The campaign that Mitt Romney is running—and has been running since the Republican primaries in 2008 and even earlier—is beyond anything that I’ve ever seen. Rivals and political commentators have been flummoxed by Romney’s casual readiness to invent things out of whole cloth and then, making matters even worse, to castigate his opponents for these very non-facts. Paul Krugman calls this a “post-truth campaign,” and Steve Benen at Maddow Blog is now into his 30th weekly installment of “Mitt’s Mendacity.” (Benen never has fewer than 20 items, and recently his lists have started growing.) To draw on the language of semiotics, what we have here is a non-stop generation of free floating signifiers that bear little relation to any concrete signified.
My own ability to find literary analogues has been pushed to the limit. In one post this past June I turned to Lewis Carroll’s looking glass world and Humpty Dumpty’s statement, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” I turn to Carroll once again to handle a related phenomenon, Romney’s “just trust me” approach to running. Here is liberal columnist Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:
Romney has broken with recent precedent — his father included — in refusing to release his tax returns, but he says he has paid 13 percent for 10 years. (Just trust me.) Romney has not released the names of his major bundlers, but he won’t be beholden to his donors, as Obama has been. (Just trust me.) Romney vows to eliminate the deficit, and promises that his tax plan will be revenue neutral, even though he won’t say which loopholes and deductions he’d eliminate to pay for deep tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich. (Just trust me.) Romney says he intends to eliminate whole agencies of government, but won’t say which ones, except in closed-door meetings with donors, and even then, details are scarce. (All together now: Just trust me.)
Both Romney and Ryan have already confirmed in interviews that they see no need to share details of how his tax cuts would be paid for until after the election, when it all can be worked out with Congress. And when it comes to Romney’s vow to eliminate whole agencies and programs, Romney has freely admitted that he won’t specify which ones for the explicit reason that so doing would be politically problematic for him.
The poem I have in mind is one of Carroll’s delicious parodies, and it sets up even better for our purposes if I cite Carroll’s target poem first. Isaac Watt’s didactic children’s poem, written in 1715, is an instance of the Puritan work ethic that Ryan and Romney keep invoking. I imagine Ryan seeing the poem as an Ayn Randian injunction to be a “maker” and not a “taker” or a “moocher”:
How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!
How skillfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet Food she makes.
In Works of Labor or of Skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
For idle Hands to do.
In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
Some good Account at last.
Do these Christian and capitalist sentiments sound good enough to get your vote? Apparently only Republicans are for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, not like those “idle hands” Democrats who want something for nothing.
And now here’s Carroll’s parody:
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!
Just trust me.