Four years ago, then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both revealed that Robert Jordan, Hemingway's protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls, was one of their favorite characters from literature. That is a very safe choice for a politician, choosing a character who is heroic, selfless, willing to sacrifice himself for a greater cause, and of course cool under fire.
Which got me thinking about who Mitt Romney would resemble in the Western canon.
Were this a discussion about Shakespeare, there is no question that Romney, like so many politicians, including President Obama, would call to mind Prince Hal and not simply because he has a daddy complex, as many politicians do. No, Romney, the opportunistic hack and inveterate flip-flopper on nearly every consequential issue, resembles Hal in that he has no loyalty to anyone but his own agenda (I have discussed Hal's betrayal of Falstaff, his mentor, in a previous post).
Perhaps, most intriguingly, Romney, like Hal, has never convinced us of his tough-guy bona-fides (as I pointed out in a previous post, I have never believed that Hal has the character, courage or integrity to defeat Hotspur in battle).
No doubt Romney would like to compare himself to Robert Jordan, but Romney is no war hero. He avoided serving in Vietnam, instead using that time to sojourn as a Mormon missionary in France and to study at Harvard.
Of course, many people of that era ducked service in that war, including Bill Clinton. For that matter, Obama did not serve in the U.S. military. But Clinton and Obama have more character than Romney, the evenly featured, sanitized pretty boy, who does not seem to stand for anything other than what the latest number-crunching pollster tells him.
While it is true that Obama is also a bit of a pretty boy, who, like a lot of pretty boys, has gotten by at least partly on his looks for years, it is also true that Obama has a steely resolve to him. It is not that he is Teddy Roosevelt, John McCain's hero, who felt he had to prove his masculinity every day by inviting Army officers to the White House to engage in boxing matches.
No, Obama does not feel he has that much to prove. Instead, he plays basketball games with his buddies to keep his competitive drive going.
What about Romney? If he is not Michael Jordan or Robert Jordan, who is he? Why Jake Barnes, the impotent or disempowered avatar of the Lost Generation in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises!
Like Barnes, Romney appears almost devoid of masculinity even if he may have a degree of grace. Romney's body posture is meek in its extreme passivity. His smile is equally meek. And in wearing starched, white shirts and religious undergarments, Romney does not suggest a confident commander-in-chief. It is not simply that he has no swagger; there is no there there, as Hemingway friend and mentor Gertrude Stein once said.
Then there is the Jewish question. Just as Jake Barnes pals around with Robert Cohn, the Jewish boxer in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Romney has made a calculated decision to create a wedge between Obama and Jewish voters by cynically claiming that Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus."
While there may be validity to reports of personal friction between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli officials such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak have hailed the Obama administration for its cooperation with and assistance to Israel on military and intelligence matters, including the deployment of Iron Dome.
One can see further elements of Romney's fawning over Jewish voters when he recently bashed the Obama administration over a U.S. embassy official's critical comments about an anti-Islam video, "Innocence of Muslims," that was at first reported to be produced by a supposed Israeli Jew named Sam Bacile. As everyone by now knows, Sam Bacile is a pseudonym for a man who is allegedly an Egyptian Coptic Christian.
In criticizing the Obama administration's Israel policy, Romney has done Jews and all Americans no favors. What he has done is ratcheted up tensions between Israel and the Obama administration at a time of severe unrest in the Middle East.
Sometimes, it seems that Romney is obsessed with Jews. He has said that, were he elected president, his first visit abroad would be to Israel.
It may be that Romney and his Mormon religion, which he has served as a bishop, suffer from what Harold Bloom would call an Anxiety of Influence. Perhaps, that explains why the Mormon church has posthumously baptized dead Jews like Anne Frank and David Ben-Gurion. I have never believed for a moment that there is anything magnanimous about it. Rather, the seeming kinship between the Mormon church and Jews reminds me of that between Jake Barnes and Robert Cohn, a relationship that is characterized not by warmth or altruism but by insincerity and contempt.
Of course, Romney would tell you otherwise, that he, not Obama, is a true friend of Israel and the Jews. As Jake Barnes would say, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"