The Washington Post

Defining weird

It’s hard to put a finger on weird when nearly everyone has turned pro, but President Obama is planning to make Mitt Romney the face of “weird.”

So go reports that Obama’s re-election campaign is plotting a personal assault on Romney to portray him as inauthentic, unprincipled and “weird.”

One can say many things about Romney. Shiny as a new penny, smooth as a petra stone, homespun as an Appalachian quilt. But weird?

Only if you were born after 1970. For older Americans, Romney is what we used to know as straight as an arrow, clean as a whistle, the picture of dad in Cleavertown. He’s been married to the same woman for decades, raised five sons, has 16 grandchildren, made a lot of money legally, been elected governor in a liberal state and, what else? Oh, yes, he was a missionary during his college years.

By today’s standards, this indeed may make Romney weird. (And, yes, he once did put his dog in a cage on top of the car during a family vacation when there apparently wasn’t room for him. Can we move on?)

Given the above history, one may assume that weird means uncool, which Romney surely is. He was even uncool as a youth, showing up for his first date with wife Ann in a car with chilled grape juice. It is entirely likely that a President Romney would not convene a beer summit.

But what else might weird mean? It sounds smackingly like code for that which must go unspoken -- that Mormon thing.

Of course Obama would never make such a suggestion. Religion is a private matter, after all, and a man who spent 20 years listening to the raves and rants of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright can’t point a finger when it comes to religious preferences.

Obama wouldn’t, anyway. That’s not who he is. He fundamentally doesn’t care what, when, where or how people worship in their own space. Nor do those who would re-elect the president.

But sometimes a great notion comes along, and a subliminal message in a presidential campaign is a terrible thing to waste. Obama, whom John McCain once referred to as “that one,” has people all around him dropping “weird” into sentences with Romney. It won’t take long for the idea to attach itself to the American psyche, just enough to make some wonder whether they really want a “weird” person as a nominee, especially with all those other Republicans being so thoroughly grounded.

Romney may be challenged legitimately for changing his position on important issues such as abortion. He can be challenged for succumbing to the pledge imperative now demanded of candidates by social conservatives, such as his recent promise to push through a constitutional amendment declaring marriage as between a man and woman. He is also a sitting duck on health care. Obama can’t stop reminding Americans that he modeled his plan on the program Romney pushed through in Massachusetts when he was governor.

These are for Romney to explain, but changing one’s mind is no grounds for disqualification. Nor is being uncool or “weird,” or for that matter, being Mormon. We’ve become enamored in this country of the idea that presidents have to be someone with whom you’d like to have a beer, an impossible standard if you happen to be Mormon, and a dumb standard besides.

It is also conventional wisdom that the next leader is always the opposite of the previous. If 2008 was the season for cool, then 2012 may be a time for uncool. Given the weird attacks from Team Obama, it appears that the president fears as much.

Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary In 2010.


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