This hasn’t been Mitt’s week. Even the good things that happened have been bad.
The nation’s unemployment improved! Under President Obama.
Mitt got an endorsement. From Donald Trump!
Someone covered him with glitter. It was a pro-gay-rights protester!
He sang “America the Beautiful.” The producers of American Idol talked about it – to say it was flat.
He gave an interview to a major news network after his landslide victory in Florida. In it, he “misspoke” by saying that he was not concerned about the very poor. He added that he was not concerned about the very rich, but by then everyone watching had gone out to the garage to get pitchforks, and the sentiment didn’t really take.
Everything that can go right, will go wrong.
In fact, this seems to be a broader law of Romney’s life. All the things that, growing up, seem like desiderata of the first degree – a great job, a large family named after kitchen implements, a dog willing to ride on the roof of the car during family road trips and only soil itself a single time – turn out to be impediments when you show up on the campaign trail.
“Tagg?” everyone shouts. “What kind of a name is Tagg?”
“I also have three other sons,” Mitt murmurs.
“Shut up, Gromit,” everyone yells.
According to Vanity Fair, four percent of Americans are convinced Mitt’s real name is either Gromit or Mittens.
Mitt’s problems fall into a peculiar subset of the genre of First-World problems. You know the problems I mean. Your Prius won’t start in the morning. You have allowed the milk -- carted in for miles using the fanciest refrigeration technology in the land -- to turn on you, and it has grown sentient and is whacking the heirloom tomatoes around in the depths of your refrigerator. Your electric toothbrush won’t turn on. “Now it’s just a toothbrush,” you mumble. You have your health and you have all your limbs, but dang, is it hard to find an eligible bachelor who knows what the Symposium is, and so many of the ones who do are gay.
But compared to the problems Mitt Romney has, we’re really struggling. The guys who invest his money in blind trusts for him didn’t make the trusts blind enough, or something. He has money in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands – and now he wishes he didn’t. He has his health, his family, his mountains of bullion – but somehow no one seems willing to elect him president. That’s your ultimate first-world problem. Everything’s gone so impossibly right that the ultimate reward lurks just out of reach.
Some professions make peculiar demands. The ideal life for a president is ful of bootsrap-pulling and high drama. It runs something like this – you were born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so’s you knew every tree, and were offered the choice to kill a bear but did not take it when you were only three. You spent the next fifteen years pulling yourself up by your bootstraps from a small, all-American town, somehow wound up at an institution of higher learning that was prestigious – but not offputtingly prestigious – and then you became a war veteran, and then you governed a state whose priorities aligned exactly with those of your party, in the course of which time you created tens of thousands of jobs. Also you are capable of stringing a sentence together without looking excruciatingly pained. That actually described Rick Perry until we came to the last clause.
This has not quite been Mitt’s life. He is an adult man who routinely uses the word “delightful,” which is not the mark of a hard-scrabble rearing. It’s not that Mitt doesn’t have a compelling story. For a man whose actual first name is Willard, he’s done exceptionally well for himself. His compelling story is that he had a really delightful life that most of us are now working hard to have and secure for our kids. The only trouble with a generally pleasant life is that it makes it, apparently, intensely difficult to run for president.
Enviable lives make for bad narratives. “I worry that my home life is too normal for me ever to become a truly great novelist,” I complained to my parents as they offered me love, support, and a roof. “Could you possibly awaken me in the middle of the night and, I don’t know, loom a little? Act more like Beethoven’s father?”
Mitt should have done the same.
It’s hard, but you have to start early. Everything that can go right turns out all wrong for the campaign. Especially if you’re Mitt Romney.