THE BLOG
10/23/2012 04:46 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Governor Romney Channels Prof. Harold Hill

Okay, so here's a really painless way to understand what Governor Romney is up to. Just get your hands on a DVD of The Music Man and settle back for an entertaining lesson in flimflamming the rubes.

Right at the outset of the film, as not-really-"Professor" Harold Hill -- huckster extraordinaire -- is traveling to River City, Iowa, in search of new pigeons to fleece, the authentic salesmen aboard his train size him up quick and declare, "But he doesn't know the territory." Indeed he doesn't, but he's not about to let a little thing like that faze him. He knows that when he gets wherever he's going, his confidence and charms will carry the day, irrespective of his ignorance of whatever he'll purport to offer.

Governor Romney doesn't know the territory either, despite his protestations that he'll magically create 12,000,000 jobs and eliminate our debt and deficit because "I know how to do this." Seems that he made a fortune buying and selling companies, and that supposedly prepares him to manage the largest economy in the world amidst a global financial crisis.

But Prof. Harold Hill knows how to make the sale: scare the townspeople. "You've got trouble, right here in River City!" With a litany of awfulness calculated to send the folks into a frenzied search for a savior, he manages to install himself as the leader of a newly formed young people's marching band which, he has convinced all, will save River City's youth -- and the town itself -- from a fearsome degradation and depravity.

Governor Romney has played this tune himself, of course. Unable to deny the positive but glacially slow recovery from a nearly fatal Deep Recession, he has painted a vivid portrait of the calamity that awaits us if we fail to adopt his magical formula of transferring more wealth to the richest among us in hopes they will faithfully let it trickle down to the serfs in the form of jobs. That, rather than fatten their own portfolios.

Well, Prof. Harold Hill knows that the key to success is to "fake it 'til you make it." Since he hasn't a clue about music or how to teach any kid how to play any instrument, he gins up his patented "Think System" process: "Just think the music, and then do something to your instrument. It'll all come out just fine." He windmills his arms, and noise ensues. The kids don't know the difference between the noise and real music, and the grownups aren't paying any attention yet. So far, so good.

Amazingly, Prof. Harold Hill is able to stifle any criticism from the one person in town who really does know how to teach music -- Marian, the librarian. How? He seduces her. Knowing he is a total charlatan, she nevertheless succumbs when she sees the transformation in her unhappy younger brother who becomes enchanted by his new band uniform and coronet.

Week in and week out, Prof. Hill scurries around faking it, making up fanciful stories about how his "Think System" really will produce jobs -- er, I mean music. He narrowly averts being unmasked just enough times to give the movie a hint of drama. The mayor and the school board repeatedly try to check Prof. Hill's credentials, but he is wonderfully adept at evading any debunking of his vacuous claims.

(Funny how little we've heard in this campaign about Governor Romney's record as a failed governor of Massachusetts where he left office with a 34 percent approval rating. Reminds me of Reagan's first campaign loudly touting his hatred for big government, despite the overlooked fact that while governor of California he more than doubled it -- a harbinger of the 69 percent increase in federal spending on his watch.)

Eventually, Prof. Hill's deception becomes public, and the townspeople are ready to tar and feather him and run him out of town. But Marian and others plead his case, saying that, well, sure, the kids can't play music for beans but they sure feel a lot better about themselves and the town. When the mayor reminds the citizens how much money Prof. Hill has bilked them out of, with nothing real to show for it but some togetherness, they join in his cry, "Where's the band?"

And so the big finale comes. Prof. Harold Hill is finally forced to trot out his band to perform for the townspeople -- the kids' parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents. We breathlessly await the fully deserved disaster: a cacophony of instruments screeching and honking and bleating and thumping out inchoate noise.

Which is exactly what they produce.

But, mirabile dictu, the townspeople's desire to believe that their trouble in River City has been quelled hear nothing but triumphant harmony. Our children have been saved! We have been saved! Our town has been saved! Oh, thank you Professor Hill! We could never have done it without you!"

As usual, the movie doesn't end the way real life does. Unlike Governor Romney who left a lot of people regretting that they had ever elected him, Prof. Harold Hill stays on to live a redeemed life as the town's eventually beloved band director and the love of Marian's life.

I'm not quite certain that it'll work out just that well if we elect Governor Romney as our president.