Western Civilisation

The Tragedy of Mitt

Written by
6 May 2014

This article from the May 2014 edition of the IPA Review is by Researcher with the IPA, James Bolt.

One scene in Mitt sees the titular figure turn to an aide and declare that the United States “is following the same path as every other great nation, which is we’re following greater government, taxing rich people, promise more stuff to everybody, borrow until you go over a cliff, and I think we’re a big risk of approaching a tipping point over the next five years.”

A cursory glance at the economic situation of the United States holds Romney’s words to be true. A frank conversation about the ideological path of the United States should be the centrepiece of every coming election. However, this powerful stand against big government and Keynesian economics only comes as Romney is drafting his concession speech in the 2012 election race.

True, this documentary does not dwell on the closed-door political meetings and the plotting out of election strategies. Paul Ryan appears for thirty seconds, and even then it is at the film’s climax. Greg Whiteley, the director, executive producer and lead cameraman of Mitt, instead uses the documentary to show the audience the Mitt Romney he got to know through the campaign trails.

Mitt follows Romney through his two campaigns to become President of the United States. Whiteley has complete access to both Mitt and the Romney family during this time, and documents their time on the campaign trail. The interviews are held on whims in hotel rooms, campaign cars and lobbies, showing how open the family are to Whiteley. These interviews are personal and candid, a seeming release for the family to express their own views without needing to be on message.

One memorable interview sees Josh Romney, Mitt’s son, answer whether he wants his father to run for President. Josh cannot articulate his own opinion on this, having instead to give his pre-rehearsed media-friendly opinion, before providing his own translation as to what his thoughts actually are.  “What better guy is there than my dad? … This is the guy for the moment,” he says.

But is he correct? Was Mitt Romney the best man to run for President? This documentary shows you every side of Romney’s character. We see him at his highest highs and lowest lows, at his most hopeful and at his most humble.

A lasting impression the documentary leaves is the stark divide between Romney’s public persona and his private self. Romney was often criticised in his presidential run for being wooden and pre-rehearsed when in public. In contrast, the private Mitt was candid, warm and very charming. That Mitt spends every waking moment with his adoring family, discusses ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’ with his stylists and listens to stand-up comedy on ‘This American Life’ podcasts before debating Barack Obama.

The public Mitt is (or the other way around…) strong-willed, self-assured and determined, whereas the private Mitt is (…here) very critical of himself, and at times defeatist. This is the side of Mitt that has created the most headlines since this documentary’s release, and it is very jarring. An early debate in the race for the 2008 Republican nomination goes strongly in Mitt’s favour, yet Mitt thought he “was dying” on stage and is visibly stunned that he won over the crowd of undecided voters. After his first debate against Obama, where Romney humiliated the President, Romney quickly reminds everyone Obama would be better next time.

If Romney is (was?) not confident in his own abilities, why should the American people be (have been?)?

The issue that he speaks of most through the documentary is the rise of big government in the United States and the pressure it is putting on the business world. He sees that the Obama administration doesn’t “know how hard it is for business to succeed”, and adds regulations under the assumption that business will carry on. “Never having been there, they don’t understand.”

As Romney explains to Whiteley in the campaign bus, he wants to get in front of people and say “Washington is broken” and that “I can turn it around”, but his advisers talk him out of it and instead persuade him to keep using “change” in speeches, which he does.

The one time he does indulge in his private grievances to the voters became the infamous “47%” scandal. Whether his remarks were correct or not, the incident generated a lot of negative press for Romney, and the documentary shows how much the negative publicity shook him personally.

A practice debate afterwards sees Romney rehearsing an explanation for the remark, before stopping himself, believing a tough discussion about America’s future won’t help him.

Romney was gagged from truly engaging with his voters about the bleak future of the United States, because his advisors did not think it was grounds on which a President could win.

But it surely is. Washington is broken, and the American people are wise to it. Only one nation in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis saw people take to the streets and demand the government have less power over the economy rather than more.

One day a Republican will win a Presidential election on the values Mitt Romney has about economics. Unfortunately for him, that person is not Mitt Romney.

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James Bolt

James Bolt is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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