Let's clarify something else: I think that Mitt Romney would not make a good president. First and foremost, I emphatically disagree with his proposed policies, which would raise taxes on working and middle class taxpayers, to reduce the taxes of the wealthy.
But I also have problems with the man, and not just his ideas. Romney's incredible willingness to reverse himself on just about any issue (including his signature achievement during his one term as a governor), his wholesale lying, and his willingness to borrow federal money, only to bilk the government he hopes to lead--all denote a man who is pretty clearly avid for profit and power. Tonight, according to Andrew Sullivan, who has read the advance text, Romney will tell some very brazen lies indeed: that Obama inherited an economy in which "Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team," and in which, although "That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections." (Emphasis in original). These facts also denote a man lacking in the kind of public virtue I believe to be important--a moral core in one's public life as well as in one's private life.
That is not to say that I think him an evil man, however.
The convention has tonight featured a series of speakers who have described specific instances of Romney's kindness in private life, to his co-religionists, to business colleagues and acquaintances. We have seen his wife speak of her love for him, and of their family. I have no reason to doubt that those sides of Romney exist, and are every bit as much a part of him as the too-eager-to-please-politician or the vulture capitalist that he sometimes plays on other stages--or the pastoral bishop, the loving father, the goofy guy whose jokes always misfire.
Robertson Davies wrote in Fifth Business, "I cannot remember a time when I did not take it as understood that everybody has at least two, if not twenty-two, sides to him." Not all those sides are public property, nor does the public face explain all there is to know about the private. It's important to remember that the lives of public figures are more like our own than not; good at some things, terrible at others, a mix of impulses.
And the lying? It's galling of course to hear it directed at the side I support, and its brazenness is off-putting in the extreme (as well as dangerous). But I have to admit, I sometimes wonder if Romney isn't feeling, at the back of that well groomed facade, a little wiggling worm of doubt, and almost panic--"why aren't I leading in the polls yet? Why aren't even my own party members rallying to me enthusiastically--why is it all so--forced." And I wonder if he thinks of the cruel little epitaph Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee gave through a man very like H.L. Mencken to one very like William Jennings Bryan:
Something happens to an Also-Ran.And if that isn't Romney's fear, why, something else is. Everyone is afraid of something, and the pressure on both candidates must be excruciating--read C.P. Snow's The Masters to see it on a much, much smaller stage.
Something happens to the feet of a man
Who always comes in second in a foot-race.
He becomes a national unloved child,
A balding orphan, an aging adolescent
Who never got the biggest piece of candy.
All of which is to say that I am fully committed to seeing Romney defeated at the polls. But not because I think he's some cipher out of Richard Condon, or a Tom Wolfe Master of the Universe. I've made some of those jokes, but let's get down to it, now. He's a man. Good, bad, indifferent, sometimes, no doubt, all three on one day. I'll vote for Obama, and against Romney because in my opinion, Obama is the right man, and Romney is very clearly not. I don't have to hate Romney to vote against him, though. And I don't.