Is this the best Romney has to offer?
BY NEIL STEINBERG firstname.lastname@example.org September 2, 2012 10:36PM
Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan, left and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to delegates after his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Updated: October 4, 2012 6:08AM
That was it? The big high-water mark of Mitt Romney’s campaign, the emotional convention push that is going to propel him straight into the White House?
Big sigh and smile. Let me state it again: Barack Obama, luckiest man in the world. If Romney’s limp, lifeless candidacy — even on its best day — isn’t quite up there with Alan Keyes on the scale of lead-pipe cinch, shooting-a-duck-in-a-bucket, thank-you-Lord opponents, if his pairing with Tailgunner Paul Ryan falls a tad short of the unique blend of declining senescence and youthful idiocy that was the McCain/Palin ticket, the fact remains that if Obama loses to these two guys, well, he deserves to lose. Whether that also means America deserves Romney is another matter, but I’m not one to panic. Having survived Nixon, Reagan and two Bushes, we’d cruise through a Romney era — it isn’t as if he believes in much of anything in particular, remember. Though, having watched the convention, I just don’t think we’ll have to find out. Romney obviously meant to combine the folksy charm of Reagan with the intellectual depth of Nixon, but ended up projecting the intellectual depth of Reagan and the folksy charm of Nixon.
Every Baby Is Allowed to Carry A Whip
Almost a dozen years ago, I had the good fortune to visit Lithuania. Valdas Adamkus, after living nearly 50 years in Chicago, had renounced his U.S. citizenship, returned to his homeland and had been elected president. That seemed a story.
Of course, you go all the way to Lithuania, it’s inefficient to return with just one article. So I also watched Chicago doctors do orthopedic surgery in a Soviet-era operating room whose glazed brick walls reminded me of an elementary school bathroom, visited a Lithuanian army base, and more; a week’s worth of stories, including a travel piece about what to do if you decide to vacation in Lithuania.
In my mind, the point of travel stories is to entertain readers who most likely will never visit wherever it is you are writing about. So I was a little taken aback when, months later, I heard from the head of a family, thanking me for the idea, telling about what a great vacation they all enjoyed in Lithuania.
“Taken aback” doesn’t begin to describe it. I was shocked — it was all I could do not to blurt out: “You went!? You read my story and then took your whole family to Lithuania??”
That was scary. I’m glad that they had a good time, but what if something went wrong? What if little Timmy stepped in front of a streetcar? It would be All My Fault.
I’m not sure how other columnists do it — they seem to view themselves as vital, resonating oracles of truth whose golden words stun and mobilize a grateful nation. I’m not like that — I can’t even adjust myself to the idea that some people read the column and remember it. I can’t tell you how many times someone I’m talking with will describe a situation I wrote about, and I’m puzzling, “Hmm, how did you know about that?” until eventually it dawns on me: They read it here.
In July, I ran a column on how the harshness we think of as a symptom of our electronic age is in fact very old, citing Hester Lynch Piozzi’s book, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, in which she catalogues the “slight insults from newspaper abuse.”
“All in turn feel the lash of censure,” she writes, “in a country where, as every baby is allowed to carry a whip, no person can escape.” I admired the freshness of that, adding, “I’d like a T-shirt with that line on it.”
Shortly after, a T-shirt arrived with “Every baby is allowed to carry a whip” and the image of a whip emblazoned on it, courtesy of Larry Dabek, owner of Twisted Tease in Palatine. “It was such a cryptic concept, I thought, this would look good on a T-shirt,” said Dabek. You can find it on their website — www.twistedtease.com. Not cheap — $25 plus shipping — but I bought one as a gift.
That’s why it’s probably not smart to try to judge one’s impact — words take such circuitous routes, they slumber hidden, then burst into view again. A line that a brewer’s widow penned with a goose quill in the late 18th century, a thought then published as a book in 1786, reprinted over the centuries, popped up in a newspaper column in the summer of 2012, is now a T-shirt worn by — who knows — proud masochists, newspaper columnists, teens trying to be edgy, all sorts of people who have no idea of its origins. I like that.