Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 26, 2012

Good Books, Good Films

The Oscars will be awarded tonight. And Martin Levin of the Globe and Mail has got into the act with a list of eleven-plus “great books” that were adapted into “fat turkeys” (h/t: Ted Gioia).

The problem with Levin’s list is not the films, which admittedly suck. The problem is the books. Nearly half of them (Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, H. G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Tom Robbins’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) may be described in many ways, but “great” is not among them.

It is a commonplace, first uttered by Leslie Fielder, I believe, that mediocre books make the best films (Fiedler’s example was The African Queen, but The Godfather and The Silence of the Lambs and Forrest Gump will also do).

Far more interesting are those novels that have been totally eclipsed by the films adapted from them, although the novels can still be read with profit and delight:

• Geoffrey Homes, Build My Gallows High (1946). Written under a pseudonym by Daniel Mainwaring (who went on to write the screenplay for Invasion of the Body Snatchers among other films), the novel, couched in tough-guy prose, was the source for Jacques Tournier’s brilliant 1947 film noir Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

• Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place (1947). The source of Nicholas Ray’s 1950 thriller starring Humphrey Bogart is about a serial killer rather than a domestic abuser. Chilling.

• Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train (1950). Nothing at all like Hitchcock’s film by the same title, Highsmith’s novel takes the reader deep into the twisted eerie psychology of Charles Anthony Bruno, the killer played by Robert Walker (and renamed Bruno Antony) in the film. Unfortunately, the title is out of print. Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1955), with a title character more blood-curdlingly amoral than anything Matt Damon could ever impersonate, also belongs on this list.

• John Fante, Full of Life (1952). A largely unknown novel that was the source of the wonderful Judy Holliday’s least-known film (directed in 1956 by Richard Quine), it is delightful, though very different, in both versions. Both deserve to be far better known.

• Donn Pearce, Cool Hand Luke (1965). Pearce’s novel has much the same theme as Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest — the freedom-loving refusal to buckle to arbitrary authority — but it doesn’t strain after effect, and as a result it is more successful, more persuasive. Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 film (the sweatiest movie of all time) is better than Milos Forman’s eight-years-later film too (and Paul Newman is a better apostle of freedom than Jack Nicholson).

• Leonard Gardner, Fat City (1969). This may be one of those rare occasions when a film, though great, is more widely neglected than the novel, though minor. Gardner was that saddest of creatures, a one-book novelist, but is admired by his younger peers. His study of club boxers in a depressed northern California town was perfectly captured by John Huston’s 1972 movie starring Stacy Keach.

There are more, but these are enough from me. I hope that COMMENTARY readers can suggest other good books that were turned into good films.

Update: Mark Athitakis writes: “The only one I can think to add is David Goodis’ noir Down There, which became Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player. The film version is very different from the book, but both are excellent in their own way.”

Update, II: How could I forget Leaving Las Vegas? As good as the film is (it won Mike Figgis an Academy Award for best director), John O’Brien’s despairing 1990 novel is even better. O’Brien committed suicide four years afterwards, leaving only his novel to explain why.

Update, III: Andrew Fox writes: “Let me add another to your interesting list of good books which were turned into good films. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was adapted into Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (which, oddly enough, utilized the title of an unconnected William Nourse novel). The book and novel differ in significant ways, but each has earned the right to be called a classic of its genre. In particular, Blade Runner has been an enormous influence (at least visually and design-wise) on the science fiction films which have followed.”

The Oscars will be awarded tonight. And Martin Levin of the Globe and Mail has got into the act with a list of eleven-plus “great books” that were adapted into “fat turkeys” (h/t: Ted Gioia).

The problem with Levin’s list is not the films, which admittedly suck. The problem is the books. Nearly half of them (Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, H. G. Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Tom Robbins’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) may be described in many ways, but “great” is not among them.

It is a commonplace, first uttered by Leslie Fielder, I believe, that mediocre books make the best films (Fiedler’s example was The African Queen, but The Godfather and The Silence of the Lambs and Forrest Gump will also do).

