(A Brilliant at Breakfast exclusive, by American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
I changed the nature of the triathlon after that. I didn’t like this idea that these were only swimming, biking and running. Now, we have log-sawing, nail-hammering. We added some things I excel at so I don’t come in last every year. - Mitt Romney
After reading this article in the Washington Post about the Romney family vacations, so many cultural references come, well, fast and furiously that one is nearly paralyzed with indecision as to which one is more apt or promises the most vicious satire or spot-on incisiveness.
So yours truly will endeavor to make use of all of them while trying to make salient points, a Frankenstein post, if you will, that attempts to stitch together with as much aestheticism the irresistible parallels between Mitt Romney and several infamous Dad parodies out of Hollywood history (And, no, I will not even try to apologize for the fact that two of these references happen to be some of the biggest hits of two of the founding alumni of SNL).
This article, one that's essentially as substantial as the head of a dandelion, takes place on the Romney family mansion in New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. Written by the reliably useless Philip Rucker, it whiffs at one fat, batting practice fastball after another as it remains blindly insensible or strenuously blase to irony. In the mainstream media, especially when writing about a right wing politician, to even attempt to bunt at any of these 60 mph fastballs or slow, hanging curves would be considered a hit job (the less charitable among us would euphemistically say "a piece of critical, perspicacious followup reporting" but that's us.).
However, this article that tries mightily to remain as harmless and inoffensive as possible and to masquerade as a mere summer fluff piece of a political family on vacation, complete with the cliches and requisite quotes from the area's year-long residents, winds up turning dark and ominous. This is certainly through no fault of the journalist, who appears to have developed convenient, partial amnesia as if he'd never heard of Seamus, the poor, maligned pooch who basically got the Griswold treatment.
Because the subject is Mitt Romney, a guy who wouldn't kick a homeless man unless he was assured the mooching cretin got a good look at his $1000 leather Gucci loafers before passing out from the pain. This is a guy who, every time he opens his mouth or when someone tries to write about him even in the most normal and innocuous of settings such as a summer family vacation, reminds us of his sociopathic tendencies. Try as he might to give us beauty, every Lars von Trier movie eventually turns creepy and surreal and Mitt Romney, even in the fluffiest of settings, cannot help but turn this into a followup to the Seamus story only sans Seamus.
As it turned out, this article merely amplifies the thrust of the Seamus story, which is that Mitt Romney, back when his kids were still small, was such a tight-assed Republican asshole that he treated the family dog like luggage and emotionlessly hosed the dog's diarrhea off the car and continued so not to be knocked off his rigid schedule. The dog was so traumatized by being strapped to the roof of the car that, according to two of Romney's own sons, he ran away during that Canadian vacation the first chance he got. (Feel free to compare poor Seamus to either the dog in National Lampoon's Vacation that was tied to the bumper and forgotten or Granny's body tied to the roof then dumped off at a relative's house after her untimely demise).
Mitt Romney is a real-life Clark W. Griswold, a sociopath with a ferocious, maniacal idea of what a family vacation should be about and to hell with the feelings and thoughts of others, grown men's careers or anything else. Like Griswold, Romney insists on surrounding himself with other Romneys in some disturbing, funhouse mirror revisiting of the 50's. Family unity actually has to be enforced by edict.
Even as the close-knit clan embraces the childhood pastimes of a bygone era, summers here serve to enforce the bond of the primacy of this family. Trips to Wolfeboro are controlled and mandatory. There is no opting out.
One summer when Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, now 42, was working for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he told his father he wouldn’t make it to Wolfeboro. Baseball, after all, is a summer sport, and he didn’t think he could take a week off in the middle of the season.
“My dad said, ‘No, you will make it,’ ” Tagg recalled in an interview. So he showed up, noting, “I had to beg forgiveness from my bosses at the Dodgers.”
But such dictatorial rigidity is, instead, "enforc(ing) the bond of the primacy of this family," sort of like inbred hillbillies or the smart set that forbids their kids from playing with others whose parents may not be rich enough to be members of their country club or, even worse, may actually work there.
