Pharos-Tribune

February 2, 2014

CEPEDA: Something missing in 'Mitt'


Pharos-Tribune

---- — “Why would you want to watch a movie about Mitt Romney?” my son asked me as I queued up Netflix.

Because I wanted a better answer to the question I got most in the run-up to Election Day 2012: “Why don’t you hate Mitt Romney?”

Well, gosh, I don’t hate anyone. But, maybe the fact that I actually use words like “gosh” (and “smitten,” “darn” and “heck”) puts me into a special class of people (perhaps we’re “1 percenters” of a sort) who talk “old-timey,” as Romney’s diction has been described.

Linguistic parallels aside, unlike most females, racial minorities and non-millionaires, I didn’t despise the Republican standard-bearer — even after his seeming put-down of 47 percent of Americans — though I also didn’t adore him. I figured the movie would give me the opportunity to get beyond Romney’s wooden public persona and get to know the man who could have been president.

I was disappointed.

This is not a Republican video version of the soap opera-ish book “Double Down: Game Change 2012” by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Filmmaker Greg Whiteley opens “Mitt” on election night 2012. A stricken circle of Romney family members and confidants begins to realize he has lost the race. Romney, ever levelheaded and considerate of propriety, asks who has the president’s phone number so he can call to concede.

As we get to know the “real” Mitt (he wears gloves patched with duct tape), we learn from his family what a colossal drag it is that Dad is running for president.

It is, by turns, awful, frustrating, sorrowful and grueling. There are endless car rides, identically bland hotel rooms, and annoying challenges. But so much love.

Really — So. Very. Much. Love.

His children and spouse are so doting, adoring and plainly awestruck by him, it becomes cringe-inducing. Lovely at first, but then perplexing. Surely at some point during the Romney family’s quixotic journey someone got crabby or angry or even a tiny bit disheveled. But we never see anything even hinting at the sort of natural tensions that come with the high-wire act of a presidential campaign.

We hear again and again how ambivalent the family is about what will happen to their tight-knit clan if Dad were to win —that he’d be a laughingstock for losing was their foregone conclusion.

And we never really learn how the family got from their “never again” moments after Romney lost the 2008 Republican presidential nomination to stumping again for 2012.

My stock answer to the alarmingly frequent question of why I didn’t hate Romney — or at least dislike him strongly for being “just another rich white guy,” as so many described him — used to be that I don’t discriminate against people based on their gender, race, religion or income level.

Now I can say that he seems likable and certainly very smart. I especially appreciated that he likes listening to David Sedaris and that “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is one of his favorite movies. He eats at Arby’s, prays, makes jokes and laughs at himself, just like anyone else. And he’s very tidy — we see him conscientiously pick up garbage and stray pieces of paper off the floor multiple times. Nothing about him screamed “entitled rich snob.”

But, so what?

The film hinted at his policy ideas and political convictions, but mostly, as many other political junkies who have seen the film have noted, the only thing you really learn from “Mitt” is that his family adores him and he adores them back.

That’s very sweet, but far from a strong qualification for running the country. And nothing else in this film inspires a feeling of “Oh, if only Mitt had won ...”

Whiteley included footage of crowds of enthusiastic supporters, but the viewer never gets a feel for what, exactly, excited them so much.

Romney’s sons said repeatedly that if people just knew the “real” Romney, could “see my dad the way we see him,” he’d be a winning candidate.

This is hard to imagine. If Romney, his campaign staff, his worshipful family and admiring videographer couldn’t collectively pull off the feat of convincing an audience that Mitt should have won, we’ve probably seen enough.

Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. She can be reached at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.