I was in Des Moines last week (…sorry, for those who don’t speak French, you might know it as “The Moines”) as part of the Des Moines Public Library’s 2011 AViD Author Series.
I’d never been to Iowa, and I have to admit that there were only two things I knew about the state: that they were famous for their potatoes (“That’s Idaho,” sighed Liz) and that it’s the first presidential primary in the country. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m a total political junkie. Always have been.
I was picked up by Jan, the Marketing Manager, who took me to three interviews that morning: two radio interviews and one TV interview. I purposefully never plan what I’m going to say, even when I’m giving a long presentation – I just kind of blurt out whatever pops into my head. Helps me not be nervous.
But on that morning in Des Moines, I found myself sitting in that first interview, furiously trying to figure out a good joke about visiting Iowa to declare my candidacy for president. I was answering questions, but in my head I was working through the various iterations in my head. Would it kill? Or does everybody and their dog make that joke when they came through Iowa? Would they roll their eyes?
In the end, there was never the right moment. That’s part of the problem with talking about child trafficking – I like to think of Little Princes as a fairly light read, but you end up using up all the getting-to-know-you chat on family and where you’re from, and by the time I was ready with my zinger, we were already talking about the plight of kids in Nepal. There’s pretty much no good time for it at that point.
Before I knew it, my window had closed, and I was off to receptions. For being a pretty small city, I met some impressive people: Dr. Richard Deming brought 14 cancer survivors to trek in the Himalaya. Charlie Wittmack completed the World Triathlon (including summiting Everest, all to raise money for Save the Children), Roxanne Conlin (our host), was a former US Attorney and gubernatorial candidate.
Meeting all those folks took my mind off politics, which is good because it’s way, way too early to start obsessing about this stuff. At least, I thought it was, until two nights ago when I turned on CNN to discover the GOP presidential debate.
Debates this early in the election cycle are all but useless; it’s candidates trying not to say things that will blow up their campaign (in other words, trying to avoid anything that smacks of the truth). Every answer was so mind-numbingly scripted that even I couldn’t stomach it. Liz and I turned it off in favor of the 2011 MTV Movie Awards, which we had DVR’ed.
If there is an opposite to an early season GOP Presidential Debate, then truly, it is the MTV Movie Awards.
I know how you ladies feel about Robert Pattinson and all, but I cannot remember cringing so much watching one man on stage. The guy had this nervous laugh, he cursed, he literally at one point said “Oh, is it my turn? The prompter just says ‘Ad-Lib’ but I don’t really have anything to say…uh….(nervous giggle).” And this was when he was supposed to be talking about about Reese Witherspoon’s charity work.
It got me thinking: which one of these performances is worse? Is it the Mitt Romneys up there who are staying so determinedly on-message that they literally repeat the exact same phrases over and over about how their father worked in the mines or whatever? Or is the Robert Pattinsons, who are so ludicrously ill-prepared that millions of viewers watch and pause, pizza en route to mouth, staring at this train wreck of an acceptance speech?
The fact is, at least Robert Pattinson was being himself. He wasn’t worried about what people thought of him, he wasn’t hyper-scripted, terrified that somebody might catch him saying something that didn’t fit his image. He was just being kind of dorky.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve been the Mitt Romney in this situation. I find myself trying to be liked by as many people as possible, which means that I try to not rock the boat. If I’m with a bunch of guys making some offensive jokes among themselves, how often do I actually call them out on it? Probably never.
But I want to be that guy. My friend Charlie seems to have this skill; he has this instinctive honesty in the moment. And while that made him probably a poor choice as a Best Man in my wedding (though to his credit he was uncharacteristically diplomatic), it makes him a good friend. It’s probably the trait I admire above any other: that honesty, combined with not worrying how that honesty will make you look in front of others.
The gutting thing is that this makes Charlie the Robert Pattinson in this scenerio, and it makes me Mitt Romney. (Full disclosure: I once actually tried to style my hair like Robert Pattinson – it didn’t take.) People don’t swoon over Mitt Romney. Not outside Provo, they don’t.
I want to be the guy who calls it like he sees it. I want to be the guy who is himself, no matter how many people are watching. I want to be Robert Pattinson. And frankly, I can’t see my wife arguing with that.