Sunday, February 9, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Mitt Romney's Missing Transcendance

When watching a Steve Jobs keynote address—known colloquially as a Stevenote—the audience invariably waited with fastidious glee for one thing: the One More Thing. Like the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen sating eager, curtain call chants for "just one more!" Jobs would end most if not all keynotes with something extra, you know, for the kids. This surplus reminded his Apple groupies (in this case shareholders) that while they came to see the iPhone whichever do whatever, they stayed for the One More Thing. But the One More Thing flourish wasn't a gimmick; it was a clever rhetorical tool reminding everyone that Jobs’ power and persuasiveness sat less in the products he pedaled and more in this transcendent, wholly unrivaled Jobsian turn. The One More Thing was a cornucopia of contradiction: it was coy yet flirtatious, indifferent yet earnest. That is to say, we believed him, we embraced him, and we bought his computers and phones precisely because he found a way to reify that intangibility into the wares he sold. I mention Jobs because this weekend my wife and I watched the Netflix documentary Mitt, a film that traces and explores Romney's two unsuccessful presidential runs in 2008 and 2012. This film reveals, perhaps to Romney's chagrin, that while he was a flawlessly polished candidate, his inability to defeat the weakest incumbent in a generation laid in his distinct lack of transcendence, his Jobsian-less turn.

Many have commented on Romney’s woodenness, his robotic delivery, and his seeming unwillingness to appear relatable. Romney, while many things but certainly not naïve, understood this as well. Look no further than the 2012 Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner when Romney sheepishly quipped while wearing a regal white tie tuxedo, “It’s nice to finally relax and wear what Anne and I wear around the house.” Yet, what Mitt suggests is despite this self-realization, Romney was unable to convincingly shake this persona despite his unabashed affection for his family, a quality that should have increased his electability. It is reductive to argue that Mitt reveals just how human, all-too-human Romney actually is, that the Republican establishment and the Tea Party insurgence left the party ill-equipped to win a national election (which is marginally true), or that voters simply didn’t “get” him (liberal media bias ad hominem attack commence now). No, what this film suggests is a fundamental flaw in the presidential election process itself. Regrettably, we need our presidents to appear transcendent. Like Don Quixote recklessly gallivanting from place to place, searching for a transcendent adventure, we too indulge in quests for transcendence, and Mitt Romney—despite his unimpeachable credentials, wealth, family, and reputation—simply could not transcend. He did not possess One More Thing.  

But despite common wisdom Romney was, in fact, relatable. He related to over 60 million voters (around 47% of the electorate). These numbers insinuate that Romney could transcend. However, like too many things, the gap between transcendence and mediocrity is frighteningly small, a point Mitt makes all too visible.   

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