Everyone has noticed by now the non-laugh laugh of Mitt Romney, a kind of half-stifled barking. But what does it mean? It is blurted out as abruptly as it is broken off. Is it a kind of punctuation, part comma, part full stop, part interrogatory mark? What, if anything, is it trying to convey? Why does it seem more like coughing or burping than laughter?
Does it mean: “I know you are saying something critical about me, and I don’t know how to answer it, so I’ll just pretend that you did not mean it seriously”?
Or: “I want to show I am just a regular fellow, so I’ll try out my regular-fellow laugh”?
Or: “I hope you will take what I just said as something humorous, though I doubt it, but I’ll see if I can start a laughing chain reaction”?
Or: “I want to change the subject, but there is no natural way to do that, so I’ll just throw in this comic rictus as a non-sequitur”?
Or: “The Cheshire Cat could evanesce by leaving just a smile behind, so maybe I can avoid attention by disappearing away from my laugh”?
Of those options, I'll take A. Or something close to it. My sense is that he's very uncomfortable outside of his social circles, and kind of pissed off at having to do all this. In fairness, Obama isn't exactly Bill Clinton when it comes to glad-handing either, but at least Obama benefits from having a large smile that spreads across his face. Romney, it seems can never allow himself to be that loose.
Wills then invokes Kundera, who once wrote of seeing a man with a plastic smile that it made him feel that he "was seeing a person laugh who had no sense of the comical and was laughing only to keep from standing out from the crowd, like a spy who puts on the uniform of a foreign army to avoid recognition."
What does he find funny anyway? Romney purports to like 30 Rock, but I don't believe anything released by staffs in these let's-humanize-our-guy press releases. Although maybe, if he can fight his way through the fact that it's Alec Baldwin up there, he likes Donaghy, that proud and flag-waving 1 percenter, happy denizen of those famous "quiet rooms" Mitt loves.
Anyway, it's a fascinating question, or as fascinating as anything about Mitt Romney can be. He is one weird dude. I still think what will doom him in the end is that it seems almost impossible that 51 percent of Americans want to listen to that guy for four years.