John McCain and Mitt Romney have much in common.
There is, of course, the obvious: both were nominated by the Republican Party as its candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Both come from families with a legacy of power and prestige in public service. Both of them were also-rans in one primary season before ascending to “next in line” status the subsequent time around. And both of them are married to blondes.
But there’s something else, which my beloved co-blogger and I were discussing just the other day. (She and I share the sentiments expressed below, as is so often the case.) I used to like both of them.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m a registered Democrat, and I’m left of center on most issues. While I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, they were exceptions to my usual tendencies. Chances are I would have voted against McCain or Romney in any case. I’d love to flatter myself that I’m an Independent-minded Voter who chafes at party labels and picks candidates on their Individual Merits. (And that’s true enough — vote Angus!) But in truth I’m a pretty safe vote for the donkey.
However, both McCain and Romney were candidates that once I could have at least considered voting for. And by the time it came to cast my ballot, I had come to loathe them.
Remember the “Straight Talk Express”? Maybe I was just too addled from sleep deprivation during my residency, but the McCain I remember from 2000 was a candidate who enjoyed a reputation for taking stands that weren’t always popular with his party. Years later, I heard Joe Biden talking about what it might be like to run against his friend from the Senate if they both got the nominations of their parties, and Biden essentially said that the country would be in good hands either way. And then came his actual nomination, and he immediately jettisoned every stand I’d ever admired him for (his flip on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was especially galling). With the Palin pick the last shred of respect I had for him went flitting off into the winds of oblivion.
And then there’s Romney. Once upon a nevermind, he positioned himself as a socially moderate, competent technocrat. Since “socially moderate, competent technocrat” is exactly what I’d like in a chief executive, several shakes of the Etch A Sketch ago he seemed like a candidate I could plausibly support. Since that time he has shown himself to be little more than a windsock with a strong chin, an impression he seems determined to cement with every passing day. His flagrant mendacity and crass willingness to politicize tragedy at the first opportunity have only made things worse. I can’t think of a candidate for President I’ve detested so much at this point in the campaign.
For the life of me, I do not understand this. I do not understand why candidates go from broader to narrower appeal. I do not understand why this phenomenon seems restricted to the Right. (Conservative readers, please feel free to let me know if you disagree.) I do not particularly relish the notion of being tethered to only one party because the other seems perfectly content to alienate voters like me, and because it forces its candidates to take suffocating positions on the issues.
And I really, really don’t understand why two candidates who once seemed tailor-made for voters like me, voters who would like a genuine choice between two good nominees, shriveled before my eyes into men I would scarcely want to meet, much less have running my country.