During the 2012 campaign, I, like every liberal writer whose job it is to comment on politics every day, wrote many unkind things about Mitt Romney. Much of the time I found him more sad than despicable; politicians who nearly reach the pinnacle of their profession while being manifestly awful at politics are a rare and curious breed. Like Al Gore before him, Romney's discomfort with the requirements of campaigning was so close to the surface that he couldn't help but inspire a kind of pity. That isn't to say that I didn't find plenty of his statements and policy positions contemptible, because I certainly did, and said so without hesitation. But in the end, Romney wasn't as easy to hate as some other politicians might be.
So a year after he joined that small, melancholy club of presidential losers, it's time that even those of us who thought it would be a terrible thing if he became president can see Romney as a human being. In January, Netflix will be releasing a behind-the-scenes documentary called "Mitt," and the preview is surprisingly endearing:
This two-minute trailer is full of charmingly human moments, particularly since Mitt's greatest unmet challenge was convincing us that he was indeed human. He admits he's a flawed candidate. Ann says to the camera, "I would not want to do this again. It's too much." One of his sons says, "A year ago we told you that we'd love you no matter how this thing turned out," and Mitt quips, "Now you're not so sure." And the one that I found the most moving: in the room with his family when the fact that he's lost has become apparent, Mitt looks over to Ann with a strained smile on his face, as though he's trying to assure her that he's OK, despite the fact that they both know that things are most definitely not OK. It's just the flash of an expression, and particularly since you can tell a Mitt Romney fake smile from a mile away, he surely knows he can't fool her, but he's still going to try, because putting a brave face on things is just part of who he is.
Nobody writes biographies of people who fail to become president, and it isn't like in the coming years we're going to be spending a tremendous amount of time wondering what Mitt Romney's legacy is. But Romney's career will be an important window through which we can understand the evolution of the Republican party through this era. He started as the prototypical businessman Republican, moderate enough on social issues to win in a blue state but still admired throughout the party. Then things began to shift rightward under him, and the distance he had to travel to win his party's nomination demonstrated not just how the party's ideology had changed but how much humiliation they'd force someone to endure in order to win their favor.
I don't really know how your average Republican feels about Romney these days, beyond the fact that they wish he'd have been a more skilled candidate. But the passage of time—and the fact that he will no longer be affecting politics or policy—allows us to see him as just a human being, and maybe even spare a generous thought for him.