The famously unathletic Romney, a man who seems articulated with as much suppleness as a Ken doll, incapable of doing anything more physical than sitting, standing or shaking hands, is the worst of both worlds: Ferociously competitive without an ounce of native talent or ability to justify that competitiveness.
Most normal people would eschew that competitive edge for the sake of the family during what is supposed to be a relaxing, fun-filled vacation. But Romney, a coldblooded psychopath who gave free tickets to several well-connected Republican politicians to his Salt Lake City Olympics and none whatsoever to dead 9/11 firefighters' families, decided when his polymer-based articulated joints couldn't move as easily as in years past, had decided that satisfying his ego or at least preventing it from being humiliated was the most important thing. To fast forward to the end of the article,
Last winter in Iowa, Romney campaigned at a diner with his youngest son, Craig, who shared an anecdote from the Romney Olympics as an example of his father’s competitiveness.
Although Craig’s wife, Mary, had just given birth, she competed anyway in the triathlon.
“All the boys had finished at that point, and it was down to my wife and my dad,” Craig said.
“I tripped her!” Mitt quipped, joking.
“In the home stretch,” Craig recalled, “she had a slight lead on him and . . . he was going to win that race or he was going to die trying. And you see this fight to the finish. He went for this, he gave it everything he had, he gave it a good kick and he beat her in the end.”
Craig said his dad was so fatigued that “he passed out in the lawn chair, and we didn’t see him the rest of the day.”
“You know,” Mitt added, “there’s more to that. I changed the nature of the triathlon after that. I didn’t like this idea that these were only swimming, biking and running.”
There's something very Festivus-like about this mindset that, when faced with personal disgrace, has to micromanage the family "Olympics" to the point of adding only events that have nothing to do with athleticism and more to do with carpentry or perhaps something you'd see in a lumberjack contest. These bizarre events such as hanging off a pole and pounding nails in a board, are eerily what George Costanza's father would've invented during his family vacations.
One can all too easily imagine, unless their imagination has been palsied with partisan hackery, of Romney arising from his lawn chair, his bare back making a "Shraaaack" sound as it's separated from the fine leather and saying to his family, "It is now time for the airing of grievances. You, bitch, made me look very bad today...!" One gets arctic shivers imagining what the Feats of Strength would be like between Willard and his five military-averse sons.
In a way, Romney would also remind movie fans of Richard Dreyfus's character in What About Bob?, a comedy that took place at a lake house in Lake Winnipesaukee. In it, Dryefus's character, Dr. Leo Marvin, is a psychologist who supposedly goes on vacation but really retreats from his private practice to hawk his new book, "Baby Steps". The idea all along was to cynically use his family as props during a long ago-planned Good Morning, America appearance.
Then Bob, a man with many serious and real problems, shows up. When Marvin's vacation is derailed by the universally loved Bob Wylie, he starts to unravel, finally attempting to murder his own patient. because family primacy and personal success meant more to him than anything else including the happiness and well-being of his own family.
Mitt Romney recalls the worst father figures in Hollywood history but here we should draw an important lesson in distinguishing the difference between fantasy and reality: Clark W. Griswold and Dr. Leo Marvin do not exist. Mitt Romney, unfortunately, does. If he were to encounter a real-life Bob Wylie, no matter how ingenuous and adoring he is, Romney would have him shot on sight.
Clark W. Griswold was stopped and scolded by a dog-loving police officer and barely escaped with his skin intact. No such cop across several states and in two countries called Romney on what must've been a bizarre sight: A dog crate on top of a car with a live, terrified dog inside.
After the inevitable psychotic episode in which he asserts his will through fear, Clark also just as inevitably comes to his senses at the end of the movie and realizes that family, after all, is the greatest blessing and that it really isn't about asserting his will, having his way and winning at everything.
Mitt Romney never came to his senses after his hair-cutting episode that traumatized a gay student and haunted for decades his fellow bullies who also came to their senses. But to Mr. Rucker, who seems to be vying for David Brooks' smoking jacket and snuffling bragging rights before the fireplace, says, "The candidate who so often seems uptight appears to let loose here."
Letting loose, as long as he gets to make the rules, make and enforce the guest list and rig the games.
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