This column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
The two candidates for president share more than their Harvard Law degrees and their fiercely competitive instincts: both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney convey an odd but undeniable sense of rootlessness, bearing connections to so many different corners of the country that they don’t seem to originate from any place in particular.
That disconnect from any organic, regional identity has undoubtedly contributed to the ongoing “birther” insanity, with dedicated crackpots supplementing their long-standing challenges to Obama’s status as a “natural born” citizen with new lawsuits claiming that Romney fails to qualify for the presidency due to his father’s Mexican birth. Unlike Bill Clinton, whose accent, personal history and long service as governor stamped him indelibly as a son of Arkansas, Romney and Obama seem cosmopolitan rather than homey, national (and even international) rather than local.
Everyone knows that Romney won election as Governor of Massachusetts, but he established other homes in New Hampshire and California after growing up in Michigan. His father, George Romney, served three terms as governor of the Wolverine State, but Mitt’s grandparents made their home in Mexico and lived there until George was a small boy. The Romneys also enjoy strong ties to Utah, where Mitt spent his undergraduate years at BYU and rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Whatever his virtues as a candidate, Governor Romney clearly lacks the distinctive New England flavor of the last Bay State candidate to win the presidency: John Fitzgerald Kennedy conveyed an unmistakable aura of Beantown authenticity, with his tangy accent, family heritage (his grandfather and namesake John Fitzgerald had been a beloved Mayor of Boston), love of sailing and elite regional schooling. By contrast, Governor Romney may be derided by his GOP opponents as a “Massachusetts moderate” but he could actually hail from just about anywhere – though short-lived attempts to present himself as a grits-loving honorary Southerner didn’t work out too well in the Mississippi primary.