Friday, July 27, 2012

The Innocent Abroad, or, Travels with Mitt

Having had a rough week back home (people keep asking about those pesky tax returns and about when exactly he retired from Bain Capital), Mitt Romney headed off to that peril-strewn place called Abroad.  As he boarded his plane, an aircraft crew member must have offered to stow one of Mitt’s oversized bags.  Mitt demurred, “Gee, that’s really nice of you, but I have my portable foot in here, and you never know when I might need it!”  This undoubtedly earned him a strange look, but hey, he’s made his billions, so who are we to question him?

It soon became clear why Mitt is never without his foot.  Before the plane even took off a staff member thoughtfully stuck it into his mouth for him when the underling in question spoke to the British press and noted that, unlike the incumbent in the White House (you know, the anti-colonial Kenyan who was trained in a fascist, socialist mosque by secularist tree-hugging environmentalists who hate America and our freedoms), Mitt has a great deal of respect for our “Anglo-Saxon heritage”.  This is what happens when campaigns don’t get to censor journalists...maybe both Romney and Obama should base their campaigns abroad. 

Mitt must have heaved a sigh of relief when his plane took off over the Atlantic, off to England, where he was set to meet with various British political big-wigs, primarily though not exclusively members of the Conservative Party.  Being that the leadership of the Conservative Party is in bed with the financial sector, Mitt should feel perfectly snug with these types.  Unfortunately, he had made the fatal mistake of opening his mouth again.

Mitt, as you might have heard (modesty not being his strong point), saved the Olympics in Salt Lake City, so he is an Authority on such things.  It is, therefore, not unnatural that he would be asked about the London Olympics.  Now, it’s widely known that the organisation of these Olympics has been an abject shambles, but when you go abroad as a Presidential candidate, you’re trying to make friends, not lose them.  You’re auditioning for the role of Diplomat in Chief.  Mitt, however, decided to give the Brits some straight-talk, and noted that “there are a few things that are disconcerting”, and then proceeded to list those things off.  Not since the Luftwaffe roared over London had the city been under such concerted attack!  Mitt as Diplomat would be like Sarah Palin as Conservationist, or George W Bush as Linguist.  Inexplicably, during the ensuing press conferences, not a single journalist asked Mitt how his shoe leather tasted.

The British political establishment was not, to put it mildly, impressed.  David Cameron, in rebuking Romney, noted that Romney’s Olympics had taken place in “the middle of nowhere”—a perhaps overly-charitable description of Salt Lake City.  Mitt was also assailed by Boris Johnson.  Yes, Boris Johnson.  You know you’re in trouble when your diplomatic skills are being called out by a man who appears to wear a mangy, white Persian cat on his head and speaks with a helicopter rotor going ‘round in his mouth.  I read somewhere that Mitt’s Minders are called the Mittness Protection Program, so irresistible is his foot’s attraction to the lower reaches of his throat. 

Next, Mitt met Ed.  Ed Miliband is the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, and therefore a somewhat important person (even if he’s not as important as Tony Blair still thinks he is—Mitt met Blair, too, who with John Boehner must keep the tanning bed industry in business).  But when Mitt met Ed, he couldn’t remember his name, and consequently referred him to “Mr. Leader”.  I thought CEOs were supposed to be good at remembering names?  It seems that when Mitt read the classic “How to Make Friends and Influence People”, he was holding the book upside-down (sound familiar?).  Or maybe, when he retired retroactively, he forgot all the tricks of the trade.

Next, Mitt held a press conference.  This is where he was supposed to apologise for insulting his hosts.  But CEOs don’t do contrition.  They flip.  They flop.  They refuse to release their tax returns.  And they deliver apologies-that-aren’t-apologies which would make their mothers cringe.  And then, Mitt being Mitt, he put his foot in his mouth one more time.  He did this by announcing that he’d been briefed by Sir John Sawers.  Never heard of him?  Not surprising.  He’s the head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, which the Brits like to pretend no one else knows exists even if we all know that it’s in some big green and cream, pyramidal building on the Thames.

Sawers, who may or may not bear a striking resemblance to Judi Dench (how could we know?  The man’s been swaddled away since birth in preparation for this job and only comes out at night with a cloak and batman mask), is a secretive creature, and those who meet him are supposed to have their memories wiped after the fact, lest they reveal his whereabouts or actually learn anything useful.  Mitt, on the other hand, shouted to the world that he’d met Sawers, at which point the British press corps presumably put down their pens and hummed nervously. 

Mitt is like the suitor who insults his fiancée’s family, forgets her brother’s name, and then blabs about the crazy uncle in the attic who nobody’s supposed to mention. 

I can imagine Prince Phillip pacing the balcony at Buckingham Palace, shotguns in hand, and the Queen drawing a hand across her brow inside, grateful that Her Majesty doesn’t have to meet His Mittiness...yet. 

It’s a funny thing, watching Mitt interact with David Cameron.  Their parties used to be more or less in ideological synch, but today the Republican Party might find itself most mirrored in the Monster Raving Loony Party (for American readers, yes, that’s a real party; for British readers, yes, the Republican Party is for real, too--the world's a scary place, isn't it?).  There are interesting cultural differences between the two men, as well.  On the one hand, Cameron and his class have been running Britain for a thousand years give or take a couple.  Mitt, by comparison, is distinctly new money. 

But even breeding can’t quite make up for the power of the Presidency, or even of a potential presidency.  It’s always amusing to watch British politicians struggle with competing emotions when they’re around Presidents and potential Presidents.  They’re like dogs that can’t quite make up their mind whether they want to bark and act fierce to impress the rest of their pack, or run around in circles, so excited that Mitt’s Minders would have to try to shoo them away lest they wet themselves or lift a leg on Mitt’s trouser leg. 

At the end of the day, I suspect that Mitt doesn’t have much time for the Camerons and Osbournes and Johnsons and Cleggs of the world.  Mitt, after all, is the kind of guy who Gets Things Done.  He’s a Self Made Man (where being Self Made means that your dad was a politician and affluent businessman and you had to haul yourself up by your neatly-ironed trousers and shiny dress shoe straps).  He’s supremely self-confident, and is not going to be impressed by mocking Mandarins and Muppet-headed mayors.  I suspect that in Mitt’s human taxonomy, amateurish, indolent, titled, well-heeled gentry rank only just above liberal, Islamofascist, Kenyan, godless, freedom-stealing, Chicago communists.

Mitt ended his day in London to a chorus of dismay from the city’s inhabitants.  But if you listened carefully, you could just hear sketchwriters and cartoonists and comedians rubbing their hands together with barely-concealed glee.  ‘Shades of ‘W’’, they said.  You see, these people have been out in the cold since George W Bush winged his way blissfully back to Crawford, and even more strapped for material since Sarah Palin slunk back up to Alaska to maintain her lonely vigil against Vladmir Putin from the back porch of her house.  In the glare of a less subservient press, and out of his corporate bubble, Mitt’s sheen is looking a little dull.

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The Telegraph, for those interested, has compiled what amounts to a dossier of pure Mitt-loathing...makes for entertaining reading. 

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