Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Decoding Mitt's Magical Mystery Tour

As he lurches homeward, what have we learned? Beyond the gaffefest, is there a sharper focus on the man who would be president in this time of dangerous turmoil?

Parsing Mitt Romney's trip may require a cultural context rather than political, starting with the Beatles’ 1967 LP and TV film, “Magical Mystery Tour,” which was also greeted as “a disaster” by British critics.

Like Romney, the Fab Four were emblematic of their times, with mindset and lyrics not easily decoded. Their soothing songs had embedded messages (LSD in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”) of a psychedelic worldview that infuriated insensitive onlookers.

Just so now with the GOP contender. Below all his apparently aimless babbling is a vision. In contrast to those cheeky outsiders, Romney is the embodiment of today’s country-club insider. How else to explain his implicitly equating Palestinians’ economic woes vs. Israelis with the culture gap between Americans and Mexicans?

Romney’s essence may be glimpsed by going back even more to the 1920s and Sinclair Lewis’ Nobel Prize portrait of “Babbitt,” the prototypically narrow-minded American businessman with a booster mentality who “considers it God's purpose that man should work, increase his income, and enjoy modern improvements.”

With such a challenger and the President’s defensive status (Babbitt vs. the embattled), little wonder that the campaign, according to David Brooks echoing Peggy Noonan, is “incredibly consequential and incredibly boring all at the same time,” reaching “intellectual stagnation” of political debate.

In the larger scheme, Mitt Romney’s trip won’t weigh heavily in the dehumanized, computerized mechanics of the 2012 campaign, but for those who still care about the human side of it all, the Beatles and Babbitt offer clues.

Update: Maureen Dowd weighs in: “Mitt’s foray showed some new colors, as he intended, but they were not flattering ones. We now know how little he knows about the world, how really slow on his feet he is, what meager social and political agility he has.

“Wherever he went, whatever situation he was in, he remained frozen in himself.”

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