ITT Romney won three primaries on Tuesday night, leaving him with over half the delegates necessary to clinch the Republican nomination. Rick Santorum says it’s not over, that it’s only halftime and he’s "in the locker room" planning his next move. I can imagine him chasing Newt Gingrich around with a wet towel. But then so much of this race has descended into parody.
That’s obviously the opinion of David Frum, who has announced the pre-order release of a new book called Patriots. It’s not the work you’d expect from an ordinarily serious journalist who was an economics speechwriter for George W Bush and who helped coin the phrase “axis of evil” to describe the enemies of democracy. He’s always worked with a certain amount of irony, but the outline of Patriots is a transparent satire of the present Republican race. To wit:
“P ATRIOTS tells the story of Walter Schotzke, the aimless young heir to America's largest mustard fortune. Walter is sent by his tough-minded grandmother to work in the office of a distinguished U.S. Senator. She hopes her otherwise worthless only grandchild might find purpose, and even appreciation for his country, from political service. Perhaps the job will also help Walter overcome the tragic loss of both his parents—especially that of his famous father, a genuine American hero, whose example Walter can't ever hope to live up to.
In Washington, Walter quickly proves to be a better student of the dark side of politics than he ever was at all the boarding schools he was thrown out of. He gains his education from a farcical faculty of blowhard radio hosts, outraged protestors, think-tank experts-for-hire, shady lobbyists, internet impresarios, and the sexy but sinister talking heads of the "Patriot News Network."
Lunching and fundraising their luxurious way through economic depression and foreign war, the characters of PATRIOTS prosper by manipulating the fears and resentments of a country in crisis. Walter is used and abused – until, inadvertently and unexpectedly, he finds himself the unlikely hero of the angriest populist movement America has ever seen.”
Okay, let’s name names. Schotzke is clearly Mitt Romney – a cynic who rides the reputation of his more honorable father into office. The blowhard radio host is Rush Limbaugh, Patriot News Network is Fox and the “angriest populist movement America has ever seen” is the Tea Party.
If I've got my characters right, what is Frum trying to say? Is he simply ribbing the two-dimensional qualities of this race that have turned quite shallow people into representatives of good and evil? Or is he being more profound? Does Frum believe that Mitt Romney is a hapless fool who has been manipulated to the position of leader of an AstroTurf movement that exists to help rich folks stay in power while the rest of the country goes to Hell in a handcart? Does this mean that Frum has embraced either the anti-everything politics of the Paulite Right or the nihilistic comedy of the Jon Stewart Left? And where does that leave the rest of us?
Perhaps it's more personal. Maybe the book marks Frum’s final break from the conservative movement – a farcical farewell to the people who sustained him all these years. This old Republican has finally had enough, and is taking the party down with him.
Fair enough if that’s how Frum feels, but I suspect he’s made one big mistake. Just like Austin Powers was never quite as funny as the sixties spy movies that it parodied, I'd be mightily impressed if Frum's book manages to be half as funny as the real thing.
Real life throws out zingers that feel contrived in fiction. Take Mitt Romney, whose own attempts to tell a gag reduces every audience to tears of grief.
In fact, Mitt’s whole family needs a new scriptwriter. On Monday, Ann Romney was asked in an interview what she thought of the accusation that her husband seemed "a little stiff." With cheerful innocence, she replied, “I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out”! Her faux pas adds to the megabucks, sugary sweet unreality of the Romney clan. It wouldn’t surprise me if this family spoke entirely in innuendos over the Thanksgiving dinner table, blissfully unaware of the low-brow comedy they live in. “Would you like some more breast, Mitt?” “No thank you, Ann. If I don’t undo my pants, I’ll just burst.”
At least the world laughed with Ronald Reagan. Nowadays, the world only laughs at the Republican establishment – that half of the world that isn't gently sobbing into a crumpled copy of National Review.