Don't Tell 'Em, Show 'Em

Among politicians, as among athletes or practitioners of a hundred other arts, there are "naturals," people who have an instinctive feel for how their endeavor ought to be done and display an effortless level of skill. Then there are those who have less of an instinctive feel for it but work hard to master the various components until they become the closest approximation of the natural as possible. Bill Clinton, for instance, would be in the first category, while Hillary Clinton would be in the second category. Then there are people like Mitt Romney, who not only isn't a natural but can't quite seem to put all the pieces of being a candidate together.

Look, for instance, at this exchange from an interview Romney did with ABC's Diane Sawyer:

DIANE SAWYER: I want to talk about a couple of issues relating to women. This 19 point difference between you and the president on women. Here are some specific questions. If you were president-- you had been president-- would you have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Law?

MITT ROMNEY: It's certainly a piece of legislation I have no intend-- intention of changing. I wasn't there three years ago--

DIANE SAWYER: But would you have signed it?

MITT ROMNEY: --so I-- I'm not going to go back and look at all the prior laws and say had I been there which ones would I have supported and signed, but I certainly support equal pay for women and-- and have no intention of changing that law, don't think there's a reason to.

This is something Romney has done before: talking about what he will and won't talk about, instead of just talking about the thing he wants to talk about (for instance, when he gets uncomfortable questions about Mormonism, he tends to say things like "I'm sorry, we're just not going to have a discussion about religion in my view"). He has a meta-communication problem. It pulls him outside the moment, making him an observer of his own campaign. It's a subtle thing, but it reinforces the idea of Romney as a distant, overly analytical, and ultimately unknowable figure. As every aspiring writer learns in their first writing workshop, the first rule of storytelling is "Don't tell 'em, show 'em." Until now, Romney hasn't found a way to show Americans much; he's much more comfortable just telling us.

Unfortunately for him, it isn't as though there is some kind of dramatic change Romney could make to address this basic problem. If he tries, he might start singing "America the Beautiful" again, and lord knows nobody wants that.

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