Far more interesting are those novels that have been totally eclipsed by the films adapted from them, although the novels can still be read with profit and delight:

• Geoffrey Homes, Build My Gallows High (1946). Written under a pseudonym by Daniel Mainwaring (who went on to write the screenplay for Invasion of the Body Snatchers among other films), the novel, couched in tough-guy prose, was the source for Jacques Tournier’s brilliant 1947 film noir Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

• Dorothy B. Hughes, In a Lonely Place (1947). The source of Nicholas Ray’s 1950 thriller starring Humphrey Bogart is about a serial killer rather than a domestic abuser. Chilling.

• Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train (1950). Nothing at all like Hitchcock’s film by the same title, Highsmith’s novel takes the reader deep into the twisted eerie psychology of Charles Anthony Bruno, the killer played by Robert Walker (and renamed Bruno Antony) in the film. Unfortunately, the title is out of print. Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1955), with a title character more blood-curdlingly amoral than anything Matt Damon could ever impersonate, also belongs on this list.

• John Fante, Full of Life (1952). A largely unknown novel that was the source of the wonderful Judy Holliday’s least-known film (directed in 1956 by Richard Quine), it is delightful, though very different, in both versions. Both deserve to be far better known.

• Donn Pearce, Cool Hand Luke (1965). Pearce’s novel has much the same theme as Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest — the freedom-loving refusal to buckle to arbitrary authority — but it doesn’t strain after effect, and as a result it is more successful, more persuasive. Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 film (the sweatiest movie of all time) is better than Milos Forman’s eight-years-later film too (and Paul Newman is a better apostle of freedom than Jack Nicholson).

• Leonard Gardner, Fat City (1969). This may be one of those rare occasions when a film, though great, is more widely neglected than the novel, though minor. Gardner was that saddest of creatures, a one-book novelist, but is admired by his younger peers. His study of club boxers in a depressed northern California town was perfectly captured by John Huston’s 1972 movie starring Stacy Keach.

There are more, but these are enough from me. I hope that COMMENTARY readers can suggest other good books that were turned into good films.

Update: Mark Athitakis writes: “The only one I can think to add is David Goodis’ noir Down There, which became Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player. The film version is very different from the book, but both are excellent in their own way.”

Update, II: How could I forget Leaving Las Vegas? As good as the film is (it won Mike Figgis an Academy Award for best director), John O’Brien’s despairing 1990 novel is even better. O’Brien committed suicide four years afterwards, leaving only his novel to explain why.

Update, III: Andrew Fox writes: “Let me add another to your interesting list of good books which were turned into good films. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was adapted into Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (which, oddly enough, utilized the title of an unconnected William Nourse novel). The book and novel differ in significant ways, but each has earned the right to be called a classic of its genre. In particular, Blade Runner has been an enormous influence (at least visually and design-wise) on the science fiction films which have followed.”

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Afghan Apologies Beside the Point

The latest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan put the ongoing debate about the many apologies made by President Obama and members of our government over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. personnel in new perspective. While I completely agree with the points that Max Boot made on Thursday about the president being right to apologize, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter how many times Obama or Secretary of State Clinton or any American general utter contrite statements. The incident has merely served as the latest excuse for Islamist violence and riots whose purpose is to vent hatred against the West and perhaps also to serve the interests of our al Qaeda and Taliban foes in Afghanistan.

As Max said, the United States is not in Afghanistan as a favor to President Hamid Karzai but to buttress our security needs. Yet as much as Obama is obligated to say what he can to lessen the chances of attacks on U.S. soldiers there, the spectacle of continual apologies from members of the administration does grate on the sensibilities of many Americans. As with previous incidents in which Muslims sensibilities are said to be offended, whatever sympathy we might have for those who are angry about the incident is overwhelmed by disgust at their resort to violence and murder in the name of their faith. The problem here is not so much what Obama said in this instance but a willingness by this administration and much of the mainstream press to buy into a false narrative in which the history of interactions between the United States and the Muslim world is a one-sided story of Western insults to Islam. As Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News, Americans are sick of seeing their government grovel. It is high time to point out that Muslim violence against non-believers far outweighs the few isolated incidents for which a Western apology to Muslims is in order.

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The latest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan put the ongoing debate about the many apologies made by President Obama and members of our government over the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. personnel in new perspective. While I completely agree with the points that Max Boot made on Thursday about the president being right to apologize, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter how many times Obama or Secretary of State Clinton or any American general utter contrite statements. The incident has merely served as the latest excuse for Islamist violence and riots whose purpose is to vent hatred against the West and perhaps also to serve the interests of our al Qaeda and Taliban foes in Afghanistan.

