The Wimp Factor

Answering Tomasky

On the cover of Newsweek, my colleague Michael Tomasky calls Mitt Romney a wimp.

Just by definition, you'd think, any American who plunges into what Teddy Roosevelt called "the arena," is no wimp. Campaigning is grinding work, performed to unceasing criticism, always overhung by the risk of assassination.

It takes guts to run for any office, town council on up—and I think it ought to be possible to recognize that truth even across a partisan divide.

Michael thinks that Romney is insecure on the inside. Who knows? It's possible. It's also possible that Barack Obama is motivated by anti-colonial rage, or by a secret commitment to socialist ideas. It's possible that George W. Bush was driven by daddy issues, and that Bill Clinton triangulated—not as a political strategy—but because (some) children of alcoholics become compulsive pleasers.

These beguiling theories can energize or console political partisans. They don't answer the question for which we turn to political journalism: what will the politician do in office? Politicians are masters of appearing to be many different things to many different people. For this reason, the quest for the "real" Romney or the "real" Obama or the "real" anybody else is bound to lead nowhere unless it is bottomed on the hard ground of their record-to-date. Anything else evanesces into gas.