Okay, with the election looming (thank heavens), it's time for a rant that's been building for quite a while, on the subject of why I'd sooner vote for anyone over Mitt Romney. (Okay, that's not quite true -- if Tom Birmingham had been nominated, I'd have a real worst-of-two-evils situation to deal with. Fortunately, he wasn't.)
Preface: I'm a registered Democrat, and they do get a small benefit of the doubt from me; I find the Democratic tendency towards mild incompetence more palatable than the Republican one towards mild dishonesty. That said, my leanings are actually libertarian (albeit in a moderate way), I'm a big fan of Bill Weld (although annoyed that he's letting Romney ride on his coattails), and would probably have voted for Jane Swift if her party had not given her a rather rude boot. (I think she's been horribly mistreated in the media -- IMO, she's been a competent, if unremarkable, governor.) So while I'm a little biased against Romney to start, he had to work to really earn my ire.
For all the sound and fury surrounding this election, the reality is that the policy difference between the two main candidates is very small. I mean, they make all this noise about bilingual education, but pretty much everyone agrees that it should be de-emphasized. (The real issue is whether it should be absolutely forbidden, which I think is overly extreme.) The fact is that both sides are largely lying about what the other side would probably do when they got into office; they'd both wind up doing mostly the same things. So the decision really comes down to character. This is where Romney falls down -- as far as I can tell, the man doesn't have any character, just facade.
Oh, he's smooth enough in presentation. He's starting to win in the polls, mainly because his campaign has been so slick in the past month or two. He's got the perfectly-groomed CEO hair, the unflappable (and slightly condescending) demeanor, all the trappings of a Leader. But when I dig deeper, I don't find anything there.
To start with, there's the sheer ego-trip nature of his candidacy. This is a man who is apparently proud of his lack of record of public service. I mean, think about it -- we're talking about electing as the highest leader of our state a man who has no experience with government at any level. And this is habitual with him: the only previous time I've seen him run for anything was when he ran for the Senate. As far as I can tell, he considers anything lower than that as beneath him. There's a measure of hubris in that that terrifies me: it's the actions of an egomaniac. I don't relish seeing what happens when he discovers that he can't simply order everyone around. He doesn't seem to understand that he can't simply fire the Democrats on Beacon Hill: if he sincerely wants to change things, he's going to have to work with them.
On top of that, he's mastered the art of the Big Lie -- repeating the same falsehoods over and over until people believe them. Granted, this has become almost a commonplace among politicians today, but it frankly bothers me more to see someone so good at it. Consider, for example, the attack-ads situation. He's been making hay by claiming, over and over again, that O'Brian started the attacks, and he simply had to respond. But I'm sorry: I've been watching these damned ad campaigns from the beginning, and my memory isn't that bad. Romney clearly started the mud-slinging quite early (during the primary, in fact), and O'Brian didn't respond with the same until quite a bit later.
Related to that is his apparent total lack of principles. Consider the abortion issue. When he was in Utah (and was clearly lining himself up for public office there), he was quite unambiguously a pro-lifer, and put that in no uncertain terms. Now that he's back here, he's equivocating left and right, claiming that he never said those things, and that he's entirely content to take a pro-choice stance now. The implication is either that one of these stances is a lie, or (more likely) that he's going to say whatever it takes to get elected, and is happy to ignore his personal principles to that end. Neither of these options makes me especially happy with the prospect of him as governor.
Contrasting the candidates is also helpful. Romney makes a big deal about the way he "saved" the Olympics. But the reality is that he was pulled into the situation only after everyone had agreed that it was a disaster, and everyone had agreed to let him deal with it -- it was a big management task, to be sure, but not really a leadership one. By contrast, O'Brian took on the Treasurer's office and forced it into probity, over several peoples' dead bodies. It wasn't pretty, but it was a vastly bigger and more important mess, and she did a pretty good job with it. Again, though, it is coming up against the Romney Big Lie: claiming that O'Brian is part of "the mess on Beacon Hill", and therefore won't get anything done, ignoring the fact that she's already shown herself far more effective at taking on the political bigwigs than he is.
And then there are those ads. Both sides have gotten deeply nasty, and I'm annoyed at that. But the Republican attack ads are just plain smarmy -- they're so condescending that I find them genuinely disturbing. In general, Romney's ads have annoyed the hell out of me. I mean, we're talking about a man who, when told that his position with women was weak, decided to run ads talking in nice fluffy terms about his romance with his wife. Again, incredibly condescending -- in this case, condescending to the female voter, who he apparently believes can be put off with sweetness and light instead of serious discussion of the issues.
And none of this is taking the Lt. Governor candidates into consideration. I mean, really -- why the heck is Healey running? She lends nothing whatsoever to the Republican ticket: she has neither experience, nor ideas, nor charisma. As far as I can tell, she got the goodie because she's highly-placed in the party, and has no other qualifications. This isn't someone who I want anywhere near the big seat. By contrast, Gabrieli has at least as much solid corporate background as Romney has, and far more ideas: he does a nice job of balancing the Democratic ticket, and looks like he'd be pretty decent in the job in his own right.
So the choice comes out as a pretty easy one for me. O'Brian has made a few mistakes (and has, frankly, run a clumsy campaign), but she's basically just what she claims to be: a serious civil servant, with experience dealing with problems and running things efficiently. Romney's just a fool in a suit, saying what he thinks people want to hear, the epitome of the modern shallow politician...
Who dearly wishes that Barbara Johnson was running on the Republican ticket, so I could actually have a palatable choice...