Back in the late eighties, those of us who had loved the surrealistic British series The Prisoner -- about a man who was trapped in a world he could make no sense of--turned our attention to another television anti-hero, a bumptious guy named Max Headroom.
Max was the after-death incarnation of Edison Carter, an investigative reporter in a dystopian U.S. ruled by the television networks. When Carter dies in a motorcycle accident while attempting to flee network heavies, a colleague uploads his brain into a computerized avatar that he then christens Max Headroom, "Max Headroom" being the last thing Carter sees on a low-hanging garage sign before crashing his bike. The avatar Max was flamboyantly robotic. Plastic and platitudinous, he blustered his way through life.
The series lasted two seasons. But Max, it turns out, lives on. His 2012 alter ego? Mitt Romney. Could Mitt's embodiment of Max mean that he will default intellectually during the first presidential debate on October 3? Let's look at the evidence.
MAX AND MITT SHARE PRETERNATURALLY GOOD LOOKS: High forehead, maximum symmetry, strong chin. Max's handsome visage was sculpted with Bondo. Mitt's is the product of two units of heredity that scientists call the "I'm-Better-Looking-Than-Even-
MAX DOESN'T HAVE A REAL SELF. Nor does Mitt. How else to explain the fact that Mitt has changed his opinion on issues 11,984,763 times since he began running for president in the Iron Age?
MAX REGULARLY SHORT CIRCUITS, PART I. This is understandable in a guy with a hard-drive, but what's Mitt's excuse? Before he delivered his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, Mitt's handlers made the mistake of letting him mix it up with the delegates. As he walked the ubiquitous rope line, he looked and sounded like a phobic android as he shook hands ("My job is not to care about you," "My job is not to care about you," "My job is not to care about you"), punctuating that mantra with the panicky laugh of a private equity guy who forgot to put $10,000 in his pocket in case he needs to take a cab home.
MAX HAS TO WORK HARD TO LOOK HUMAN. Mitt, for his part, is the faint shadow of a natural retail politician who connects easily with his species. He's palpably uncomfortable with people who have not filed a Foreign Bank Account Report with the words "Cayman Islands" on it. ["10 Questions Romney Should Answer About His Taxes," thinkprogress.org]
MAX REGULARLY SHORT CIRCUITS, PART II. Max's talk is filled with senseless meanderings. Mitt, for his part, has a hard time getting out a compelling sentence without sounding like he's got ADHD and he's overmedicated. He's bad, bad, bad on his feet. After telling a remarkably unexceptional tale of his early life to the money people at his now infamous Boca Raton event, Mitt was tossed this trenchant observation by one of his supporters in the room: "If you vote to re-elect President Obama, you're voting to bankrupt the United States." (Somebody give this man a job in the Romney campaign!) Does Mitt put up his mitts to catch that softball? Nope. He responds, in part, "The Federal Reserve is -- is just taking it and saying, "Here, we're -- we're giving--" it's just made up money. And -- and this -- this does not augur well -- for -- for our economic future. No. I mean I -- you know, some of these things are -- are complex enough it's not easy for people to understand, but your -- your point of saying bankruptcy usually concentrates the money... Yeah, George?"
It's not easy being Mitt. The perception that he's a tightly focused, far-sighted, turbocharged CEO has long since given way to the perception that the guy is...well, pathetic. Poor Max/Mitt. So robotic. No wonder every headline writer in the continental U.S. has called for a Mitt reboot.
In a little over a week, Mitt will be going braino a braino with Barack, who is a cool dude to Mitt's hot mess, and who is possessed of honeyed tones that soothe the savage breast. Barack wasn't always a great debater. He stumbled his way through primary debate after primary debate during the 2008 presidential race. With practice, though, he got the hang of it, and won the White House in the bargain.
Mitt, however, has been a wooden, lackluster debater going back to 1994, when Senator Edward Kennedy famously (and presciently) observed, "My opponent is Multiple Choice" during a debate between the two. Can Mitt rise to the oratorical challenge in 2012? Or will he mentally hiccup his way through the night? Can he find that ineffable balance between incisiveness and mellifluousness? Or will he channel the gaffes of the last few weeks?
Tune in on October 3 to see whether Mitt shows up as Mitt, or as Max.