We have a proud tradition of reinventing ourselves in America. Just ask Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman. What’s more American than the urges that motivated pioneers to flee the crowded cities of the East Coast and strike out for the frontier to create new lives? There was a good reason Horatio Alger stories flourished in the late nineteenth century. We even admire politicians who forsake long held beliefs or cast aside the straightjacket of upbringing or culture to pronounce new beliefs, the way Lyndon Johnson grew from his small town Texas roots to become an advocate for civil rights legislation or Hugo Black left behind the taint of association with the Ku Klux Klan when he ascended to the United States Supreme Court. But then there’s Mitt Romney.
As 2paragraphs reported here, Romney has offered as one key rationale for a possible third presidential run in 2016 his claim that, “Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before.” It’s been barely three years since Romney the candidate derided the 47 percent of Americans “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them,” announcing that his job “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Ignoring, for the moment, the debatability of his central proposition, Romney’s epiphany that millions of Americans are suffering seems designed more to herald an impending image makeover like the one described by Joe McGinnis in his classic work of political reportage, The Selling of the President 1968, the book that launched the career of Roger Ailes, than it does any serious policy prescription for “offering opportunity for all Americans and lifting people out of poverty,” as the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin described Romney’s speech to the Republican National Committee. His sudden solicitude for struggling Americans seems about as credible as Sarah Palin announcing after months of reflection that she now believes climate change is a threat to the planet or John McCain arguing for a less interventionist American foreign policy. No doubt Romney’s message has been focus group tested and approved, but it will take more than a marketing strategy to sell it to the American voter. We don’t mind leaders who change their minds. We just hate fakes.