How will a trio of new media developments affect the Romney presidential campaign?
Whatever Mitt Romney is doing in a few years — whether he’s running the United States or hawking Salt Lake City Olympics merchandise on eBay — he’ll always have the Summer of ’07. These are heady days for Romney and his supporters: he just won the Iowa GOP straw poll; he’s running strong in New Hampshire; John McCain is struggling mightily; and Rudy Giuliani’s own daughter prefers Barack Obama. The idea of Romney actually being elected president used to seem far-fetched. Not anymore.
But plenty could happen between now and next year’s gaggle of front-loaded primaries to affect Romney’s hot streak, including three imminent media developments. September Dawn, a feature film about a nasty episode of Mormon-on-non-Mormon violence from the 1850s, comes out this week. A new book slamming Massachusetts’s political mindset written by Jon Keller — the WBZ-TV political analyst and Phoenix alum — hits the shelves in early September. And A Mormon President — a documentary on the long-ago presidential aspirations of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), of which Romney is a member — is slated for release later this fall or early next year. With Romney running for the Oval Office, each is sure to get far more attention than it would otherwise. And each, in turn, could impact Romney’s White House dreams.
Out of the blue
Let’s start with Keller’s book, The Bluest State: How Democrats Created the Massachusetts Blueprint for American Political Disaster (St. Martin’s). The Bluest State is clearly intended as a successor to What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Tom Frank’s much-discussed analysis of Kansans’ abiding loyalty to the GOP. Frank’s book is cited on the back cover of review copies of Keller’s book (“In a book that echoes What’s the Matter with Kansas?. . . ”) and invoked repeatedly in the text itself.
As such, it’s going to be a great Romney campaign foil. Romney, of course, has elicited Red-state giggles by saying that running Massachusetts made him feel like a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention. The Bluest State suggests that this quip is far too modest: Massachusetts politics are “poison,” Keller claims, for the state itself and for the national Democratic Party:
Democrats have limped through a generation of tenuous grasp on national political power in part because they’ve been infected with the Massachusetts viruses I’ve described: addiction to tax revenues and a raging edifice complex couched in disrespect for wage earners; phony identity politics without real results for women and minorities; reflexive anti-Americanism in foreign affairs; vain indulgence in obnoxious political correctness; self-serving featherbedding; NIMBYism; authoritarian distortion of the balance of governmental power, all simmered in a broth of hypocritical paternalism.
Get the gist?
Obviously, Keller has a knack for turning potentially dry political concepts into prose that pops off the page. This makes The Bluest State an easy, engaging read, even if you don’t buy Keller’s argument. And verily, local liberals will find plenty to question: among other things, Keller collapses the Democrat-liberal distinction, states that Massachusetts Independents are really Democrats in disguise, and practically ignores the recent election of Deval Patrick — the second black governor elected in the US since reconstruction! — while playing up white political domination.
Judging from all those Tom Frank name-checks, though, we’re not Keller’s target audience; national conservatives are. And they’re going to eat this book up. “Massachusetts” is already national-conservative shorthand for the purported evils of Democrats and liberalism; there’s a presidential election looming; and a candidate from Massachusetts is in the race. If John Kerry were running again, or if Boston were hosting the DNC again, The Bluest State’s prospects might be even brighter. But as it is, Keller’s literary stars are nicely aligned.
Back to Mitt. Even if Romney barely rated a mention in The Bluest State, this aforementioned Massachusetts-as-political-poison argument would be a huge boon to his campaign. After all, if Massachusetts is really that bad, it’s silly to fret over the fact that Romney didn’t actually get that much done during his governorship; meanwhile, even mundane accomplishments take on a heroic sheen.
But Keller does spend a while on Romney — and our ex-governor should be grateful. The Bluest State begins with a famous line from his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy, uttered while Romney was campaigning in Dorchester: “Someone said, ‘This is Kennedy country.’ . . . And I looked around and I saw boarded-up buildings, and I saw jobs leaving, and I said, ‘It looks like it.’ ” (Keller heartily approves.) Later, in a chapter tellingly titled “Cattle Rancher among the Vegetarians,” Keller depicts Romney as a wholesome, well-intentioned reformer who finds himself politically hamstrung by an obstinate Democratic establishment.
There’s an asterisk or two: Keller notes Romney’s rightward drift on social issues, and suggests that, if the ex-governor had been more focused on Massachusetts, he might have gotten more done for the state. But if the state is as fucked up as Keller claims — and if, as he says, the Democratic establishment “gratuitously shunned Romney and his ideas” — who can blame him for not sticking around?