As Max said, the United States is not in Afghanistan as a favor to President Hamid Karzai but to buttress our security needs. Yet as much as Obama is obligated to say what he can to lessen the chances of attacks on U.S. soldiers there, the spectacle of continual apologies from members of the administration does grate on the sensibilities of many Americans. As with previous incidents in which Muslims sensibilities are said to be offended, whatever sympathy we might have for those who are angry about the incident is overwhelmed by disgust at their resort to violence and murder in the name of their faith. The problem here is not so much what Obama said in this instance but a willingness by this administration and much of the mainstream press to buy into a false narrative in which the history of interactions between the United States and the Muslim world is a one-sided story of Western insults to Islam. As Charles Krauthammer said on FOX News, Americans are sick of seeing their government grovel. It is high time to point out that Muslim violence against non-believers far outweighs the few isolated incidents for which a Western apology to Muslims is in order.

The problem here is not that Obama and Clinton continue to apologize in a vain effort to assuage the Afghan mobs. It is the mute acceptance of a situation in which any insult to Islam by any American or European under any circumstance is seen by the Muslim world as a justification for violence and murder while no amount of bloodshed or act of terror or deliberate insult to non-Muslim faiths is considered worthy of any notice by either side.

Throughout the Muslim world, Christian churches are burned and Jews are persecuted, as are Bahais and other minorities. Christians are under siege in Egypt. Jewish shrines have been attacked and desecrated in the West Bank. Synagogues were burned in Gaza. Yet none of this is considered important enough to notice by most in the West let alone to demand an apology from Muslims. Attacks and murder of Israeli Jews in the name of Islam over the years has become such a routine event that such crimes must be of the spectacular variety to attract much attention. The official media of Egypt, Iran and the Palestinian Authority crank out vicious hate speech about Jews and few care.

Yet let a cartoon satirizing the Prophet Muhammad be published or if a crackpot American pastor burns a Koran to get attention and we are told these acts are sufficient to justify mayhem and bloodshed.

It is to this set of unfortunate facts, and not just the president’s statement, that many Americans are reacting this week. This resentment is not so much at an apology that was probably be justified as it was at the entire tenor of this administration’s attitude toward the Muslim world. This is, after all, the same president who went to Cairo in June of 2009 to reach out to Muslims with a speech that symbolized his attempt to appease Islamic sensibilities. Predictably, that effort failed, as did his overtures to the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. The weakness of our posture has only invited more extremist attempts to inflate minor incidents into causes for violence and murder.

America’s dilemma is that it is locked in a life-and-death struggle with Islamist forces. After all, the only reason we are in Afghanistan is that its Taliban government allowed its soil to be used a base for attacks on American citizens such as the 9/11 atrocities. In order to prevail we must seek and win allies within the Muslim world who want nothing to do with the Islamist agenda of unending war. To do that, we must show respect to their faith but so long as we accept a situation where we do not demand or expect respect in return, we are doomed to failure.

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William Gay, 1943–2012

The Southern novelist William Gay, who began late and finished strong, died at home on Thursday night, apparently from a heart attack.

The author of four novels and a collection of stories, Gay did not publish his first until he was 56. A sharecropper’s son, he was born in Hohenwald, Tennessee — a small town in the state’s Highland Rim — and became the first member of his family to finish high school. An alert teacher, noticing that he was reading Zane Grey outside of class, gave him a copy of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. Gay was hooked on fiction. He started writing his own stories, but a poor boy of the rural South did not set out to become a self-supporting writer in the early Sixties — not at least if his parents had anything to say about it. Gay joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the Vietnam War. Coming back to the states after a four-year stint, he lived in New York and Chicago before returning to Hohenwald at the age of 35. He worked in home construction during the day and settled in to become a fiction writer at night.

