Note: this is a condensed version of a longer piece submitted under the same title earlier today (5/12/12)
The Wit of Mitt: Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before
By Paul Kibble
Not too much has changed [since you've been gone]. There's an i-Pad 3, and a Mitt Romney 4. They worked all the bugs out. He's not killing hobos at night anymore.---Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), to his returning wife on 30 Rock.
Well, maybe not all the bugs, Jack.
In public appearances, we can still observe the near-autistic cluelessness of a high-tech Blunderkind forced to interact with lowly carbon-based life forms. Undersocialized, almost feral outside the claustrophobic purlieus of the 1%, the Mormbot's overripe fratboy smuggery hasn't succeeded in connecting with audiences in a simpatico way.
Part of this inability to relate to Joe Lunchbox and the Missus has to do with the hard-wired solipsism that extreme wealth seems to encourage. Mitt really cannot imagine the Other---the Other in this case consisting of 99.99% of Homo sapiens (a species for which cyborgs notoriously lack sympathy anyway).
Romney betrays his empathy-free style in a variety of alarmingly creative ways.
There is, of course, the look and the mannerisms: the C-P30 herky-jerky body language; the hurricane-proof, $500-a-pop coif; the freeze-your-blood, jeepers-creepers peepers that scan but do not register another presence; the overbronzed, poreless, sweatless latex mask that passes for a face.
There are the killer one-liners, deep-space transmissions from somewhere just outside Alpha Centauri: You know, I love this state. The trees are the right height"
There are the stunningly ill-advised photo ops, Guiness-Book PR disasters designed to alienate anyone not born into the country-club ethos that Mitt takes to be part of the everyday fabric of American life. Thus his white-khakied plug for a Kentucky co-plutocrat's sprawling manse: "What a home this is, what grounds these are, the pool, the golf course, you know if a Democrat were here he's look around and say no one should live like this"Republicans come here and say everyone should live like this." Sold! The Power of Positive Thinking meets high-end real estate. The result: love at first sight.
But among all the Matrix-y, not-quite-there tics and twitches, epic fails and jaw-dropping fubars, there is, supremely, that string of odd mechanical clicks that some have mistakenly called a "chuckle."
Really, it"s this last thing--the "chuckle," or "chortle," or "snicker," or whatever this laryngeal spasm is called---that's still creeps people out whenever the vaguely lifelike object called Mitt Romney steps before the cameras. It's a variant of the kind of sound you used to hear only on the psych ward, where shrinks would chastise certain patients for "inappropriate laughter." ("Jimmy, I just told you your mother died. Why is that funny?")
But as Rachel Maddow recently noted, the heart of the Mitt gaffe-centric performances is precisely this kind of "inappropriate laughter." Most adults have learned that it's in bad taste to laugh at your own jokes. Mitt flips this: he laughs---at his own non-jokes. And he laughs at them in the most "inappropriate" situations. Can you get any more postmodernly meta than this? Funny ha-ha or funny weird? With Mitt, there's no difference.
Examples abound. In a 2009 interview with Chris Wallace, he deadpans the SPCA-unfriendly saga of strapping his Irish setter Seamus in a kennel to the roof of his station wagon for a 650-mile family trip to Canada. The hound shits and vomits all over itself and gets hosed down by the Rom clan before their space craft, er, vehicle, resumes the trek to Ontario. When reprimanded by Wallace ( "I'd no more strap my dog to the roof of my car than I would one of my children"), Mitt does what he always does in situations like this: he laughs.
(The hye-laahr-ee-us details of this vignette are repeated in an interview with Diane Sawyer, with Mrs. R. chiming in with the yucks.)