Per my previous post, we will never have an exact measure for the role that visual imagery played in this campaign. Yet to say so doesn’t trivialize that imagery, or its role. Images that, in various ways, reflected negatively on the Romney-Ryan campaign predominated in this election. Placed before an electorate that receives and processes (and produces and publishes and forwards) more visual imagery than any voting public has ever engaged with before, that did substantial harm to the Republic Party’s ticket.
Notably, as you’ll see if you read through my series of posts, this didn’t result from the Democratic Party actively producing and/or using visual images to discredit their opponents. Most of the damage was self-inflicted; the Republicans did this to themselves. The wingnut right seems willfully oblivious to and unconcerned with the effect on the populace at large of the visual images it generates intentionally and projects inadvertently with its self-presentations. They can chalk up some part of the heavy price they’re now paying to that fact.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) inadvertently summed up the Republican dilemma in his interview Thursday with ABC News’s Diane Sawyer. As the Washington Post reported, “Asked about the GOP’s demographic problems, Boehner said: ‘What Republicans need to learn is: How do we speak to all Americans? You know, not just the people who look like us and act like us, but how do we speak to all Americans?’” That’s the problem in a nutshell, the essence of the conservative disconnect: As Boehner notes, the Republic Party’s “we” excludes everyone but “the people who look like us and act like us.”
And the people who don’t look like them and act like them aren’t particularly interested in listening to them. Sociological curiosity aside, who goes eagerly to a party — even by invitation — thrown by, and primarily attended by, people of an entirely different demographic than one’s own, the majority of them manifestly bigoted and angry? Especially when there’s another party down the block to which everyone’s always invited, you can see the mix is truly diverse, the mood is upbeat, and the music is hipper than a triple bill of Ted Nugent, Hank Williams, Jr., and Kid Rock?
That’s what Boehner and his ilk can’t get their heads around. They don’t need to change the way “we speak to all Americans.” They need to change the “we” doing the speaking. In visual terms, they need to revise radically the look of their party, so that it mirrors the appearance not of Butte, Montana or Lynchburg, Tennessee but of multicultural interracial polygendered urban 21st-century under-50 America. Can’t happen; they’re too closely wedded to the midwestern small-town snowbirds-and-good-ole-boys Tea Party fundamentalists. As Bill O’Reilly lamented, “We’re the minority now.” They’re going to stay that way for a long time, shrinking in number while increasing in irrelevance, a fate they richly deserve.
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Mitt
Mitt Romney was reportedly “shellshocked” by his resounding defeat, having awakened on Election Day expecting success so surely that he wrote only a victory speech, and had to cobble together his consequently lame concession speech at the last minute as Ann wept. Poor babies. That arrogance, typical of him, could sustain itself till the evening of Election Day only because he, his campaign staff, the Republic Party, its Fox News propaganda wing, and the entire radical Christian right had supersized their Kool-Aids for years, creating a cocoon of self-delusion that effectively insulated them all from the real world until their cruel awakening on November 6.
You didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew November 6. Bob Dylan predicted an Obama “landslide.” Based just on my analyses of the imagery, I called it that way too. So did many, many others. No moderate-to-left commentator I’ve read seems shocked, or even enormously surprised, by the outcome.
Casting themselves as victims, the feckless Romney campaign, their loony spendthrift funders, their intoxicated media mouthpieces, and their disinformed supporters have begun scrambling to find scapegoats on whom to blame their total failure. Sharks in the dark, with blood in the water. Grim — but also fascinating — to watch.
Click here for Peggy Noonan retracting everything of substance she wrote in her risible maunderings about “Romney rising” on November 5, then boldly doubling down on the rest post-election. And go here for Dick Morris calling the outcome an “Obama squeaker” when the President won by a larger margin than the “landslide” Morris had predicted for Romney. Neocon advisory: If their lips are moving, they’re lying.
However, our job is not to worry about those people. We’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility for the outcome of this election. They have marginalized themselves — permanently, one hopes. Let them stew in their own sour juices.
Word from the Parrot Preserve
Clearly, even the mavens of the Republic Party have concluded, belatedly, that they grossly misread the demographics of the U.S. electorate and misjudged their determination to vote in this and coming elections. Amazing as it seems to them, middle-aged white men no longer constitute the majority in this country. (Click here for the delicious “White People Mourning Romney” Tumblr site, to see endless images of tears of rage, despair, and fear from bereft Caucasians on Election Night. As a student of mine once wrote, it’s “heart-rendering.” Indeed.)
These dumbbells must all live and work in protected enclaves — no other explanation for their astonishment at this revelation. The corpulent Dick Morris represents the nec plus ultra of this attitude, flabbergasted that people of color have somehow multiplied their numbers and registered to vote since 2004 while staying under his radar. That’s what happens when you opt to live in a parrot preserve, repeating the same catchphrases to yourself and those around you. Awk! Death panels! Awk! Class warfare! Awk! Obamaphones! Awk!
