Progressives expect this week to be full of hilarity. You can imagine comedy writers of all political persuasions ready to pounce. Romney may be comically gaffe-prone simply being Mitt, and Ryan is chronically awkward distinctly being not-Mitt, but they may be the sideshow in a three-ring conservative circus that has entertained us for over a year.
We knew this week would lead to laughter (and my organization, Drinking Liberally, is doing its share hosting watch parties in New York and elsewhere so progressives don't have to experience the RNC alone or sober) -- we just didn't realize the first bit of satiric salvo would come from the oft-conservative, self-styled moderate David Brooks.
Brooks -- who usually infuriates liberals with smug appeals to a right-leaning centrism -- turned his attention at the GOP's Presidential nominee, with a pre-emptive strike anticipating Romney's attempt to reintroduce himself to the American public. Brooks offered his own biography of Mitt -- complete with flip-flopping home-states, malleable political allegiances, and enough references to Bain-brain thinking to be a humorous valedictory toast at a business school.
In the column were real critiques that the Republicans probably want Americans to forget: about Romney's extraordinary wealth and equally extreme out-of-touch sensibilities; his mediocre record, the strengths of which he runs from, not on; and his general unpopularity even among the voters who made him their frontrunner.
There's also a deeper criticism beneath the laughter, as there often is in satire. The hit is harder than a few pokes at his consultant temperament and his Richie Rich style; it's that there isn't much about Romney that stands out in a way that would defy, defuse or deflate mockery. People aren't laughing with Romney, because there's no Romney they know and like and believe in to laugh with.
John McCain had a compelling personal story that was never forgotten, even among the harshest attacks. Bill Clinton, for all there was to mock, was still a compelling charismatic and compassionate candidate. Barack Obama, considered a Rorschach test of the hopes of his supporters, was always a mix of dignity and humor that allowed you to laugh with and respect him at once.
Maybe David Brooks had to pierce Romney because there was nothing else to say about him. And maybe that will be the most accurate observation in a week that will be filled with empty anecdotes and tepid praise.
That said, if David Brooks uses next Tuesday's column to satirize President Obama to the same degree, we liberals should put aside our customary outrage at the Times columnist and be ready to laugh at ourselves as well.