Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced a major character test on Monday—and he failed about as miserably as the wannabe leader of the free world could possibly fail. A Romney supporter stood up at a town hall event and suggested that President Obama should be “tried for treason.” Romney stood mutely and let the craziness proceed without even a token gesture at stopping it.
Many observers are calling it a test of leadership, but it was really much bigger, much deeper than that. This was a moment when we got a narrow window into the kind of man Romney is, a little peek at the essence of his personhood. What we discovered is that Romney is a small, weak, desperate man. On Monday, at that town hall meeting in Cleveland, the Republican who would be president acted like a coward.
As far as tests go, this wasn’t even a difficult one—it was like simple math compared to the Calculus and Differential Equations he would encounter in the White House. His president was being called a traitor to the nation. Any true American, any patriot, would rise up and defend his president in the face of such ridiculous attack, even if you don’t agree with the president’s policies. It is the right thing to do. Especially for someone who is himself auditioning for the same job. Not only is it right, it’s common sense. After all, is it so hard for Romney to do the slight bit of mental gymnastics required to see himself in the same position in a few years—he has miraculously won the presidency and someone on the left is accusing him of treason? Can he not see the benefit to the nation, to all politicians everywhere, to the future presidents of these United States, if he steps forward and establishes that accusing the president of treason is going too far, even for the rabid right-wingers he covets?
But no, what we saw was a candidate so desperate for the job, so single-mindedly focused on sitting in the Oval Office, that any threads of humanity have long ago slipped from his grasp, leaving a craven shell of a man who would do or say anything for the prize. Romney’s lack of response suggests that he has spent so much time embedded in the echo chamber of rabid right-wing nuttiness that he can no longer even identify crazy when it is all up in his face.
When our children are young, parents spend an inordinate amount of time working on their character, making sure that we are raising the kind of child who will speak out in the face of injustice. When his homies are bullying a defenseless kid, or leveling baseless, stupid attacks at a classmate, will he stand idly by and let the bullying continue, or will he bravely stand up to his peers—even if it might mean banishment or ridicule? These are the kinds of questions that keep parents up at night, wondering if we have done enough talking, teaching, coaching, so that our child might emerge on the other end as a person of strong character, one who will defend and support those who need it.
In other words, what we fear is that our children will grow up and be the kind of man that Mitt Romney apparently has become. Weak, small and desperate.