The Long Home, his first novel, was published in 1999. A revenge tragedy set in 1940s Tennessee, the book takes its title from Ecclesiastes (12.5). Compared by disoriented critics to fiction by Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, it was one of a kind: a novel that came out of nowhere, by a middle-aged working-class writer without connections or pretense. It was not, however, a beginner’s book. It was aged and sharpened by hard-edged experience. In a Southern Review essay on his career, William Giraldi praises it winningly:

In Gay’s able hands the archetypal characters of The Long Home spring to life as if for the first time: the young man on a quest; the gray sage who guides him; the comic sidekick who aids him; the gorgeous damsel who inspires him; and the villain who tries to thwart him. Their language is so authentic it seems not written at all: you listen to their dialogue as they sit in the same room with you. It’s speech that smells: the Coca-Cola and cool beer belches, the early morning conversations held through the aroma of black coffee drunk from jars.

Gay’s second novel, Provinces of Night, followed the next year, and his collected stories two years after that. Twilight, perhaps his best novel, was published in 2006. Lost Country was completed two years ago, but has yet to be released. Gay withheld the manuscript from the publisher when his advance went unpaid. “It will probably come out from somebody else,” he said later, but so far it hasn’t. At the time of his death he was working on a fifth novel.

The deepest influence on his writing was Faulkner. “He took ordinary people and gave them mythic dimensions,” Gay told Giraldi in an interview. “Wolfe’s people are loftier, more aware of themselves. But Faulkner’s people are in the middle of it all, buffeted and battered by life.” Gay was buffeted and battered too, but managed to salvage three (or four or, if we are lucky, five) remarkable novels from a life that ended too soon.

Update: William Giradi has written to me about Gay’s death: “I was punched with the news. Awful. And he never finished the novel he’d been sitting on for years. That’s the worse part of it. We won’t have another book. He is dead.”

The Southern novelist William Gay, who began late and finished strong, died at home on Thursday night, apparently from a heart attack.

The author of four novels and a collection of stories, Gay did not publish his first until he was 56. A sharecropper’s son, he was born in Hohenwald, Tennessee — a small town in the state’s Highland Rim — and became the first member of his family to finish high school. An alert teacher, noticing that he was reading Zane Grey outside of class, gave him a copy of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. Gay was hooked on fiction. He started writing his own stories, but a poor boy of the rural South did not set out to become a self-supporting writer in the early Sixties — not at least if his parents had anything to say about it. Gay joined the U.S. Navy, serving in the Vietnam War. Coming back to the states after a four-year stint, he lived in New York and Chicago before returning to Hohenwald at the age of 35. He worked in home construction during the day and settled in to become a fiction writer at night.

The Long Home, his first novel, was published in 1999. A revenge tragedy set in 1940s Tennessee, the book takes its title from Ecclesiastes (12.5). Compared by disoriented critics to fiction by Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, it was one of a kind: a novel that came out of nowhere, by a middle-aged working-class writer without connections or pretense. It was not, however, a beginner’s book. It was aged and sharpened by hard-edged experience. In a Southern Review essay on his career, William Giraldi praises it winningly:

In Gay’s able hands the archetypal characters of The Long Home spring to life as if for the first time: the young man on a quest; the gray sage who guides him; the comic sidekick who aids him; the gorgeous damsel who inspires him; and the villain who tries to thwart him. Their language is so authentic it seems not written at all: you listen to their dialogue as they sit in the same room with you. It’s speech that smells: the Coca-Cola and cool beer belches, the early morning conversations held through the aroma of black coffee drunk from jars.

Gay’s second novel, Provinces of Night, followed the next year, and his collected stories two years after that. Twilight, perhaps his best novel, was published in 2006. Lost Country was completed two years ago, but has yet to be released. Gay withheld the manuscript from the publisher when his advance went unpaid. “It will probably come out from somebody else,” he said later, but so far it hasn’t. At the time of his death he was working on a fifth novel.

The deepest influence on his writing was Faulkner. “He took ordinary people and gave them mythic dimensions,” Gay told Giraldi in an interview. “Wolfe’s people are loftier, more aware of themselves. But Faulkner’s people are in the middle of it all, buffeted and battered by life.” Gay was buffeted and battered too, but managed to salvage three (or four or, if we are lucky, five) remarkable novels from a life that ended too soon.

Update: William Giradi has written to me about Gay’s death: “I was punched with the news. Awful. And he never finished the novel he’d been sitting on for years. That’s the worse part of it. We won’t have another book. He is dead.”

