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POST #17 :: The Sorrows of the Affluent; or, Notes Toward a Speculative Romney-Fiction

There is a pervasive sorrow in the eyes of the affluent, something akin to those of the stray dog roaming the post-apocalyptic wasteland. He is profoundly alone and living more precariously than even he comprehends, but he also possesses a kind of dull mastery over his blasted domain. A space has been cleared for his freedom to roam where he will, but there is a quiet panic in his eyes, for he is as much a creature of luck and circumstance as anything else, and certainly senses this, despite his casual stride.

You can see in Romney’s eyes that deep down he doesn’t actually have any passionate interest in being President (there remains the question of whether or not he is capable of passion at all), but it is one of the few goals left for which a man in his position must strive. What else do you get the man who has everything? The eyes of Romney are not the eyes of the ideologue but of the successful corporate functionary and martinet. Cast toward the last frontier of the political sphere, these eyes communicate the loneliness of the long-distance candidate. The permanent grin he and his cohort wear only serves to direct our attention back to those half-dead eyes. In fact, it would be better not to describe him as Romney at all, but as one possessor of something more like the Romney-function. The Romney-function is, in part, the human sausage squeezed from Hayek/Rand crony finance capital, pressed into quasi-living form, and encased in the accoutrements of the elite class, which blurs the last imaginary boundaries between the realms of business and the realms of politics. I am certain he could accurately be described as pleasant or amiable on an interpersonal level, if not particularly noteworthy or interesting. He’s the kind of guy who would be happy to take your empty plate from you at barbecue’s end, and you would consider this some kind of neighborly gesture. But once he has tossed the plates in the trash can, he has to think for a moment about what to do with himself next. The disquiet of having the world available to you but having no worldliness whatsoever.

The presidency has long been a bland managerial office, and as it becomes clearer that mere humans lack the capacity to make all of the calculations that tomorrow’s managerial supermind will need to make, a certain contingent of the populace might just decide that it should be left to more “rational” machines or machine-like entities. In this respect a Romney presidency would provide a critical transitional function. Like the bored or disengaged presidents of old, wedged in their bathtubs or turning in for the night at sunset, the Romney-function could serve as one of the bridges between the politics of charisma in the age of mass media and the politics of desperate pseudo-management in the age of systemic global crises. It will not be a strong leader that some people will want, but a strong program. The Romney-function does not provide one, but it offers some people the dim hope of providing a comforting fantasy of what its human housing might look like, if it existed. Expressive eyes in this period will begin to be seen as exotic, antiquated, undesirable. The livelier photos of a Clinton or a Nixon will be quietly scrubbed from the halls and the drives. Instead they will want the deadened forward-staring eyes of an Amundsen, implacably seeking the eternally distant and ever-shifting southern pole of the world.

The virtue of a Romney-function managerialism is that the bland sorrow it lives with also allows for a flattening of the known world. Seated in the Oval Office or on a conference call with Goldman Sachs, posing for pictures with leaders of countries he’d never deign to visit or standing alone at his own kitchen sink, admiring the countertops: in the end it all comes to the same for the Romney-function. The possession of every material advantage confers a remarkable flatness everywhere. When the world is really going to hell, it might not be a tyrant or a Great Man the world clamors for, but an empty screen. Not for us the president but instead the man who looks presidential, whose turn it is to take the helm. The chief affluent officer.

Certainly there resides somewhere, in some gorgeous remote villa on Lake Como or astride a foothill of the Sierras, some person of extraordinary wealth who also possesses a rich inner life, an abiding curiosity, a unique method of being kind in the world. But none of these describe the Romney-function and his ilk. His eyes are as efficient and unchanging as the owl’s, his target just as narrow. Until the appointed time, he steps up to the dais as he is told; he declaims and uses gestures and peppers his speeches with the approved medley of road-tested words. But through the filmy windows of his eyes you can see that his heart is not in it. This does not make him heartless, but something worse: trapped, as only the excessively privileged can become trapped. He is mildly perturbed at having to find ever more desperate ways to relate to the lives of “the people,” who remain for him a blurred abstraction. He would feel much more comfortable in the office, whichever office it is, any office where he can lay claim to a space that is his and to manage the affairs of business or of state in beautiful solitude, believing himself alone, free to pursue his notions, seemingly unplugged from the lives of billions. He is the kind of man who must love dogs, in whose eyes he sees something that he believes he understands.

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