In 1976, I had graduated high school and had been dating a New Hampshire girl from a very politically active family who held fundraisers and campaign events for Jimmy Carter. As a child who not only grew-up in a republican family but even before I could vote was doing cold calling for Richard Nixon, I was very much out of place—enrolled in progressively liberal private school, dating a progressively liberal girl from a family overtly and actively supporting Jimmy Carter. But come November ’76, I am proud to say I lost my first presidential election—I voted for Ford. Hind sight tells me I did the right thing.
Today, it might not be Carter-Reagan all over again, but it’s sure close—maybe worse. I wanted to vote for Romney in 2008; lost my chance to John McCain. I was, then, hoping for a Hillary contest—I would have voted for Hillary over McCain without hesitation. For sure, I lean right politically. But in the end it’s not about abortion, gay-marriage, religion, protecting my Christianity, or even healthcare: it’s about whose policies and worldview will support an economically strong business world, for without that prosperity there will be more poor and less means to provide support and paths to their own self-sufficiency.
For the last 17 years I have worked in the social action community that, everyday—in grants, in speeches, in all forms of rhetoric, in strategic plans, and with catchy slogans—said we exist to help people be less dependent on government and to move toward self-sufficiency. This present administration and its policies has undermined this stated purpose; has created a business environment that undercuts expansion and thus discretionary funds; has indebted us even more to servitude to foreign powers and threatens future generation of Americans, especially the poor and middle class; and has made a “new normal,” well normal, which is inexcusable and unacceptable. Like evolutionists who keep throwing more time and more universes (by faith) into history so their lame theory will look like it works, liberally progressive social engineering politicians think throwing money at our cultural and social problems will alleviate poverty. This is a fallacy. We need a more experienced and capable person to move our economic “new normal” forward to unleash the creative potential for business and employment to expand. Simple as that. This current administration has failed—and failed before it started in January 2009—for it did not have practice or experience or knowledge in this vital area. I am hoping at the end of this day, November 6, 2012, we’ll have a new Day One and a new administration that can erase the “new normal” and put us on the path needed to move as many as possible to less dependence on government and toward more self-sufficiency.
A President Romney can do just that.
I know the exact moment Romney lost the 2008 primary race for the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States. Of course many a pundit, political backseat driver, and armchair political junkies like me think we know why a politician succeeds or fails. So I must be careful here: I certainly do not know more or better than all the James Carvilles and Mary Matalins in the political consulting business. But I’d like to give it a shot, nonetheless, and offer some insight and advice that might very well help Governor Romney as he begins the steady march to the 2012 nomination, and eventually the race to the Oval office in the Fall.
It was a brief campaign stop in New Hampshire, a small town diner, where Romney demonstrated the problem that will dog him both in 2008 and, now, in 2012. I watched the news clip that evening and thought to myself, that’s why Mitt Romney will lose the nomination—and if he ever does win it, why it will be difficult, almost impossible, to win in a general election. There was a small crowd, patrons at tables and at the counter, Romney was shaking hands and saying a few words about himself, the country, and why he was running for the nomination. The press and cameras recording it all for public consumption as news that evening. Then it happened. A waitress blurted out just loud enough to catch the candidate’s attention, and the cameras as well, “I don’t have health coverage. What are you going to do about that?” To be honest, I didn’t write it down and I might not have the words just right, but this is close. Yet, it wasn’t the question—which was a fair one—but how Governor Romney answered the waitress’ concern. It wasn’t the details, or even if it made sense, but he presented his explanation as if they were in a Board room, or amid policy makers, not a diner on main street USA. The cameras were not kind to that moment. Detached. No connection to the waitress and her problem. He would have been better off asking the lady to sit down at one of the tables and just listen to her. Maybe just a word on how we need to work together to find solutions, to put at her disposal everything he knows and has experience at to fix this problem that so many “just like her have.” But mostly empathy, listening. That would have helped.
Our country needs a solution-driven person with management and business acumen. What the country needs to see (because the camera tells the story) is a candidate who cares and is able to connect to the average person—to that waitress.
Watching Mitt Romney make his way through the crowds during this primary season and hearing the press harp on his personality type, I was reminded of that 2008 diner incident. The first thing candidate Romney needs to remember is that the press and, particularly, the lens—the camera—lies, no matter what. Romney needs to take serious William Blake’s lines in The Everlasting Gospel:
This Life’s dim Windows of the Soul
Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole,
And leads you to Believe a Lie
When you see with, not thro the Eye
The camera makes one see with and not through the eye, which compounds the public image issues of political candidates. This needs to be taken into consideration while campaigning in the public eye. The public, through the lens of TV, will see with and not thro the eye, making judgments about the person who seeks to be President of the United States. How Romney appears to his friends and family will not necessarily be how he appears to a TV audience. And with the main street press adding the spin they want on the camera-image, the audience will be lead to always believe a lie. Romney and his handlers need to find a way to tell the truth about the candidate, who he is and what he cares for, in spite of the camera lens.
For example, asking the waitress to join him for a few seconds at one of the diner’s tables to chat, to listen, to take in what a voter thinks of everyday life. Such an image wouldn’t subtract from the fact of Romney’s management and business intelligence. It would have added the appearance that he knows how to listen and care about how people are affected by Board room type decisions in life outside the Board room.
Furthermore, the typical voter is not a member of a high powered, corporate board. On the stump, with the cameras rolling, they should not be treated as such. They are waitresses, waiters, cashiers, and people who are not given to long, strategic thinking and debate, but simply want to wake up, take on the struggles of the day, and do better than the day before. The lens of the camera can be harnessed to show that Romney understands this about people.
Purposely setting up diner moments would look phony. But there will be plenty of diner moments, and Romney, like preparing for the Board room, needs to practice how to answer the next waitress who just wants to know tomorrow will be better. How he will fix something that goes wrong for her. For good or for ill, today the windows of the soul are informed by the lens of a camera, something a wise candidate will not take for granted while on the stump—always in the eye of the camera.