Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Voting for an Illusion - Mitt Romney, the next Richard Nixon?

by Blueberry T

Joe McGinniss warned us about this.  More than four decades ago, McGinniss wrote a brilliant book called The Selling of the President, 1968.  (I wrote about it previously in this post.)  In what was then a ground-breaking approach, McGinniss “embedded” himself in the campaign, gaining unparalleled cooperation from and access to Nixon and all his handlers.  His sharp observations and clear, engaging style gave us an intimate view of history in the making.  His first book became a best-seller and instant classic of the genre, pulling back the curtain to show how Richard Nixon’s campaign remade Nixon’s image through very effective, in some cases subliminally manipulative, advertising and marketing techniques.  Nixon’s team (which included Roger Ailes, now of Fox News, among others) skillfully overcame the negative preconceptions that many people had of Nixon, stemming from his losing campaign against Jack Kennedy in 1960 and his bitter statement to the press (after losing the 1962 California Governor’s race) that “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more.” The team successfully created a new impression – an illusion, really – of a warmer, more positive and somewhat more likable candidate.  Enough that people could overcome their initial reactions and vote for him. 

As we found out the hard way, over the years of his presidency and afterward, however, the illusion that they created was far from the truth.  The real Nixon was a complex and calculating man who did some good things (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, EPA, China), and was far more moderate than any Republican currently on the national stage.  But as history showed, the mean-spirited, foul-mouthed, conniving and paranoid “Tricky Dick,” with his long list of enemies about whom he actively schemed and plotted, and who thought he was above the law, was a far truer image than the warm, fuzzy,“soft-focus” illusion of his 1968 campaign. 

McGinniss warned us, not only about Nixon, but about the manipulative false imagery of campaigns that sell voters a “product” that has little or nothing to do with reality.  Voters didn’t pay attention, but campaigns did.  The formula was repeated in 1980 with Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” theme – and imagine how much easier a “sell” this was, working with a warm, personable guy who just happened to be a professional actor with a ready-made fan base!  Many voters bought the illusion, hook, line and sinker. 

It’s happened often since then – in fact, all modern campaigns use these techniques – but the attempt to sell Sarah Palin as someone with the qualifications to be Vice President of the United States should have been a major wake up call (or, more like sirens going off) to voters to start paying attention to the “man behind the curtain.”  As the Berenstain Bears teach young children, “appearances can be deceiving.”  In fact, they are often deliberately deceiving, usually by making something look good that is not at all good for you/us.  It is our job as citizens (and the media’s, though sadly they are not too good at it any more) to sort through what is real and what is fake.  Buyer beware.  Thankfully in 2008, Palin’s own woeful ignorance and word salad, along with the brilliant parodies by Tina Fey, the persistent questioning by Katie Couric, and the dogged investigative work by bloggers like us, helped to reveal her for the fraud that she is, and prevented that particular nightmare from coming to pass.  In a beautiful symmetry, Joe McGinniss played a key role in revealing “The Real Sarah Palin” and putting an end to her political aspirations going forward.

But now, here we are again in 2012, with the same fake imagery and marketing techniques being used to package a candidate as someone he is not.  Once again, the focus is on impressions and style, not substance.  How else to explain an image like this, where many media outlets reported that Mitt Romney lied through his teeth at the first debate, yet that message was lost and the debate was almost universally declared as a resounding victory for Romney over President Obama?  (I say this, fully recognizing that President Obama failed to take the many open goal shots he had to call Romney on his dishonesty.)

Plus, this time, Romney has upped the ante.  We’re not just dealing with a few lies about a Bridge to Nowhere and Palin’s executive experience as mayor of the booming metropolis of Wasilla, Alaska.  Now we are dealing with a candidate who is carrying lying, distorting and misrepresenting who he is to levels never before even contemplated.  The sheer number of lies that Mitt Romney has told during his campaign is beyond comprehension to anyone other than criminologists and psychologists who deal with pathological liars for a living.   But, he seems to get away with it.  People allow themselves to be duped.  (More on his lies here and here.)  

