WASHINGTON -- One is hard-pressed to top silliness this political season but a strong contender would be recent speculation about Mitt Romney’s likely running mate and the benighted “boring white guy (BWG).”
BWG, which prompts about 17 million Google links, is the thing that Romney must avoid at all costs, according to The Consensus, which consists of 20 or 30 pundits, all of whom seem to hook themselves up to the same dream in which the thought is implanted: “A boring white guy will doom Romney.”
They scramble to their keyboards: Romney has the BWG vote wrapped up, so why encumber himself with yet another BWG? He needs to show the electorate that he’s willing to be “bold,” that he has “vision,” that he’s “likable” and, pause for meaningful throat-clearing, that he “gets it.”
Gets what? That the American electorate is so daft that anyone with a certain skin tone or ethnic background or who isn’t boring is a better candidate than one who is: male, Caucasian and doesn’t have a clue who the father of Snooki’s baby is, or for that matter, who Snooki is?
It’s difficult to glean who exactly birthed the anti-BWG trope, but my guess would be a self-loathing BWG. (We’ll get to Bill Kristol another time.) Meanwhile, what exactly is a BWG, and why would he be bad for Romney and presumably the country? Do we really need a cool, with-it, popularity contest winner who’s all about the buzz? No inference intended.
This conversation stems from the assumption that a vice presidential pick must be, if not helpful in assuring votes from his/her home state, at least a symbolic statement about the person running for president. In fact, we know that the VP choice doesn’t really matter much. Historically vice presidential picks are worth a net of about two percentage points in their home states, according to Nate Silver, who interprets American life statistically on The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog.
Nevertheless, some political analysts insist that Romney should go with someone like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to secure the Sunshine State’s Latino vote. Rubio, of course, is of Cuban descent, and is therefore Not White. But he is boring by the media’s definition -- a pro-life, red meat-eating, tea party conservative, who makes Romney look like, well, OK, The Fonz.
In other words, Rubio, for all his presumed Latino pizazz, is in reality a boring white-ish guy who speaks excellent Spanish. Selecting Rubio might be wise for reasons having to do with personal qualities, but otherwise would be transparent pandering to a demographic whose members for some reason are believed to care only about the status of “undocumented workers” of similar heritage.
The other relatively bold, anti-BWG pick would be a woman, though Condi Rice -- the GOP’s straight flush -- has declined all overtures. Other Republican women either aren’t (yet) quite right or are paying for the sins of John McCain. So Palin-averse are Republicans these days (how’s that winky-blinky thingy workin’ for ya?) that they’d sooner skip over Margaret Thatcher than risk the wrong woman.
This leaves us with allegedly sensible and safe choices that are deficient in exciting pigmentation and/or demographic sex appeal -- Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty and Paul Ryan.
Too boring and too white? Only if you’re a superficial moron, which apparently is how many political strategists and commentators view most Americans. Check-boxing our way to idiocracy is a sad exit for a country where statesmen once roamed and the nation’s identity was simply and unhyphenatedly American. (But, since we’re visiting the superficial, Romney-Pawlenty is risky. Comedy Central will turn that into Hominy ‘n’ Polenta before you can say gruel.)
The problem with today’s GOP isn’t that it is the party of boring white guys. The problem is that the party has allowed itself to be defined by a certain faction that insists on purity pledges that preclude the kind of flexibility that shifting circumstances sometimes warrant. Change isn’t always good, clearly, but rigidity can be equally damaging and alienating.
There are doubtless plenty of “boring” African-Americans, Latinos and even young voters who would vote for Romney and a fellow BWG if the Republican leadership were able to present a cogent, comprehensible plan to improve the lives of broad swaths of Americans who have little faith in the future. A nation jumpy with anxiety could stand a little boring for a change -- and maybe even a little hope.