Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When boring is good


By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON—With Mitt Romney's announcement that Paul Ryan will be his running mate, we finally can extricate ourselves from one of the sillier debates and put to rest the narrative of the benighted "boring white guy (BWG)."

BWG, which prompts about 17 million Google links, is the thing that Romney had to 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 was implanted: "A boring white guy will doom Romney."

They scrambled to their keyboards: Romney already has the BWG vote wrapped up, they intoned. He needed 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 someone who 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. Meanwhile, what exactly is a BWG, and why would he be bad for Romney and presumably the country? Did we really need a cool, with-it, popularity contest winner who's all about the buzz? No inference intended.

This conversation stemmed from the assumption that a vice presidential pick must be, if not helpful in ensuring votes from his/her home state, at least a symbolic statement about the person running for president. In fact, we know the VP choice doesn't really matter much. Historically, vice presidential picks are worth a net of about 2 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 had been insisting 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. Even considering his appeal and political talents, his selection would have been viewed as 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 have been a woman, though Condi Rice—the GOP's straight flush—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 left Romney with allegedly sensible and safe choices that are deficient in exciting pigmentation and/or demographic sex appeal. Is 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 American.

Romney-Ryan is a ticket that says the GOP is all about the economy. This is where Romney has wanted to keep the conversation—away from divisive social issues and on jobs. Whether Democrats allow him to stay on that message is doubtful given that social issues are the best ammunition the Obama campaign has to pull independents away from Romney.

This tactic won't be for naught. 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 Ryan if the Republican leadership in the next few weeks can 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.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com




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