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Hamas’s Desertion of Assad is Body Blow

What is the significance of Hamas, an extremist group long resident in Damascus, suddenly throwing its weight behind the anti-Assad uprising? At first blush it is easy to dismiss it with a snort as rats leaving a sinking ship, and there is much truth in this analysis, but there is also more than that going on here–and it bodes ill for Bashar al-Assad’s longevity. A friend who follows the Middle East closely emails me this compelling analysis which bears a close read:

This development, which I personally find astonishing (a sentiment that I have to think is shared by the Syrian regime), is a body blow to Bashar al-Assad’s fundamental narrative, in which he claims to be targeted by the west and Israel because of his leadership of the “resistance” and his support for the Palestinian cause. When the party that is the Palestinian resistance chooses to desert Assad’s regime, the regime’s resistance and pro-Palestine narrative collapses–and that is what [Ismail] Haniyeh’s speech yesterday accomplished.

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What is the significance of Hamas, an extremist group long resident in Damascus, suddenly throwing its weight behind the anti-Assad uprising? At first blush it is easy to dismiss it with a snort as rats leaving a sinking ship, and there is much truth in this analysis, but there is also more than that going on here–and it bodes ill for Bashar al-Assad’s longevity. A friend who follows the Middle East closely emails me this compelling analysis which bears a close read:

This development, which I personally find astonishing (a sentiment that I have to think is shared by the Syrian regime), is a body blow to Bashar al-Assad’s fundamental narrative, in which he claims to be targeted by the west and Israel because of his leadership of the “resistance” and his support for the Palestinian cause. When the party that is the Palestinian resistance chooses to desert Assad’s regime, the regime’s resistance and pro-Palestine narrative collapses–and that is what [Ismail] Haniyeh’s speech yesterday accomplished.

It is also a severe strategic blow to the Assad regime and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies. With Hamas abandoning the Assad-led resistance coalition, the Syrian regime no longer has two fronts with which to confront Israel–Gaza is now lost to them. Perhaps gone, too, are the Palestinian camps of Lebanon, which for decades have been a weapon the Syrian regime could use to manufacture violent crises at its convenience. Without Hamas’s cooperation, it would be extremely difficult for the Syrians to provoke a crisis in the Lebanese camps, especially since their main proxy, the PFLP-GC, lost its credibility after busing young Palestinians to the Israeli border to be shot at by Israeli troops.

Haniyeh’s speech also signals Hamas’s full switching of patronage from Syria to Egypt. Whatever regional support Hamas summons in the future will come through Cairo rather than Damascus. It is hard to imagine that Hamas would have taken this step if they judged that Bashar can survive this crisis. We have to assume Hamas believes Assad is doomed.

Hamas’s desertion also means the “Axis of Resistance” is now a single-sect affair, comprised only of Iran, the Iraqi Shia militants, the Assad regime, and Hezbollah…and no major Palestinian group at all. Simply put, Bashar al-Assad has lost the ability to credibly claim he is defending Palestine against Israeli aggression. He is now only a minority sect dictator fighting to preserve his sect’s ascendancy.

All of that strikes me as accurate, but of course even a doomed Assad can still take many people down with him–as his security forces are currently doing in Homs. That is all the more reason for other states including the U.S. and our regional allies to do more to help the opposition and thereby shorten Syria’s ongoing civil war. It may be odd to be on the same side as Hamas, but if the U.S. and more moderate nations don’t act to help the Syrians then we will forfeit influence in the future to the likes of Hamas and al-Qaeda.

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Romney’s Questionable Tactics

With only a couple of days left until the crucial Michigan primary, it appears that the latest momentum swing in the Republican presidential contest may have saved Mitt Romney’s candidacy. A loss to Rick Santorum in his home state would be a devastating blow to the GOP’s erstwhile frontrunner. But Santorum’s surprising surge appears to have ground to halt in the last week. A renewed focus on his extremely conservative views on social issues combined with an all-out attack on his congressional record by Romney’s well-oiled campaign machine has damaged the Pennsylvanian. Even more, a poor performance in what was probably the last Republican debate on Wednesday may have been the turning point in this latest chapter of a highly volatile race. All signs point to a Romney victory in Michigan on Tuesday. With Arizona also likely to go for Romney that same day, it will be possible for his campaign to again proclaim his nomination is inevitable.