Voters could and should learn much more from the unscripted moments, because they are always a better “tell” than something for which a candidate has rehearsed.  That is why the 47% video should be disqualifying on its face.  Statements like:
·        I’m also unemployed” 
·        “I like being able to fire people” 
·        Corporations are people, my friend” 
·        “you people, ” “these people”
·        the London Olympics insults  
·        on Russia: “without question, our #1 geopolitical foe”  
·        “We don’t have people…who die in their apartments because they don’t have insurance”  
(and many more) tell far more about the Real Romney than his rehearsed performance at the convention, campaign stops or the debate.  His smirk during the press conference exploiting the crisis in Libya even as it was taking place revealed him for the opportunist that he is.  His beyond-the-pale secrecy, unspecified plans and little laugh while saying “trust me” are all “tells.”

There’s the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.”  So, why is it that people ignore Romney’s actions?  He SAYS he is would bring American jobs back home – but what he and his companies DID (and still do) was to pioneer “outsourcing.”    He SAYS deficits are bad, but his business model is all about loading companies with debt and then sucking the capital out of them.  He SAYS he paid all the taxes he owed, but he stashed millions in offshore accounts and used aggressive and questionable tax shelters and dodges that most people cannot even fathom, let alone use.  Forbes reports that his company, Bain Capital, is under investigation for tax evasionHe profited from Medicare fraud, SAYS government bailouts are bad, but he has made millions off them and they have saved his proverbial butt.  He SAYS he will not raise taxes on the middle class – but what he DID in Massachusetts was to raise fees

And then there are the flip-flops. I mean, how can it be that John Kerry was ridiculed for flip-flopping on one issue, and it was instrumental in his defeat, and yet Romney changes direction on every imaginable topic, like a weathervane, and isn’t laughed off the stage?  Not only that, but the more he flip-flops, the more he seems to gain in the polls.  

How can you trust someone who changes his position almost daily on almost everything?  His words are meaningless.  It seems that many people are just buying a hokey “Father Knows Best” illusion, and Mitt is portraying himself as that guy.

But the truth about Mitt is a lot different.

There were so many lies during the debates, that you would think this in itself would be enough to bury his candidacy in historical infamy.   Think Progress documented the lies here.  Many publications, including the MSM, wrote on the same theme of Romney’s dishonest remarks, yet he was almost universally regaled as the decisive winner of the debate. Why?  Impressions and illusions.  (But here is FoxNews incredulous critique of one reviewer who gave Obama-Biden the win in all four debates.)  Here are TP’s posts on Romney’s lies in Debate 2 and Debate 3 ; at least the consensus was that he lost those debates.  So, maybe we are learning…?

This illustration reminds me that Secretary of Explaining Things Bill Clinton is really good at putting things in plain language that people can understand; here he speaks in favor of “arithmetic over illusion.”  

EJDionne wrote an opinion piece in the WaPo on “Mitt Romney, the product” which touches on similar ideas about marketing a candidate as a product.  

Here’s an interesting article from PoliticusUSA about how, if American’s paid attention, Republicans would never win elections.  I would argue that it’s not only that American’s don’t pay attention, but that they are so easily manipulated by lies, even to the point of voting against their own interests. 

In the end, Romney is like a smooth used car salesman who put a cheap paint job on an old car, and who won’t let you look under the hood or even kick the tires, but says “trust me.”  You wouldn’t trust a car salesman like that – how could you possibly trust a presidential candidate who will affect your future and that of your children and grandchildren? 

So, my fellow Americans, please: WAKE UP!  NOW!  Stop being so easily conned.  Our future depends on it.

UPDATE:  Our reader HonestyinGov pointed out a blog post that Joe McGinniss put up just yesterday about Mitt Romney (quoting heavily from Andrew Sullivan); here it is. 


UPDATE 2 (by Patrick): I am sure that Blueberry T won't mind if I add another update, inspired by our wonderful reader Mrs. TTB, who confessed in the comments that she fell in love with Joe McGinniss when she first read "The Selling of the President." Well, Kathleen and I just recently became the proud owners of an original 1969 copy of this book (you actually can buy these old hardcover editions for very reasonable prices), and we were pleasantly surprised to find a great portrait of a very young Joe McGinniss on the back cover of the book. So for all our readers, but most especially Mrs. TBB, I present this photo of the young Joe McGinniss (click to enlarge):

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