Romney’s Lesson: When You Try To Be Someone Else, People Notice

by Bill Brenner on March 22, 2012

This post is about what happens to politicians when they try too hard to be someone else. Mitt Romney is in the thick of it. John McCain was four years ago, as was Al Gore eight years before that.

Mood music:

It’s not just a problem with politicians. Musicians have fallen in the trap. So have writers. I’ve been there myself.

In the desperate search for success and fame — and getting elected — it’s easy to try to be someone you’re not. The problem is that you inevitably get caught.

The Romney of today is not the Romney that was elected governor in liberal Massachusetts. His brand of conservatism was far more moderate a decade ago. When he decided he wanted to be president, he immediately shifted right. People see right through him, which is why he’s having so much trouble sewing up the Republican nomination.

It’s the same mistake McCain made in 2008, when he was trying so hard to please the right instead of being the straight-talking “maverick” that gave George W. Bush hell in the 2000 Republican primaries. Meanwhile, Al Gore was trying so hard to distance himself from Bill Clinton that he completely denied his role in shaping the policies of the Clinton Administration.

Voters could smell the rat every time.

It’s really no different from what you see elsewhere in life. When we’re not acting like our natural selves, the people who know us best take notice.

I speak from the experience of trying to replace my brother after he died, of trying to be Jim Morrison in college and of trying to be a hard-nosed newspaper editor in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I also speak as someone with an addictive personality who has often lived in denial and lied to bury pain and shame.

The more I talk to fellow recovering addicts and emotional defects, the more I realize we have one big thing in common: We want to please everyone and be loved for it.

I wrote about my own experience with this in a post called “Why Being a People Pleaser Is Dumb.”

I wanted desperately to make every boss happy, and I did succeed for awhile. But in doing so I damaged myself to the core and came within inches of an emotional breakdown. It caused me to work 80 hours a week, waking up each morning scared to death that I would fall short or fail altogether. I wanted to make every family member happy. It didn’t work, because you can never keep everyone happy when strong personalities clash.

In the face of constant let-downs, I binged on everything I could get my hands on and spent most waking moments resenting the fuck out of people who didn’t embrace me for who I am.

I won’t lie. I still struggle with that. It’s possible I always will. But I’m not running for office, so it’ll never be quite so glaring.

But no matter how small your world is, someone will always see through your phony exterior.

The problem for Romney is that his true colors are bleeding through on the big stage.

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