Thursday, October 18, 2012

Inside The Actor's Studio: The Character of a President

This man knows "characters."
James Lipton, actor, teacher,
Inside Actor's Studio. Photo above:
Below cartoon: Al Hirschfeld at
Margo Feigen Galleries Ltd,
I watch TV with the “mute” button on most of the time, meaning I see the picture and some text maybe but don’t listen to the noise. At one point last night I looked up from my computer and saw someone who looked familiar talking with Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

Hmm, I recognize that man, leaning forward, wry smile on his face.  Isn’t he the guy who interviews actors, asks probing questions, and gets them talking about their craft? Yes, that’s it; that’s James Lipton, the brilliant, expert, funny director of Inside the Actor’s Studio, knowledgeable about all things media, theater and film.  Maybe he's now reincarnating as a political commentator, reading between the lines and studying character!   I turned up the sound and listened to an interesting exchange    

“What insights do you have about Mitt Romney?” Matthews asked Lipton. Good question--not about his political positions, but about his character, as in a character on a world stage.  

Lipton said he’s been thinking about Romney the character and that he found him hard to read, a hard character to interpret; he changes a lot, his persona, his speech pattern, his posturing, and also his positions and statements.  He looks one way in front of his big donors and another in front of a factory.  But, Lipton, said, after a tiny dramatic pause, “I think I have figured it out”:
He’s the boss.  He's the boss who tells jokes and expects everyone around him to laugh.  He’s the boss who demands total attention, but is focused not on people but on his own agenda, on creating profit.  He’s the boss who uses the power of his position to get what he wants and, as he himself has said, enjoys firing people.  He’s the boss we fear, whose arrogance can be insufferable, and whose concept of leadership is from the top down, more dictatorial than democratic.   

“The boss!”  "The boss we fear."  Quite a character.  Lipton pointed to Romney’s bossy in-your-face confrontations in Tuesday night’s debate; his insistence on being heard over the voice of the president; his inability to focus on the content of questions asked, but instead on his own rehearsed responses (the bottom line), to listen to his own voice to the exclusion of others coming from the floor; and finally to his lack of deference and civility toward the office of the president of the United States, not to the person, but to the office.

Lipton I think hit the nail on the head. It’s something I’ve sensed but couldn’t put into words, an uneasy feeling, at times jarring. But these are the key questions: Does Romney have the character and temperament, the right kind of experience, to be president of the USA, to be commander in chief and leader of all the people, in all our complexity and diversity?  That’s the issue James Lipton put out there. 

Does Romney’s experience in the private sector, with Bain and the world of big corporate finance and investments, the world of millionaires and billionaires, qualify him to lead the USA in domestic and foreign policy, where process, gaining information and listening to all points of view is critical?  

Does his choice of Ryan as vice-president indicate rigidity more than openness, intolerance rather than tolerance of different folkways, beliefs, and lifestyles?  

Does his jumping on issues, like the murders of Ambasssador Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, demostrate prudence, moderation, and an in-depth understanding of the nuances of international diplomacy and national security? 

Does Romney have the temperament to engage in the messy process of making policy and implementing change, dealing with an often ornery Congress, listening to fresh ideas from new people along the range of the political spectrum? 

Do we need a temperate and compromising leader, open to all points of view, a good listener with a tolerant mindset, or a boss to tell us what is right, what to do, how to do it?   

More than anything else, I think these are the kinds of questions that really matter.  I think this is probably the main reason many of us can't vote for Mitt Romney.  
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