Etch-A-Sketch Values

An aide to the Romney campaign made a big mistake. Here is the quote:

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

You’d think that with wars going on and all of the fireworks of a presidential campaign that it would be a more significant comment that shook up this primary season, but for Romney, this is trouble.

Unless you were living in a cave eight years ago, you likely remember the flip-flop fiasco of the Kerry campaign. At least the Kerry camp didn’t start their own demise, the Romney campaign might not be able to say the same thing. I’m not ready to write Romney off, I believe he will be the nominee and that we will still have a fight on our hands, no matter how good it should look for Obama. No Republican nominee should be dismissed, they are all serious contenders because they all can take advantage of our election system using unlimited dollars from anyone they’d like.

However, this might be Romney’s flip flop moment.

On the one hand, this might just seem like another cheezy prop that caught on, on the other, you have to wonder why this little quip is so important to Romney’s opponents. Santorum has certainly caught the etch-a-sketch fever and you’ll find them at campaign stops and for use in his stump speeches. Why is the etch-a-sketch such a handy prop against Romney?

It’s all about values once again.

Kerry had the line, “I voted for it before I voted against it”, which in itself isn’t awful. Everyone has changed their mind about something after they’ve had some additional information or feedback enter the picture. Changing a vote in itself isn’t terrible, but when votes, opinions, and rhetoric change according to who your audience is, we don’t like it. We call that a two-faced, yalla-bellied, flim-flam, flip-floppin’ etch-a-sketch. My apologies, I know we’re supposed to be civilized here, but I am making a point. No matter what party or if a party is involved, John and Jane Doe don’t like it when they feel that they are being “played”. That is being told what they want to hear just for the sake of winning in that moment.

The Romney aide made the gaffe about a point that is Romney’s major weakness. Romney has that game show host look of being too-perfectly coiffed, he also has the ability to seem uncomfortable around people and scripted. Whether you look at his history or the campaign trail, you can’t quite nail this guy down. Is he socially conservative? Does he work on bi-partisan efforts? Is he pro Wall Street or pro jobs? How does his religion inform his opinions? Is he proud of his heritage? Can he relate to regular Americans struggling to make it?

How Romney answers these questions depends on who he is standing in front of. What the aide mentioned as a campaign re-work, symbolizes what his candidate does every morning before reading his itinerary. People want to know that their leader is steady. Whatever they are about, we need predictability to trust them. Romney doesn’t have this predictability. Matter of fact, when he’s riding a wave of popularity is the moment he most often sticks his foot in his mouth – perhaps his guard is down. He can’t help but mention his social status – he puts himself “above” being a sporting fan, but he can still get into the spirit with the owners of those teams whether they are with the NFL or NASCAR.

What are the values that drive Romney? It’s a hard sell to say all life is sacred or that he has a kind spirit when you hear about his Seamus the dog problem. It’s hard to believe that he wants Americans to get jobs when you hear that he made millions from  shuttering small business, laying people off, investing in the demise of companies. Additionally we hear about him adding to the foreclosure debacle and using tax havens…it’s hard to see how Romney is pulling of the average American.  Romney is running on the fact that he a businessman that knows what he’s doing, but his experience of making  money has been the exact sort of activities that have been hurting the bottom line for millions of Americans.

The Romney campaign is assuming that making profit is the same as making jobs. It’s not.  Folks are looking for positive economic news and Romney is telling it to them, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, you find out that the class of people Romney makes money for is not the same class of people he needs to vote for him.

Because of this disconnect, and his plastic appearance, the etch-a-sketch metaphor works. If you don’t like Romney, just shake him up, get someone to turn the gears in a way you like and Voila! you have a likeable candidate.

The usual conservative values of authority and tradition are not clear in this candidate and the top progressive value of empathy rings hollow with him (poor, poor Seamus). He is running in the ABO slot – Anybody but Obama – and as mentioned before, that does not bode well for a campaign (ask Kerry).

Without values we lose identity; we are seen as a blank slate for someone else to fill with their ideas. Know your values, find them in your candidate and hold them to it by continuing to provide feedback to them – not just at election time. When we stand up for our values and demand that our reps stand up for theirs, we improve our democracy. Reject candidates that can’t keep their story straight and treat your values like memorized talking points.

Now is the time to invest in Etch-A-Sketch. Their stock is soaring and the convention isn’t until August.

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