"He's a nice guy, but . . ." is exquisitely condescending. It's probably not true: Obama strikes us as a petulant narcissist. But calling someone a "nice guy" is rarely a genuine compliment, and it never is when conjoined by "but." As any man who has ever been rejected by a woman knows, describing someone as "a nice guy, but . . ." is another way of saying he's ineffectual. That is exactly the point Romney is making about Obama.First of all: Obama is not our boyfriend. He/we sometimes act like he is. I've had a blog tag "Obama the Boyfriend" for a long time. There's this longstanding notion that everyone likes Obama, that he's just soooo likable.
Remember back in January 2008, when Hillary Clinton was asked to deal with her shocking likability deficit next to The Most Likable Man in the World?
But anyway, Taranto's right about what Romney is saying, especially since Romney comes right out and says it: He's in over his head. But the "nice guy" part is, I think, really the ritual of acknowledging that we all [almost all!] like Obama. This ritual goes back to 2008. Remember how John McCain refrained from any sort of personal attack on Obama. Wasn't that the central aspect of Sarah Palin's "going rogue" — that she wanted to light into Obama?
This reminds me of something I heard Rush Limbaugh say on his show yesterday. He was reading from this article by National Review's Jim Geraghty — "Do Wavering Obama Voters Think the Man They Voted for Is Naïve?" Geraghty said (boldface added):
Not long ago, our great deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson noted: "The most acute division on the right -- the one that will give Mitt Romney the most trouble -- is not between moderates and hard-core right-wingers, between electability-minded pragmatists and ideologues, or between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. It is between those Republicans who disagree with Barack Obama, believing his policies to be mistaken, and those who hate Barack Obama, believing him to be wicked. Mitt Romney is the candidate of the former, but is regarded with suspicion, or worse, by the latter the latter..."Rush adds "It's not about 'hate,' but I'll get to that in a minute.
"[T]he latter are after something more: a national repudiation of President Obama, of his governmental overreach, and of managerial progressivism mainly as practiced by Democrats but also as practiced by Republicans."Rush goes on, circling in on Romney:
We don't hate Obama; we despise what he's doing to the country! And, yeah, it does require a massive turnaround. And it does require a massive repudiation of his policies....By the way, I'm one of those people. I voted for Obama. Limbaugh is trying to understand people like me. Is the McCain/Romney he's-a-nice-guy pose better than a Palin/Santorum straightforward attack — when it comes to convincing people who feel whatever it is we feel toward Obama the Boyfriend?
And this is one of the problems that people on my side have with Romney. They don't think Romney or the Republican establishment cares that much about repudiating what Obama has done. They just want to beat him. They just want back in control....
Anyway, [Geraghty's] piece is all about how do you persuade these Obama voters to vote for the Republican next time. Because, "Generally speaking, people hate admitting they made a mistake -- particularly over a decision that is culturally regarded as important as one’s presidential choice." This was a presidential election, and it was the first black president, and a lot of people are gonna be emotionally attached to that as the right thing to have done regardless. Because that says I'm a big person. I'm an open-minded person. So persuading that group of people that they made a mistake, that's a toughie.
These emotional attachments are tough, tough things.Sayeth Rush:
So "a lot of Obama voters must be persuaded that they made the wrong choice in 2008, and that it isn't their fault... Those who voted for Obama won't call him stupid, and certainly don't accept that he's evil. But they have seen grandiose promises on the stimulus fail to materialize, Obamacare touted as the answer to all their health care needs and turn out to be nothing of the sort, pledges of amazing imminent advances in alternative energy, and so on," and none of it has happened.....So... Romney's the best choice?
Here's what we're up against. A lot of people thought Obama was smartest president ever 'cause that's what they were told. There had been nobody like him before! He was the Great Unifier. The rest of the world was gonna love us...
Where you had a lot of people who thought they were making history voting for the first black to run for the presidency, by the same token, these people don't want to admit that the first black president's a failure. They don't have the guts to say it. They don't want to think it. They don't want to believe it. Because of the racial component. So then intervention is called for, and these voters are going to need a trip back to Realville. It's going to be very tricky convincing them that they did all this but it wasn't their fault....
But I do know that persuasion often does not happen by getting in somebody's face and wagging a finger at 'em, telling them they're wrong....
"If we're seeking to persuade Obama voters that it's okay to vote for someone else this time, perhaps we need to reinforce that notion that he just doesn't quite understand how things work in the real world -- that he understands the theories of job creation, but not the practice. He talks about a future of algae-powered cars while rejecting pipelines." Basically, we have to kind of convince people we've got somebody here that just isn't up to the job. That may be why Romney's saying what he's saying. You know, Romney's making a big point of saying (paraphrased), "Look, he's a nice guy, just in over his head." This is practically the same thing. So there's probably some oppo research going around and some focus group research saying this is how you have to go about it."Funny. Limbaugh refrains from endorsing a candidate, but I had thought — from listening to many recent shows — that he would end by saying Geraghty is one of those establishment Republican types who just want to get back in power and don't understand the real passion of those who want to repudiate everything Obama stands for, and that we really do need more of an attack dog like Santorum. But he didn't end that way. So I think Limbaugh understands the importance of the "he's a nice guy" component of an criticism of the President.
I suspect that those in the know perceive this fling with Santorum as an opportunity to satisfy the Obama haters, and they all know that after all the excitement — jeez, Santorum as excitement! — we're all going to settle down and marry Romney.
Romney the Husband.