I’ve been thinking a lot about the Roman Emperor Didius Julianus lately. Sure he is not as famous as Julius Caesar or Augustus. Not as infamous as Caligula or Commodious but Didius Julianus he is still worth remembering because one night in 193 a.d. he bought his position as the Roman emperor. Yep, he became emperor by outbidding his primary rival for the thrown – then very publicly on sale.
And why is this a particularly good time to remember a long forgotten Roman emperor. Because thinking about good old Didius Julianus has helped me understand the rise of Mitt Romney. After all, how else can we explain the former Massachusetts Governor’s definitive if ambivalent emergence as the Republican stand bearer. I mean let’s get real here. We all know a good part of the Republican Party was extraordinarily ambivalent about him.
Indeed, they kept flowing from one anti-Romney candidate to next. And we are often reminded that a quarter of the republican evangelical base is still, uncomfortable, as were generations of Christians before them with his somewhat untraditional faith tradition.
And his short term rival, Rick Santorum was, of course absolutely right when he reminded Republican voters, that supporting a man whose biggest political accomplishment was helping give a real measure of health insurance security to the people of Massachusetts was probably not the best guy to go after Obama for trying to accomplish the same thing for all Americans.
And of course we’ve just seen he is already backing down on his vow to destroy President Obama’s health care reform. Apparently Romney is now saying some regulations should remain in place to stop to stop insurance companies from refusing to serve those all too frequently unprofitable people with pre-existing medical conditions. Can you believe it! What a commie!
So how did Mitt get where he is, the standard bearer of the Republican Party? Like any good businessman he knows his customer base, knows America is as much democracy as plutocracy.
Yes, we each get one electoral vote in the primaries, or the general election and as many monetary votes as we can afford. And Romney certainly had the funds to spread those monetary votes around the republican primaries in a fashion no other candidate, not Newt, Not Rick, Not Herman could compete with.
And now he’s moving toward the general election and we have to ask ourselves why this election is even close. Sure, people are still really hurting from 2008’s meltdown, an albatross President Obama will carry into November no matter what. But Romney’s challenge is stronger than Obama’s problems. In fact, surprisingly so given that unlike his father, George Romney, a more impressive presidential candidate of my youth, a man who used his years in business to actually build things — to build cars while his son Mitt used his business career, not to build products but to take down companies. A son who returned, can you believe it the confidence the people of Michigan had in electing his dad Governor by supporting the idea of letting Detroit fail when the crisis hit.
No, why Romney has any momentum at all is frankly almost inexplicable. Sure he has deep pockets, but he is not that rich. But the same realities of the American system remain. The unsaid reality that we are as much plutocracy as democracy and the governor quite obviously has the support of the hugely wealthy fossil fuel industries. Yes, the support of an industry fighting to protect their profits, even in the face of a world increasingly ravished by devastating storms, fires, floods and crop failures.
Fossil fuel companies super empowered by the Supreme Court, that, in its Citizen’s United ruling strengthened not the American democracy but the American plutocracy. A court dominated by people from the party that just nominated a man who claims corporations are people.
Well it’s too early to know how all this will play out. But it is certainly a good moment to reflect on the career of good old Dideous Julianius who so long ago showed that even the biggest governments can be bought.