The Washington Post

Mitt Romney, accept it: You’re America’s Awkward Stepdad

Stop trying to be cool before it’s too late! (Jim Cole/AP)

“What are the kids listening to these days?” Uncle Mort asks, sidling up at the cookout. “What’s phat and groovy?”

The only people who use words like “phat” and “groovy” are these sad self-identified Cool Uncles and the cops who pose as teens online to catch predators.

“How ’bout that Justin Beaver?” they ask. “How ’bout Marky Mark?”

Familiarity may breed a little contempt, but the contempt-breeding equivalent of Octomom is an adult who is not acting his age.

I mention this because on Thursday, Mitt Romney announced that he is running for president of the United States.

I have been watching his efforts to seem “hip” and “relaxed” for some time, and I have to say, Mitt, cease and desist. You are America’s Awkward Stepdad, and the sooner you stop trying to be cool, the better for everyone.

Dad can be uncool. We are stuck with him. But you are America’s Awkward Stepdad, trying to win our approval, but hopelessly unsure of how to do it. I see you gelling your hair and slipping into those jeans you surreptitiously purchased at Urban Outfitters. Stop it! We can’t tell that that t-shirt is ironic, and it just makes you look sort of racist.

We can see how Mitt would make this mistake. After all, the American voting pool has the approximate maturity of a five year-old with severe ADD. “Talking hair! Sex! Weiners!” we scream, running dizzily around in circles. “Whose undershorts are those? Get Paul Ryan out of here, he’s boring us with numbers!”

People have long made the mistake of saying that we have a cult of youth. What we actually have is a cult of immaturity. Few people are young, and the few anointed Disney stars fall consistently and spectacularly as meteors every year during sweeps season. Instead, we have people like Snooki. You are only young once, but there appears to be no limit to how long you can behave like a five year-old.

But as Jean Kerr once wrote, “The real menace in dealing with a five year-old is that in no time at all you begin to sound like a five year-old.” And this is already happening to Mitt.

He comes out swinging for Scotty McCreery on American Idol. He sends pizza to the Obama headquarters — as a joke? A nice gesture? It’s hard to say. And have you noticed that he’s stopped wearing ties? Every fiber of his sixty-four year-old body seems to be straining to convey relaxation and effortless cool. I worry he’ll rupture something. Next thing we know, he’ll be working Twilight references into his conversation. Oh, I’m sorry, he already has: “I like silly stuff, too, I like the ‘Twilight’ series, I thought that was fun,” he told the Today Show.

It’s torn straight from the pages of those books on How To Relate To Your Teen. “Read what your teen reads,” they urge. “Try to engage her in conversation about it.”

No, please!

We tolerate the uncool. Sometimes we secretly look up to them, overcome by the sense that they must know something we don’t or they wouldn’t be reading those tomes about health policy. But it is the ones who are uncool and nonetheless try to “relate” that inspire our hate.

Some people can relate to teens. Their secret is simple: They are not real adults. They cannot manage their finances or hold a job for more than two years, and you often hear them say things like, “after this weekend, I’ll pay all my bills with winnings from the dog track!” Later they will be punished, after they succeed so well in convincing their kids that they are not their parents but their best friends and these kids rush off and get impregnated by Levi Johnston.

The early GOP field has consisted of a number of such Actually Cool Aunts — Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, both as effortlessly immature as the days they were born. But Mitt has to work at it. And watching him work is just embarrassing, like when your father asks if you like his “bling.” Every time he tries to crack jokes or make hip references, I cringe. It’s like watching John Quincy Adams do the Macarena.

Gone are the days when a leader would rather be feared than loved. Now everyone wants to be Liked — on Facebook, if possible. But not knowing when to stop trying is the surest sign of immaturity.

So, please, embrace your role as America’s Awkward Stepdad.

Do not show up at the slumber party and try to “get real.” Put on a tie!

You have other things to offer. It might help to find an abandoned field and shout, “Hey, I may have all the raw charisma of wilted celery, but, dang it, I’m a businessman and a former governor with some ideas about balancing the budget!” It’d be liberating.

You may not win. But if you keep on trying to get down to our level, you may not even win the primaries.

H. L. Mencken said that democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want — and deserve to get it good and hard.

But, please, Mitt, not from you.

I am serious. You will not fit into those skinny jeans.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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