Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Republicans: Bring Back Noblesse Oblige

Ross Douthat in today's Times tries to recast Mitt Romney as not a Mormon but a classic WASP, one of those worthies schooled in the Values That Made This Country Great.  Wrong, seems to me, on both counts.  Dwelling on Ann Romney's speech, he concludes thus:

Her best line evoked generations of reticent, public spirited Brahmins: “Mitt does not like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.” The same was true of her strongest passage:

      No one will work harder. No one will care more. And no one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live.

This is not an ideological or policy-oriented argument, calculated to reassure conservatives worried that Romney is too moderate or moderates worried that he’s too conservative. Nor is it a promise that Romney would actually be a great guy to have a (non-alcoholic) beer with. And while it evokes the hope of a better tomorrow, it doesn’t cast the mere act of electing Romney president as a kind of grand apotheosis in its own right, in the style of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Instead, it’s an argument for Ann Romney’s husband that could have been made on behalf of the old White Anglo Saxon ruling class with whose Social Registered members he shares so many qualities. You don’t have to love him, the more effective parts of her speech implied, or relate to him, or even always necessarily agree with him. But you can trust him with the presidency, because he’s suited to public service, and he was born and raised and trained to do this job.

He titles his column 'The Case For Noblesse Oblige'. Wrong, seems to me, on both counts.  It's hard to be more of a Mormon than Romney, who ministers, tithes, missionaried and raised five Mormon sons.  And one of those Values was never flip-flopping on issues such as abortion, or joining the NRA while running for president out of a lifelong love of hunting, or renouncing one's principal political achievement (Massachusetts health care).  Nor did Romney, with Bain Capital, actually build anything.  But Douthat's wrong on a deeper level.  Consider, for instance, the egregious Niall Ferguson, who waxes nostalgic for the British Empire--though not in a bar in Perth or Dublin, nor in Amritsar or Johannesburg.  In reviewing a book by Philip Bobbitt, Ferguson, descending into self-caricature, delivered himself of this gem:

Philip Bobbitt, however, is homo atlanticus redux. A dapper Southerner, renowned almost as much for his sparkling literary allusions as for his acute thinking, he divides his time among Austin, Tex.; New York, where he teaches law at Columbia; and London, where he has lectured in war studies. His new book, “Terror and Consent,” is in many ways a manifesto for a new Atlanticism, not just a reassertion but a reinvention of the dominant role of the trans-Atlantic alliance. It will be read with pleasure by men of a certain age, class and education from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to London’s West End.

 Such rhetoric expresses profound regret that people formerly excluded from power--women, black folk, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, former Colonial wogs, others, constituting solid numerical majorities in the USA and the world--are demanding, and sometimes asserting, a share of that power, and recognition of their common humanity.  And not just regret, but anger, resentment and resistance by any means necessary, attempting to reverse time.  It cuts to the Republican position on issue after issue.

So, Obama isn't even a citizen of the country, and won because of voter fraud--itself a falsehood arising in part out of record turnouts of black and Hispanic folk in 2008--after a lifetime where every achievement was due to affirmative action--reverse racism, they call it.  Control over women's bodies, abortion, even contraception.  Romney's bellicose nonsense about Russia as geopolitical enemy and China as requiring stern resistance.  Foreign aid and the United Nations.  Obama kissing the Saudis and 'apologizing for America'. Ayn Rand's 'virtue of selfishness.'  All of it.

Not only wrong factually, morally and ethically, but, if implemented as policy, utterly doomed to failure, arising out of fantasy, stupidity and outright lie.  And, apparently, appealing enough to many to, quite possibly, get Romney elected.


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