Maybe the next candidate for president should be physically unable to speak. At the very least, he/she should be forbidden to speak in complete English sentences that attempt to convey a coherent thought to adult listeners. Better to speak only in prepackaged sound bites. Better yet, just Tweet.
To dare to speak in sentences to the 24/7 media is to invite an anatomical dissection of one’s mouth, brain, guts, and heart similar to the fate of a fetal pig in Biology 101.
Responses to a reporter’s questions are sliced in two. The second half of an answer is conveniently omitted; the first half is set in 18-point type and instantly blasted around the world. The part is taken for the whole. Truncated phrases are quoted and repeated endlessly online, on radio, on TV. A snippet of a statement is published as if it were an entire dissertation on the subject.
Example: “I am not concerned about the very poor.
We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.”
Slicing and dicing the candidate’s statements is done intentionally. Deliberately. With malice aforethought. This relentless, giddy exercise serves the media’s goal of defining the candidate according to its preordained template. If Mitt Romney says, “I am not concerned about the very poor [because they have a societal safety net; I am concerned about middle-income Americans],” that just proves he is the rich, out-of-touch business executive that everyone always knew he was. But if Barack Obama were to say the very same thing, that would prove his deep and abiding concern for the American middle class.
See how it works? The media’s editing of a candidate’s statements is designed to reinforce the image that the media itself has adopted and wants the rest of us to embrace. It’s the hermeneutic circle of political discourse. The media’s infinitesimal parsing of Romney’s sentences is designed to serve its preordained narrative about his character. And, as an added bonus, the whole manufactured news event is meant to sell product. What product? More media reporting, of course! Let’s see how far out we can spin this news cycle.
Romney’s unobjectionable statement that the “very poor” are not the central concern (i.e., not the primary focus) of his campaign—because the poor have a societal safety net not available to middle-income people—is damning only to the media pundits who are not now and have never been very poor. Nor has Mitt Romney ever been very poor. Nor have I.
At one point in his life, however, my dad was very poor. My mom told me that, when she first met him, he was ashamed to have to buy his ill-fitting suits at a second-hand store in Brooklyn. He had a job as a door-to-door salesman for an encyclopedia company. It was during the Depression, and he knew he was lucky to have work. He enlisted in the Army in World War II, served in the Pacific Theater, and bought his first home with the help of the GI Bill in 1947. Safety net, indeed.
Years later, he went on to head up the national sales organization of that same encyclopedia company in New York City. He was no longer “very poor.” In fact, my dad was exactly what Mitt Romney has in mind when he makes middle-income Americans the centerpiece of his quest for the presidency of this great country.
2 February 2012
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