He's a chameleon, a guy who changes his colors with regularity to blend in with the backdrop. He's a master of flim-flam, a fellow who could sell someone oceanfront property in Arizona, and do so without a trace of remorse.
In fact, Mitt Romney at times seems close to closing that sale with the entire American electorate. In just a few more weeks, with a bit of luck and his bushel of billionaire bucks, he just might beat Barack Obama to become the 45th president of the United States.
The chameleon is not only the Mitt Romney who was for choice on abortion before he was against it, for gun control before he was against it, for something approaching universal health health care before he was against it. It's also the Mitt Romney who disdains hard-working Americans at big-donor private dinners and embraces them on the debate stage, who collected "binders full of women" as the self-portrayed sensitive, aisle-crossing, newly elected governor of Massachusetts, but had fewer women in his cabinet than his predecessor by the time he left office.
Tell Mitt Romney what you want him to be and, in public, he'll be happy to oblige.
But please. Don't be fooled.
As the New York Times noted in its editorial, "The Moderate Mitt Myth," last week,
From the beginning of his run for the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney has offered to transfigure himself into any shape desired by an audience in order to achieve power.
Nonetheless, the paper continued,
He hasn't abandoned or flip-flopped from the severe positions that won him the Republican nomination; they remain at the core of his campaign, on his Web site and in his position papers, and they occasionally slip out in unguarded moments. All he's doing is slapping whitewash on his platform. The immoderation of his policies, used to win favor with a hard-right party, cannot be disguised.
I hope the Times is right. Because Mitt Romney, flim-flam man, does a credible job of trying to do just that. He likes to sell a glittering future, promising Americans 12 million new jobs and a 20 percent tax cut beyond already historically low levels. No matter that he never says what hat he'll be pulling those jobs out of. Or that, despite Romney's pledge not to raise the deficit, the non-partisan Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation suggests he could make up no more than a fifth of the tax dollars lost through his cuts by "closing loopholes," as he promises.
Mitt Romney has his plan -- five points worth when I last checked -- even if it is pixie dust. And he's using it as a cudgel to attack the president for not offering his own, to charge that Barack Obama is offering four more years of mediocrity. This strategy - enlisting a fantasy to bludgeon the president for lack of vision -- at least to some degree seems to be working for the GOP. It's Romney's closing argument, and one, I believe, that Barack Obama never should have handed him.
But the president has steadfastly refused to float any new ideas for the next four years. He continues to run for re-election on competence: Got bin Laden, stopped the slide, saved the automobile industry, moved America toward universal health care, set up a consumer protection agency, gave young immigrants without papers a legal pathway to stay.
It's a pretty impressive list actually, particularly in the face of a hostile Republican Party that set no goal in the last four years more important than defeating Barack Obama.
Still, maddeningly tight polls suggest the American people have wanted Barack Obama to give them more than a resume. They've wanted reassurance. They've wanted some inkling of what more the president will do next -- that he'll fight for them, hold weekly town meetings, put every ounce of his being into making real progress on unemployment and jobs.
Obama's response has been sober and serious, but cautious. That his campaign has lacked an overarching vision has given the GOP an opening on which it has pounced. Yet the president continues to play small ball, to calculate his campaign around the math of the electoral college rather than the desires of the American public to hear that something better lies ahead. It's a decision I continue to fear is too narrowly drawn, too based on odds rather than the country's emotional needs.
By playing out the clock, Barack Obama may be keeping the game close enough for Mitt Romney to win with a mid-court, three-point, final-second heave. I shudder at the thought, but Americans could still grab that Big Lie instead of sticking with the Muted Truth.