Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

Seven months ago, I wrote a column explaining that my increasing irritation with Mitt Romney had made me understand how Republicans probably felt about Al Gore 12 years ago. The politician with the "authenticity" problem whose goals you share just seems awkward—undesirable from a strategic perspective, but hardly morally blameworthy—while the one from the other party seems irredeemably phony and dishonest. But I'm guessing lots of liberals, maybe most, feel the way I do, which is that is seems I like this guy less and less every day.

This has happened before. Before John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, he seemed like a fairly reasonable person for a Republican, extremely conservative to be sure, but with an admirable willingness to buck his party every now and again and a refreshing honesty. But by the end of the race, I couldn't stand him, and I'm sure most liberals felt the same way. He had revealed himself to be unprincipled, petty, mean, and a whole bunch of other things. I concluded, with the help of copious evidence, that whatever positive feelings I had about him before were terribly mistaken. These days when I see him pop up on TV, my visceral reaction is, "Why do we care what you think, jerk?" So did John McCain change during the campaign? Or was it just that we got a better look at him? And is that what's happening with Romney?

I'm pretty sure it's the latter. Over the course of a presidential campaign you get to see much, much more of a candidate than any other politician you even consider yourself familiar with. For example, how much do you know about Mitch Daniels? I keep an eye on politics for a living, and to be honest my entire exposure to him probably amounts to a couple of profiles, a couple of TV interviews, and a few dozen sound bites here and there. While I wouldn't say I'm a fan or anything, he doesn't seem like a monster. But that's probably just because my exposure has been so limited. I'm sure that if he was the Republican presidential candidate—where every day for a year he was going around advocating for conservative policies I think are foolish, telling Republican voters what they want to hear, and saying that everything liberals believe in is a vile, immoral, socialistic nightmare—I'd end up hating the guy. And the things the other party's candidate does that we might find appealing—that was nice of him to toss a ball with that kid—are quickly forgotten, while the times he does something despicable stick in our memory, not least because people like me write about them and draw attention to them.

That's not to excuse Mitt Romney for his sins, of which there are plenty. But it does help explain why partisans can end up hating the president with such a passion. You go through the long slog of a campaign, in which your distaste for the other party's nominee grows and grows as you learn more about him. Then he actually wins, making you really pissed off.

You may also like