A couple of weeks ago we did a posting on the Crimes of Rick Santorum. Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist, claimed to know what Santorum was really thinking when Santorum didn't call President Obama a Nazi. In typical schoolyard fashion, of course, Milbank's whole point was that the real Nazis are people who call others Nazis, even when they don't.
In today's Washington Post, E. J. Dionne — a much better and far more clever writer than Milbank — does a number on Mitt Romney. In "The Tolerable GOP Candidate" (Washington Post, 03/08/12, A17), Dionne doesn't claim to know what Romney is thinking or what he really means. Instead, Dionne reports facts and puts a reasonable interpretation on those facts. This masks the innuendo that, if the American people are stupid enough to elect Romney, they are going to end up with another Richard Nixon . . . and everybody knows what that would be like.
Dionne does this so skillfully that most readers might not consciously realize just how carefully they are led to equate Romney with Nixon. Dionne concludes his opening paragraph by describing Romney's campaign as "part John McCain, part Michael Dukakis and part Richard Nixon. [Emphasis added.]
Watergate — the only thing most people remember about Nixon's campaign — is thereby seeded in the reader's mind. Dionne then goes on to describe Romney's "achievements" in terms that make them sound like the best of "Tricky Dick's" tricks: "flexible views," "a rather satisfied man who has to announce that he's angry," "millions of dollars in advertising to discredit his opponents," "adjust[ed] or reverse[d] many of his positions," "He needs to win now. He'll count the costs later" (the Machiavellian "ends justify the means"), and so on — and on, and on.
Dionne finishes off his masterful character assassination by declaring "it is Nixon, rival to Romney's father in 1968, who provides the words that may best explain how Mitt Romney is managing his way toward a tepid triumph." Again, not a word about Watergate or Nixon's spectacular fall. It isn't necessary. Even the subtle hint that Romney is betraying his own father by emulating Nixon the Malevolent, while useful to show just how "flexible" Romney can be, doesn't add much.
By raising the specter of Nixon and drawing a parallel between Romney and the Evil One, Dionne succeeds where Milbank failed, leading readers to view Romney as another Nixon, with the ability to sway the Army of Darkness (a.k.a., "the Tea Partyers and the Christian conservatives and the Southerners") to vote for him. And thus, as Dionne concludes, "as it was for Nixon, this may be enough."
He might as well have lamented, as a 17th century "Planter" in Ireland did in his diary on July 23, 1633 on learning that the king's "evil counselor" and notoriously flexible politician Thomas Wentworth was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland, "The Lord Viscount Wentworth came to Ireland to governe the kingdom. Manie men feare."
Not a word, of course, about Romney's real failing: economic recovery proposals that take no account of "the economics of reality" and the need for a program of expanded capital ownership, such as Ronald Reagan supported, financed with pure credit, that we call Capital Homesteading.