This is what winning looks like. Or, more precisely, people actually interested in winning should see this as a victory. Mitt Romney looks like he’s running for President again, but this time Mitt 3.0 says that eradicating poverty is among the central planks of his platform. This is good, and I am happy about this. Generally speaking, though, most people who occupy the same space as me on the political spectrum are either dismissing this out of hand or delighting in making fun of Mitt’s latest transformation.
Clearly, Mitt is no paragon of constancy, but part of the work of advocacy is getting people to change their minds about things and see things from your point of view. Or, in a more limited sense, to get them to at least acknowledge that your cause is an important one. For anyone- especially Forty-Seven Percent Romney – from the GOP to admit that poverty is a problem that extends beyond the moral backwardness of the poor is a victory. His solutions to poverty may not be to our liking, but it’s a moment that his counterparts on the left should seize upon in order to create a genuine dialogue about how best to address this problem.
That’s not what’s going to happen, though. What you’ll see are people on the left making fun of Mitt, dismissing the seriousness of his intentions, and generally gloating in the purity of their own bona fides on this issue. My feelings on this subject are about what they were when Rand Paul spoke –somewhat clumsily- to the NAACP. Sure, he didn’t use the right words, and he was certainly uncomfortable, but people whose real cause was the improvement of the black situation (and not protecting their own useless perch of ideological purity) should have welcomed his presence, encouraged more Republicans to do the same, and engaged in respectful, amiable and frank discussions about our differences, shared interests, and visions of the past and future.
Of late, I find myself becoming less interested in the failings of the right- not because those failings aren’t profound or because I’m growing in sympathy to the right’s perspective. Instead, I see every day how folks on the left allow snark, bullshit purity tests and condescending pedantry to prevent us from making actual improvements to the lives of people who need it most. More and more, I’m convinced that the left –and particular large sections of the popular intellectual left- are much more interested in the perpetuation of publication fodder and essay inventory than they are with real progress. They ain’t about shit but their own bullshit.
Is Mitt going to be a sincere warrior for the poor? Probably not. But, when you’re in the business of changing society, you have to accept the idea that many people will claim to have changed because the very social changes you’ve pushed for have made them do so. At times, the constant harping on poverty and income inequality from the out-of-the-mainstream left has felt like a wasted enterprise, but now it’s starting to enter the mainstream, and it’s entirely likely that Mitt Motherfucking Romney may actually be willing to engage on the question of poverty in a more substantive way that St. Obama of Wall Street ever has. To me, that’s fantastic. Whether he is being honest about his personal stance / transformation on this subject is between him, his conscience, and his Mormon God. What’s relevant is that he’s willing to talk about it and may even be willing to do something about it. At the very worst, he injects the topic into our national conversation and improves the chances that we begin to do something about it.
Yes, activist left, you’ve been on this kick for a while. And yes, there is a chance that this topic gets coopted, diluted and twisted. But, 1) that’s what happens when you win and fringe ideas go mainstream, and 2) that’s why you’ve got to stop being such snarky condescending turds and take Romney at his word and dialogue substantively on the issue.
My bet, though, is that this won’t happen. It’s far easier to snipe at Romney (he is a risible figure, no doubt) than it is to converse with him. And, within the echo chambers of leftish politics, smuggery is always easier than actually trying to do something.