seems so transparently phoney, so willing to say anything that I find him genuinely frightening. And this is something I don’t feel about any of the other credible Republican presidential candidates, though I obviously have criticisms of each. Romney seems almost like a caricature of the political phoney.
Now, other than warning the country about the terror of a Romney presidency, I bring this up because I’ve always been interested in the dog whistle nature of our reactions to presidential candidates and other prominent political figures. Setting aside all the GOP noise machine blizzard against Bill Clinton, there was clearly a certain kind of person who couldn’t hear Bill Clinton’s voice without thinking he was a two-faced, lying, phoney, say-anything whatever. A lot of that was people who hated him for his politics. A lot of it was because of propaganda for the right. But not all of it. There’s a cultural-political tuning fork out there. And there’s a kind of person who heard Clinton’s schtick and reacted just as I do to Romney. Some mix of cultural assumptions, experiences, regional imprints, etc.
I feel it to an extent with Bush, though nothing like I do with Romney. And setting aside what people feel about Bush now it was, by and large, the people who reacted so negatively to Clinton who heard Bush and thought, why, what a genuine, down-to-earth guy.
So who makes you hear the dog whistle? And what sort of cultural imprint makes some of us hear it with (a shocking phoney like) Mitt Romney and others with Bill Clinton?