Books, Pop Culture and Political Humor from J.D. Rhoades, best-selling author, attorney, and award-winning newspaper columnist.
"Like [Lee] Child, Rhoades dishes out one airtight action scene after another, mixing in just enough character-building moments and holding our interest in a full cast of nicely developed supporting players."-Booklist
Today, I’m going to do something that may shock you. I’m going to express some sympathy for Mitt Romney. But only a little.
Right now, Willard Mitt Romney is in the fight of his political life. He’s behind Barack Obama by an average of four points in national polls, according to the poll-aggregating website Real Clear Politics.
But, as we all know, elections are won, not in the popular vote, but in the Electoral College, where the same site shows the president leading by enough in enough swing states to snag 265 of the 270 Electoral votes it takes to get him a second term, and he’s got small leads in most if not all of the states listed as toss-ups.
He picks just one of those off, and it’s over. He picks off Florida, it’s over by 9 p.m. Eastern on election night. I’m not going to take a victory lap here, but you’ve got to admit, things look grim for Lord Romney.
But Romney’s fighting a foe more dangerous to his campaign than sliding poll numbers, more powerful than Barack Obama. He’s fighting The Narrative.
I’ve talked in this column before about The Narrative: that shared consensus of opinion that, at some point, begins to grow like a crystal among our lazy press and sensational media. Once it’s fully grown, every story, every quote, every fact reported is viewed through the prism of The Narrative.
While the right may claim that narratives are always a product of the “liberal media bias” of which they’re always whining about being the victims, they’ve benefited from them as often as not. Just ask Al Gore, who never actually said he “invented the Internet,” yet The Narrative — in this case, that Gore was a “serial exaggerator” — decreed that every pundit repeat the misquote as if it was Gospel. Time magazine reporter Margaret Carlson explains why: It was “greatly entertaining to us.”
So what is The Narrative that Romney’s fighting? Surprisingly, at least to me, it’s not that he’s a flip-flopping, pandering, spineless weasel who’ll say anything to get elected. I mean, all that’s true, but that’s not what the media have seized on. No, The Narrative in this case is: Romney’s running an inept, internally fractured campaign and is, therefore, a bumbling loser.
One characteristic of The Narrative is that things that might have gone unnoticed or unremarked become signs and portents of it.
For example, in 2008, The Narrative was that Barack Obama was an “elitist,” a “celebrity,” that he was out of touch with regular folks. This became so entrenched that Chris Matthews (a slave to The Narrative if ever there was one) was aghast that Obama ordered orange juice instead of coffee at a diner, as if orange juice was some kind of exotic, hard-to-find liqueur.
In Romney’s case, there have been some very real missteps and misfires in his campaign. Take, for example, Romney dissing the British at the Olympics. Or his spokesperson responding to the now-infamous “Romney killed my wife” ad by extolling the virtues of Romneycare, which the campaign would really rather pretend never happened (see “flip-flopping, pandering spineless weasel,” above).
But now, thanks to The Narrative, things that might be ignored are being brought to the forefront, such as a video of a recent joint appearance in Ohio with Romney and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. When Ryan’s introduced, the crowd begins chanting his name. Romney then tries to lead them — awkwardly, of course — in chanting “Rom-ney, Ry-an, Rom-ney, Ry-an.”
This video might have just been another one of thousands lost in the background noise of YouTube, unremarked by anyone but a few left-leaning blogs. But thanks to The Narrative, the video was featured on conservative talk show host Joe Scarborough’s nationally seen “Morning Joe,” followed by Scarborough putting his hands over his face and moaning “Sweet Jesus” in despair.
The Narrative is hard to fight. Once it really gets going, trying to change it is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier plowing ahead at flank speed by standing in a rowboat and hitting it with a broom as it passes.
I don’t think it’s going to be possible for Romney, because in this case, The Narrative, unlike some, has a solid basis in truth. Not all of the things reported as Romney gaffes or missteps as a result of The Narrative are actually going to be either of those, but enough are.
This may not be, as some have claimed, the most inept campaign ever, but it’s certainly inept enough.