Waiting for the Real Romney

Apparently, Mitt Romney's supporters are concerned that the real Mitt isn't coming through, and some of them are practically begging him to show us the true heart beating beneath the finely tailored suits and presidential hair:

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The voters were pleading with Mitt Romney to share personal details of his life. They stood at town-hall-style meetings and chatted before rallies, clamoring for a story or an anecdote that would help them connect with the real Mitt Romney.

"I wish that you would speak more to a lot of the things that I think you should speak about — the fact that you were pastor at your church, the fact that you were a missionary, the fact that you do speak about helping with the Olympics," Mary Toepfer, 40, of Warren, Ohio, said at a recent event.

Without these kinds of stories, she added, "it's hard for us, who are trying to support you, to address them when trying to explain to them why you would be the better candidate."

I feel bad for them, and I actually feel a little bad for Romney on this question too. It's possible, I suppose, that the general election could see the introduction of a New Romney, one Americans will come to know and love. But I doubt it, for a couple of reasons. First, Romney could start opening up about his beloved childhood sled and intimate conversations with elders (Did someone ever tell young Mitt that he could be whatever he wanted if he set his mind to it? I'll bet they did). But if he does that, it will inevitably come off (particularly to the reporters who will relay it to the rest of us) as calculated and insincere. That means it will reinforce, not undo, the image of Romney as overly stiff and impersonal.

The second and more important problem is that Romney just doesn't have a compelling story to tell, unless there's something nobody has heard before. The kind of personal history that allows voters to feel they've gotten to know a politician always has some kind of adversity in it. Barack Obama grew up haunted by the hole left by his absent father. George W. Bush struggled to overcome his misspent youth and the lure of drink. Bill Clinton had a dramatic confrontation with the stepfather who abused his mother (fathers loom large, obviously). But as far as we can tell, Mitt Romney never faced much adversity at all. He grew up amid wealth and power, then amassed his own wealth and power, with barely a hiccup along the way.

So the difficulty isn't just that every time Romney tries to tell a personal story, he mucks it up spectacularly. It's that he may just not have any good stories to tell.

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