Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Let the Campaign Begin

OK, I know presidential campaigns pretty much run non-stop these days. The current Republican primary race has been going since Election Day 2010 and is just getting ready to kick into high gear in Iowa, New Hampshire, etc.

We don't do political endorsements here at TPE (we bash both parties and all candidates equally), but it's definitely time to start doing some posts on the 2012 debacle, er election, which promises to be the most expensive ($2 billion+) in history.

So first, this very amusing story on candidate Mitt Romney's ability, or inability (perhaps disability) to connect with voters on the campaign trail.

A close-up study of Mr. Romney’s casual interactions with voters captures a candidate who can be efficient, funny and self-deprecating, yet often strains to connect in a personal way.

For a candidate who is exceedingly risk-averse, Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands.

“Sisters?” he asked. (Nope, stepmother and stepdaughter.) “Your husband?” he wondered. (No, just a friend from the neighborhood.) “Mother and daughter?” he guessed. (Cousins, actually.)

The results can be awkward. “Daughter?” he asked a woman sitting with a man and two younger girls at the diner in Tilton, N.H., on Friday morning. Her face turned a shade of red. “Wife.”

Oh, Mr. Romney said. “It was a compliment, I guess,” said the woman, Janelle Batchelder, 31. “At the same time, it was possibly an insult.”

Haven't you ever said something socially that you were sure, later, was awkward or inappropriate? Now imagine having to encounter that social setting day in and day out on the campaign trail.

Mr. Romney relishes meeting young voters and rarely misses an opportunity to guess their age.

“What are you, about 9, 10?” Mr. Romney asked a young boy, shaking his gloved hand in a parking lot in Lancaster, N.H. “Seven,” the boy’s mom said.

When another boy corrected Mr. Romney a few campaign stops later (he was 12, not 14), his aides burst into laughter at the familiar mistake. Mr. Fehrnstrom called his boss’s frequent questions “an icebreaker.”

“It’s better than going around and trying to guess people’s weight,” Mr. Fehrnstrom said. “It’s safe.

I'm thinking people are as touchy about their age as they are their weight, but what do I know? I guess it's easier to just...congratulate people?

Mr. Romney likes to congratulate people. For what, exactly, is not always clear.

“Congratulations,” he told a grandmother at an event on Thursday night, presumably because she had a large brood.

Over three consecutive days last week, he congratulated a girl who said she was attending college, a woman who said she owned a small business and a mother who said she was going back to school. “Congratulations!” he exclaimed upon learning that a woman had three children.

LOL. I'm not an ethnomethodologist and don't do much work in the sociology of emotions, but you would think people running for president are, by nature, people-persons, right? Extroverts who enjoy interaction and encounters with complete strangers, and who love "connecting" to people, since it is the ticket to success in politics?

But it's a strange quirk, when you think about it, that many of our presidents were, in fact, quite introverted; people for whom glad-handing and back-slapping was painful. It's been said of the current occupant, that as great as Obama is with a speech, he's actually quite awkward up close with strangers. Reagan was noted for being an actor who could certainly play the part of president but who, offstage, loathed the baby-kissing aspects of the job.

For every Clinton, who genuinely loves emoting with people ("I feel your pain"), you have a Nixon, who, despite running for national office five times (winning four of them), really didn't like or trust people ("Never trust the bastards"). A conundrum, to put it mildly.

But back to Mitt.

Sometimes, when a voter brandishes a camera, his greetings become more elaborate: “Hi, there. You know how to make that work? Ha-ha.”

Mr. Romney, never much of a hugger or backslapper, stands with his hands straight down at his waist, tilting forward ever so slightly and turning from side to side as he searches for the next hand to shake or poster to sign.

And when faced with tough questions, Romney becomes priceless.

Few candidates are as deft as Mr. Romney at genially brushing off unwelcome queries and comments.

In Bedford, N.H., a woman walked up to him after a speech and declared: “I have a lot friends who say you are the robotic type. And I am like, no, you need to stay that way because you are a leader.”

Mr. Romney’s mouth arched into a somewhat pained smile as he rushed to conclude the conversation. “Nice to see you guys,” he said as he walked away.

A few moments later, a voter named David Rivers asked Mr. Romney whether there would be place for Mr. Paul, a Texas congressman, in a Romney White House. Mr. Romney treated the question as a joke, letting out a laugh and walking on by.

“I was actually kind of serious,” Mr. Rivers said in an interview afterward.

Sometimes Mr. Romney will engage in a back-and-forth with tough questioners; in Concord, N.H., a woman told him that she favored socialized medicine. “I’ve got someone for you,” Mr. Romney said. “His name is Barack Obama. He agrees with you. Ha-ha.”

Good times. As we get ready to turn the page on this year and begin the spectacle that is presidential politics, let's all pause on this bit of humor and remember that as serious as the mudslinging and backstabbing will get, at the heart of these races are people trying to connect to other people, however awkward it might be.

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