Mitt’s Biography 2.0

Those of you who spotted Mitt Romney’s Wall Street Journal op-ed today, entitled “What I Learned At Bain Capital,” might have been surprised that the GOP nominee was Going There at this sensitive point in the general election campaign. Hadn’t his association with Bain become a handicap? Isn’t he still struggling with questions about his control of the company during a crucial juncture, and still fighting to hide exactly what he did with the vast sums he earned there and in his severance package? Yes and yes. But he doesn’t have much choice but to try to reboot his efforts to make his career an ever-upward spiral of virtue, hard work and success, all perfectly designed to prepare him to become America’s Turnaround Consultant.

So in the WSJ piece, you get a better presentation of the supposed connection between what he did at Bain and what he’d do in the Oval Office than he presented earlier on the campaign trail: he soft-pedals the job-creatin’ claims that got him into trouble earlier, and instead poses as someone who was forever presented with extremely difficult management challenges and again and again snatched victory from the jaws of corporate defeat by insisting on innovation, respecting human capital, and most of all: Making the Tough Decisions, the quality his campaign claims Barack Obama does not possess. If this self-presentation occasionally makes him come across as someone who takes inordinate pride in having risked a small fortune to make a very big one, that’s something that probably resonates with a lot of upper-middle-class voters who still dream of that McMansion or that fabulous vacation home, or maybe early retirement.

We’re going to see a lot of this Mitt Biography 2.0 next week, as the campaign tries to rebuild the candidate as someone who does not appear to have been born on another planet. We’ll get the full-on treatment about the Winter Olympics, now that he’s safely a few weeks past the fiasco in London. We’ll get a carefully bowdlerized account of his governorship of Massachusetts, with budget-balancing and tough-decision-making emphasized and everything else vaporized. We’ll supposedly get a glimpse of his religious life–presumably the parts of it that stay a million miles away from LDS theology or history. And we’ll get lots and lots of family, as evidenced by the very high-profile role his wife will play in Tampa.

This all makes sense; just because Romney’s biographically-based rationale for candidacy basically fell apart over the summer is no reason he shouldn’t use millions of dollars in earned media to build it back up again in an environment where no one is arguing with him.

What I’m unclear about is how much the convention will get into the vicious opponent-bashing that characterized much of his primary campaign and that has absolutely dominated his recent campaign ads and speeches. Will they nestle nasty, base-pleasing lines into otherwise sunny speeches all up and down the schedule? Or will someone-almost certainly Christy, perhaps Rubio, perhaps Ryan, perhaps Artur Davis playing Zell Miller–give the delegates the pure thrill of unleashed hatefulness, clearing the air for The Boss to offer an anguished nation its Turnaround from the dark days of this alien Other who combines the worst features of Harvard and The Street.

Frankly, about the only thing that will interest me about this convention is how its managers handle the complex task of deciding the right mix in blowing sunshine up our butts and injecting poison into our veins, and how they deploy all the various personalities and (via daily talking points) those potentially dangerous delegates in doing so. The whole show probably won’t change a lot of votes, but it will give a good glimpse of what this party thinks the rest of us want to hear–or at least those of us who aren’t already pretty much onto their act.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.