I have a wealth of Mitt Romney poetry that I fear isn’t aging well. Romney was my muse for much of 2011 and 2012; I wrote about forty squibs in which he’s featured. Sometimes the challenge was simply to find a new rhyme. (“Mitt” was easy enough; “Romney” was tougher: “If I ever say, even in my sleep, / Mitt Romney / he da bomb, knee / me in the nuts.”) But mostly what drew me to Romney was his sublimely weird (and painfully funny) public presentation: that 50/50 split of ambition and awkwardness. The half-laugh, the nervous smile: has any so-called “presidential-looking” candidate ever appeared less at ease in front of a camera? Still, he tried and tried, adopting nearly any position he thought might land him the job. “I’m not a severely conservative Republican,” he could have said in an ad, “but I play one on TV.”
Which is all to say that the release of “Mitt,” a new Netflix documentary by Greg Whiteley, fills me with a kind of creative dread. I can’t imagine writing any more poems about Citizen Romney; that uber-expensive yacht has sailed. And now I feel bad about the poems I’ve already written! (“The gun murderers, just to be safe, also bring axes, / and Mitt Romney, our resident / dunce, / wants / to be president.”) Because the film presents Romney not as a cartoonish plutocrat with “what goes where” issues (cars in elevators, dogs atop station wagons), but rather as a nice-enough fellow with a few quirks and a sweet way of looking at his wife. So how do we square the 47%-bashing Romney (“In a rich guy’s McMansion in Boca, / The warrior Romney-o spoke-a . . .”) and the provider-of-found-poetry Romney (“‘I’m not / familiar precisely / with exactly / what I said, / but I stand by what / I said, / what- / ever it was’”) with the Mitt who (winningly, it must be said) irons his shirt cuffs while wearing them? Or who laughs (really laughs—not fake heh-heh-heh laughs) at a David Sedaris piece on “This American Life”? Or who ruefully acknowledges the failure of his campaign? (“When this is over I will have built a brand name. People will know me, they’ll know what I stand for. The flipping Mormon,” he says, before getting on his knees to pray.)
People! They’re like corporations. They contain multitudes.