But amid the good news, there are also some troubling signs for Romney. Just as he did a month earlier with Newt Gingrich in Florida, Romney’s assaults have succeeded in diminishing the appeal of his foe. By going negative in this manner, he has further embittered an already nasty primary battle and ensured his opponents will stay in the race long after they are no longer viable. Even more importantly, by attacking Santorum from the right, Romney has given new credence to the charges he is a hypocrite and a political chameleon who is willing to say anything in order to gain a momentary advantage. This will hurt him in the long slog toward November.

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With only a couple of days left until the crucial Michigan primary, it appears that the latest momentum swing in the Republican presidential contest may have saved Mitt Romney’s candidacy. A loss to Rick Santorum in his home state would be a devastating blow to the GOP’s erstwhile frontrunner. But Santorum’s surprising surge appears to have ground to halt in the last week. A renewed focus on his extremely conservative views on social issues combined with an all-out attack on his congressional record by Romney’s well-oiled campaign machine has damaged the Pennsylvanian. Even more, a poor performance in what was probably the last Republican debate on Wednesday may have been the turning point in this latest chapter of a highly volatile race. All signs point to a Romney victory in Michigan on Tuesday. With Arizona also likely to go for Romney that same day, it will be possible for his campaign to again proclaim his nomination is inevitable.

But amid the good news, there are also some troubling signs for Romney. Just as he did a month earlier with Newt Gingrich in Florida, Romney’s assaults have succeeded in diminishing the appeal of his foe. By going negative in this manner, he has further embittered an already nasty primary battle and ensured his opponents will stay in the race long after they are no longer viable. Even more importantly, by attacking Santorum from the right, Romney has given new credence to the charges he is a hypocrite and a political chameleon who is willing to say anything in order to gain a momentary advantage. This will hurt him in the long slog toward November.

The process by which Romney is trying to take down Santorum has been efficiently run and done the job as befits the work of a brilliant businessman and planner. Romney has sought to brand Santorum as a symbol of dysfunctional Washington establishment and even tried to cast doubt on the former senator’s conservative bona fides. Combined with the well-founded doubts about his electability that Santorum’s comments about religion and contraception have inspired, Romney’s blasts may deliver him a sweep of the two states holding primaries on Tuesday. That would enable him to survive a three-week period during which Santorum’s surge provided the greatest challenge yet to Romney’s candidacy.

However, the single-minded manner with which Romney has sought to take Santorum apart will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of more than Santorum’s large family. The spectacle of a longtime GOP moderate criticizing the former senator for being a “team player” was absurd. So, too was Romney’s attack on Santorum’s backing for earmarks when it is remembered he asked Congress to use the same device to fund the 2002 Winter Olympics. And while some Pennsylvania conservatives are still sore at Santorum for backing Arlen Specter in 2004, Romney’s harping on this issue might have some credibility if he had actually backed Pat Toomey’s primary challenge.

It should be remembered that politics isn’t beanbag but it’s hard not to sympathize a bit with Santorum’s anger at having a recent convert to conservatism like Romney attacking him from the right. The ease with which Romney has tacked right on any issue where he had an opening against a specific candidate speaks to the hardheaded manner with which he has run his campaign. A president needs to be single-minded and even ruthless on occasion pursuing a goal. But Romney’s ability to harp on an opponent’s weaknesses in spite of his vulnerability on the same issues also reinforces the impression he is a bit of a phony with few identifiable ideological principles other than his faith and his family.

It is also Romney’s bad luck that the rules of the 2012 Republican presidential race make a knockout blow unlikely. Proportional delegate allocations will make it impossible for Romney to clinch the nomination until late in the spring at the earliest. It is likely Santorum will stay in to provide a conservative alternative to primary voters even if his losses in the next week make his nomination unlikely.

Romney may have been right to conclude the only way to beat his more conservative opponents was to besmirch them in any way possible (something that was a lot easier to do to a man with Newt Gingrich’s baggage than Santorum). But in doing so, he has stoked the anger of conservatives rather than won them over. A long, nasty primary battle that lasts for months will diminish Romney’s coffers and his vaunted advantage in electability.

Romney has many excellent qualities and his prowess as a problem-solving businessman may be what the country needs in 2012. He can make a strong argument that he is the only one of the remaining Republican candidates who can beat Barack Obama in November. But primary victories won by tactics that remind voters of his insincerity will make it much harder for him to accomplish that goal.

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