Curiouser & Curiouser: Mitt Romney as our Shanachie-in-Chief?

by Peter F. Stevens
Bear with me here, but I’m wondering if somewhere, somehow on the Romney family tree, an Irish branch stretches out. Why is that? Whether or not Mitt Romney wins the Oval Office this month, a question will remain. Who is Willard Mitt Romney? Boston Globe contributor Tom Keane chides the Obama camp for deriding Mitt as a fool. Keane is right – Mitt is no fool. Renee Loth, once the Globe’s editorial page editor, views Mitt as a coreless delegator who will allow running-mate Paul Ryan to shred the nation’s safety net.

For all that, there is one indisputable fact here: Mitt Romney has a curious relationship with facts and the truth. At first, he seems like some creation sprung from the pages of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a polished chap who tells distortions so earnestly and relentlessly that they somehow seem true. After all, he did save the auto industry, right?

All this has me thinking that we’re looking at Mitt the wrong way, trying to determine if he’s a man who actually believes his own contradictions or simply a cynic who will say anything to anyone at anytime to claim his rightful inheritance as president of the United States. Mitt has to have some Irish blood in him somewhere, for he may well be the greatest seanchaí, or shanachie, ever to run for the presidency. The shanachie, “a bearer of the old lore,” the Irish storyteller, preserved in his memory the unwritten history, laws, culture, and traditions of the land and reminded rapt listeners who they really were and are. If distortions and myths color the speaker’s words, so what?

Mitt’s quintessential turn as the potential Shanachie-in-Chief may well have come about in Boca Raton a few months ago. In a manse packed with right-wing donors, including a convicted income-tax cheat, Mitt spun his tale of the “47 percent.” He ridiculed the poor, the elderly, the sick, the young, the old, and veterans – you know, the losers who live “the good life” at the government trough, refuse to take “personal responsibility” for such trifles as illnesses that create bankruptcy and make life infinitely harder somehow for the richest among us. Ever the storyteller, though, Mitt entered the final stages of the campaign telling another tale, that of a man consumed with concern for the 100 percent. That shift is the trademark of a gifted shanachie. You have to understand that in Boca, Mitt was regaling the lofty; on the campaign trail, he’s courting the lowly. Few pundits on any network or in print have much of a problem with this; they coat candidates’ false claims as a euphemistic “pivot to the middle in the general election.”

Mitt’s skillful (or tortured) wordplay has worked far better than Democrats thought possible even with the nation’s ongoing economic woes. If Barack Obama limps back into office, he will be the first president to do so with such troubling job numbers. If Romney wins, he might well be the first to do so by so staring straight into the collective eye of voters and baldly shifting the facts of his record, his views, and his plans.

While it matters not a bit to our presidential election, it is to wonder how well Romney’s storytelling might play on the very turf of the shanachie. Suffice it to say that Obama could only wish for the Emerald Isle’s view of Romney, according to a recent Gallup International poll that claimed 98 percent of the Irish would vote for Obama. An Irish Times poll put the number at a still-stratospheric 79 percent.

Still, Romney’s storytelling knack has earned him the rave reviews of Irish economic commentator and Irish Independent columnist Marc Coleman, who noted his nation’s bias against Romney. Coleman wrote: “Obama and his cheerleaders live in an economically illiterate world where Ireland’s loss is America’s gain….The Democrats – who gave America segregation, corrupt Tammany Hall politics, and the Vietnam War – are, according to this narrative, nice, enlightened and competent. The Republicans – who created jobs for our emigrants in the Eighties, facilitated foreign investment in Ireland, and freed the world from totalitarian rule – are greedy, backward and stupid.” Coleman then goes on to blame the Democrats for creating the entire US debt and the collapse of the mortgage market since 2006.

There’s not enough space here to correct Mr. Coleman’s historical revisionism. LBJ might be surprised to learn that he helped give America segregation; for that matter, the same with JFK. As far as Vietnam, JFK and LBJ did escalate the war, but rumor has it that a certain Republican named Nixon upped the bloody ante to its worst levels from 1969 to 1973. Bill Clinton might be interested to know that he had no role in “facilitating foreign investment” in Ireland. Coleman conveniently forgets Clinton’s role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, too. If Coleman is contending that Republican presidents alone “freed the world from totalitarian rule,” I’m assuming he means Reagan and the Bushes, father and son. I guess he somehow overlooked FDR and Truman. If memory serves me right, both of those Democratic presidents had some hand in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Could be that Presidents Truman and Kennedy also played their part in the Cold War.

As I wind this column to a close, we still don’t know if it’s President Obama or President Romney. A thought: There’s still time for the Romney campaign to hire Mr. Coleman to help Mitt’s quest for Shanachie-in-Chief. They’re definitely on the same page – or historical etch-a-sketch.