MITT ROMNEY THE MAD MAN
Were Mad Men ever to feature a US politician, he would probably look a lot like Mitt Romney.
The slicked back hair.
The Quarterback smile.
The lantern jaw.
Those crisp white shirts.
It is easy to imagine the Republican presidential nominee in 1960s New York, leaving his Fifth Avenue apartment for his Wall Street office, and then heading off, with his wife Ann, to their pile in the Hamptons on the weekend.
Mitt Romney would also have suited Mad Men era politics.
After all, America in the late-1950s and early 1960s was heavily populated with Republicans like him. They were rich and impeccably groomed.
Typically they could boast an Ivy League pedigree (Romney went to Harvard), a stellar political bloodline (Romney’s father, George, was the Governor of Michigan and also a presidential hopeful), and a background in banking or high finance (Romney founded the venture capitalist firm, Bain Capital).
By today’s standards, they also tended to be fairly moderate in their political views: conservative, yes, but conservative with a small “c.” They were not much interested in God or guns. Instead, their focus was the greenback (the US dollar), and, at a time when communism was seen as the main threat, the global dominance of American capitalism. On Saturdays, they would attend Country Clubs rather than NASCAR motor races. Sunday would find them in Episcopalian chapels rather than Evangelical mega-churches.
They were “liberal Republicans,” a phrase, oft-heard fifty years ago, that now sounds like an oxymoron.
In Mad Men, Betty Draper’s second husband, Henry Francis, actually worked as the communications director for precisely this kind of Republican: the then Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller. In the early 1960s, Rockefeller, a scion of the famous banking dynasty, was viewed as one of the Republican party’s brightest stars (in a Mad Men-like plotline, he ruined his chances by divorcing his wife, then a real no-no, and marrying his mistress called “Happy”). Nowadays, he would deemed way too moderate to prosper in what has since become a much more right-wing party.
Whereas the Republicans used to be the party of the establishment, now it is infused with the radical, insurgent spirit of the Tea Party.
It helps explain why Mitt Romney is doing poorly. His background is as a moderate, Mad Men-era Republican. As the governor of Massachusetts between 2003-2007, he championed healthcare reform – his system became the model for Obamacare. He was also pro-choice and supported strict gun controls.
Now, he presents himself as pro-life, pro-gun and the politician who will dismantle Obama’s healthcare reforms.
Which one is the real Romney? The Massachusetts moderate, or the presidential candidate who was secretly filmed telling a private fundraiser that there are 47% of Americans who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Or perhaps the answer is both: an unprincipled political opportunist, who says different things to different audiences.
Who is the real Mitt Romney? Image via nakeddc.com.
The central question in Mad Men is who is Don Draper, though most of the characters never get to find out his true identity.
Alas for Mitt Romney, this has also become the main storyline of his troubled campaign.
Six weeks out from Election Day, much of America is still trying to make sense of his opaque and often contradictory character.
MORE STORIES BY NICK BRYANT
*Nick Bryant is a foreign correspondent with the BBC. He has reported from trouble-spots all over the world, and was the BBC’s Washington correspondent during 9/11. He was recently the BBC’s Australia correspondent. He is married to the fashion designer, Fleur Wood.
Nick is the author of a book on US politics and the recently published memoir, Adventures in Correspondentland.