DES MOINES, Iowa — The bumper sticker in 2004 read: "Dated Dean, Married Kerry."
It was a cocky slogan Democrats eagerly slapped on their Subarus, confident in their knowledge that the reign of that bumbling idiot George W. Bush was about to come to an end because of their own carefully calculated decision to nominate John Kerry.
The sticker was also a wink that, yes, they were old and wise enough to vote for an odious, oily politician. But they were also still sexy enough to have slummed around and dated a big-dreaming, slightly irresponsible, scamp like Howard Dean. He was the rebel without a cigarette.
Anyway, Mr. Dean was a hell of a lot more interesting and inspiring than John Kerry. But there was no way Mr. Dean could win, they said. He was crazy. He was unpredictable. He was unafraid to talk about big ideas that didn't fit onto, well, bumper stickers.
Democrats so loathed Mr. Bush, they were not taking any chances. No premature elation, 'mission accomplished' moments for them. Instead, they bought bumper stickers that said, yes, they married an insufferable buffoon, but they used to be cool and honest and free.
So it is always the problem with calculated marriages. And so it is where Republicans now find themselves.
For more than half a decade, Mitt Romney has been hanging out on the porch swing, peering in the windows, bursting in on dates with other suitors, crashing parties and winning over the parents with his goody-two-shoes act. And he has been in a business suit with his socks pulled up and hair just so the entire time.
The GOP voter has tried blind dates, dating online and seriously considered every eligible candidate out there who wasn't named Romney. Each candidate has shot straight up into the air like an Iowa pheasant out of the brush, only to implode disastrously in a high cloud of gun smoke and feathers.
Meanwhile, after all this time trying, Mr. Romney has gotten very good. At wooing, at least. He has eliminated his most irritating mannerisms, such as his unbridled pandering. He hasn't asked any groups of young black women at a fair lately about their "bling, bling" or hooted, "Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?"
And, of course, he has maintained all of his current political positions for a record four years now, which is no small accomplishment for him. But before voters outsmart themselves once again, it is worth a quick review of how the great John Kerry Compromise of 2004 worked out.
Mr. Kerry donned a barn jacket and hit the road to display what a normal guy he was. The jacket looked so new it appeared to have been ironed. He quit eating French food so reporters would stop writing about how French he looked. He went duck hunting to prove he would not take your guns away. And he ran his entire campaign as a combat veteran to prove he was not a sissy.
It was endlessly calculated.
Mr. Kerry's most memorable accomplishment was boasting — inexplicably — to a group of veterans that he actually voted for the war in Iraq before voting against it. It is the sort of pretzelized statement you can expect from possessed calculators.
We were reminded of that sad disorder the other day when Mr. Romney took a swipe at Newt Gingrich, who had dissolved into a puddle of tears earlier in the day.
"I won't cry," Mr. Romney said. Then his calculator flickered, and he worried that maybe he might come off as callous or insensitive. So he quickly added: "But I do. I do. Nothing to be ashamed of in that regard."
The similarities between the two Bay Staters do not end there. Both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Romney look like they should be cast as president in a made-for-TV movie. But in reality, both are hopelessly out of touch, calculating wax figurines. They both even speak French!
In the end, Mitt Romney is John Kerry without the war medals.
• Charles Hurt may be reached at email@example.com.