The Republican primary season has proven to be an unprecedented descent into negativity, thanks to the rise of the Super PACs following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. And it has proven to be highly personal, again in an unprecedented way.
And that personal animosity is nowhere more prominent than between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner and his closest adversary.
In fact, the battle between these two seems not so much the campaigning of rival candidates as it does the clash of archetypes.
Has there ever been such a stark contrast of character? There is Mitt Romney, picture perfect, neat and prissy, the upright and uptight Mormon. Everything about him is poll tested and scripted, and in the rare event where he wanders from the script and speaks off the cuff, he comes off as just what he is: an out of touch rich guy (he likes firing people, he doesn’t care about the poor, corporations are people). He shifts his political views to fit whatever demographic he is trying to win. One suspects that there is no core to him, that he is not so much an empty suit, but one filled only with ambition. He comes off as soulless and clueless. And there is little to humanize him. Not only does he not smoke or drink, he doesn’t touch soda pop. The traditional criterion of “would you like to have a beer with him” becomes an absurdity. It is almost impossible to imagine him committing adultery. He’s a milk drinking goody goody, the clean cut rich kid. He’s like a graying Ken doll, only without the intellectual depth.
But if Mitt Romney is a Superego hovering above the void, Newt Gingrich is a huge Ego riding a raging Id. His mouth runs nearly as fast as his brain, and one wonders what in the world he will say next: moon colonies, a junior janitor brigade, shiftless poor people, anti-Wall street rhetoric when it seems expedient, then dropped when the right wing talk shows unite against “class warfare”.
Just as someone said that Newt is not so much a person with an ego, but an ego with a person, so he is not so much a candidate with baggage, as baggage with a candidate. I don’t think there has ever been a candidate for president with such a history: ethics violations, public hypocrisy (leading the charge for impeaching Clinton even as he himself was conducting an extramarital affair with an aide), serial adultery, collecting money from the very institution he is attacking. All of this is covered by his alleged conversion: he becomes the redeemed and repentant sinner. But when it comes to speaking of enemies, it is Jackson (“kill ‘em”), not Jesus (“love ‘em”) whom he quotes, this in the land where Jackson’s genocidal Trail of Tears began for the Cherokee. And he shows no sign of being influenced by Catholic teaching on any number of questions, from torture to preemptive war to economics.
The man has a long history of demagoguery and apparently will say anything he thinks will get an audience reaction.
Mitt and Newt: order vs chaos, control vs explosive spontaneity, discipline vs appetite, handsome straight arrow vs fat slob.
It is highly entertaining, this tragicomedy, and President Obama no doubt can hardly believe his luck. But however amusing it may be we ought not lose sight of the fact that this is yet another chapter in America’s unraveling, in the tale of our decline and fall.