In this series of posts I’ve analyzed the visual imagery generated by and emergent from the campaigns, and the ways in which both camps have managed (or mismanaged) visual imagery of various kinds, some of it disseminated via the mainstream media and some via social media. The accumulated evidence suggests, as I’ve argued, that the Republic Party and its constituencies demonstrate consistent ineptitude, bordering on cluelessness, in relation to visual imagery and today’s digital systems for distribution thereof.
Let me now put a finer point on that. There’s a direct relationship between that klutziness in the handling of visual imagery and the demographics of the Republic Party and its subsets. Bluntly put, if I wanted intelligent advice on effective and persuasive 21st-century mass communication via visual and electronic means, I wouldn’t expect to get it from over-40 Caucasian small-town evangelical midwestern and southern males and females.
A gross overgeneralization, surely, and I apologize profusely to each and every exception for the unintended slight. Having said that, for such input I’d turn to under-50 urbanites of all ethnicities, both genders, and all gender persuasions, with some college (or aspirations thereto) under their belts, comfortable with digital technology, the web, and social media if not raised on same. Terrible of me to traffic in such stereotypes, I know. But there you have it.
Not surprising to me, then, that the coalition of campaign workers and voters Team Obama-Biden put together to forge their November 6 victory drew heavily from those variously diversified (and rapidly growing) segments of the U.S. electorate. Those constitute sectors of the populace that Team Romney-Ryan not only disdains but wouldn’t know how to reach if they wanted to.
The Image of the Mormon
One final image to consider in concluding these ruminations.
Whatever one makes of Mormon theology, as a result of this election campaign Mitt Romney inevitably became the poster boy for 21st-century Mormonism.
For years, perhaps even decades to come, any mention of Mormons in politics, especially at the national level, will evoke Romney. And that conjures up a man with no fixed principles, willing to espouse any position that would advance him politically, and to lie shamelessly to further his secular goals; a man who could boast that he enjoys firing people and disparage half the electorate as irresponsible moochers (but only behind what he thought were closed doors, never to their faces). Most importantly: A loser.
That’s the current image of Mormonism in the public mind. So Romney’s “Mormon Moment” did great damage to his co-religionists — especially those already in politics, or with aspirations in that regard. They’ll need to distance themselves from Romney actively in order to succeed, at least outside of Utah. And that’ll be hard to do, because in his “47 percent” speech Romney only said what most Mormons believe. It’s absolutely consistent with Mormon theology, which explains why Romney gained 78 percent of the Mormon vote on November 6.
His father, George Romney, had the courage to go against the dictates of his racist church and endorse civil rights for African Americansin the early ’60s. That left a legacy of tolerance for Mormons able to separate church from state. Half a century later, his son pandered to the most racist elements in the nation.
As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Nixon, George Romney fought for desegregated government-sponsored housing for poor and working-class families. This was a man of integrity and principle, of whom Mormons should be proud. His son is a man of dissimulation and expediency, of whom they should be ashamed. Romney fils squandered Mormonism’s political inheritance of his father’s good works in the secular sphere.
Mitt Romney has bequeathed to his co-religionists a tainted image of Mormonism in American politics; it will take a long time, and much hard work, to erase that stain.
The interruption of my election coverage by Hurricane Sandy, which left us safe and dry but without power, heat, hot water, and internet access for almost a week, resulted in my omitting a few imagistic eruptions I’d planned to pursue in this series of posts on visual imagery and the 2012 election. These include:
• the video “Dreams from My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception,” which purports to demonstrate that Obama is not a Kenyan in disguise but simply using that cover story to hide the fact that he’s actually the native-born bastard son of noted American Communist Frank Marshall Davis;
• Romney’s desperate pants-on-fire ad claiming that Chrysler’s Jeep division would shortly move its jobs from the United States to China (yes, Tagg, I’m calling your daddy a liar — bring it on, sonny);
• homophobia in Republic Partyland, as manifested in former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton’s critique of the Obama administration’s response to the violence in Benghazi, Libya as “limp-wristed,” in tandem with the neocon rumor mill asserting that Obama is secretly gay and a caricature of Obama and Biden as the closeted gay lovers in Brokeback Mountain.
But these have become yesterday’s news. Obama and Biden ran on their record, challenged Romney and Ryan on theirs, told far fewer whoppers than their opponents, won the popular vote handily and the Electoral College hands-down. No Republic Party grounds for any recount, even with Florida mortifyingly unable to complete its ballot tally on time yet again.
The Democrats far outdid the Republicans in all matters media- and image-related. For the tale of just one crucial instance of the Romney campaign’s mishandling of matters digital, see John Ekdahl’s November 8 story at Business Insider, “Mitt Romney’s ‘Project ORCA’ Was A Total Disaster, And It May Have Cost Him The Election.” By contrast, look at the backstage saga of the Obama-Biden “number crunchers,” the savvy tweet from Obama after the RNC “Eastwooding” episode, and the instantly viral victory tweet of him embracing Michelle.
But Obama and Biden’s campaign beat Romney and Ryan decisively with old-school political tactics as well. They went door to door nationwide, registering new voters and then getting out the vote (including the early vote). Shoe leather, not Saul Alinsky, gave Romney and Ryan the boot.
For an index of links to all posts related to this story, click here.
This post supported by a donation from the Estate of Lyle Bongé.