Connecting With the People

Any speechwriter knows that in constructing persuasive rhetoric it's important to take big, abstract ideas and communicate them through the stories of people. It isn't always easy, and you can't make every speech one long story about your Aunt Gladys, but if your speeches are nothing but facts and figures then they make it very hard for your audience to connect to what you're saying on an emotional level. From what I've seen, Mitt Romney doesn't do this very often when he's on the stump. When he does touch on individuals, it's often vague and brief, the "I met a guy the other day..." who illustrates a point and then is quickly abandoned.

This is notable because the whole connecting-with-people thing is something Romney has a bit of a political problem with. And it's certainly something the Obama campaign is emphasizing. Look at this ad the campaign just released discussing the auto bailout:

You'll notice, first, that Obama is in shirtsleeves. Then we see him, dressed similarly casually, with a series of ordinary people in ordinary settings—auto workers around a table in what looks like the break room at a plant, in a diner, in someone's kitchen, out in a field. And finally we get to the factory where cars are being built. These images tell the story of the auto bailout through Obama's concern for and connection to the people who were most directly affected by it. The implicit contrast, of course, is with Mitt Romney, who, we're meant to assume, probably discussed the issue of the bailout with a few of his CEO buddies before penning that now-infamous "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" op-ed.

That isn't to say that Obama doesn't also sometimes call in from 30,000 feet—see this ad, for example, which is entirely devoted to a graphical data presentation, with no narration whatsoever (bestill my quant geek's heart!). But he makes things much more personal than Romney does. When he talked about his newfound support for same-sex marriage, he put it in the context of a conversation with his daughters. And even though Malia and Sasha have been kept largely away from the press, these kinds of discussions give Americans a sense of Obama as a father of adolescent girls. Mitt Romney's children, on the other hand, are to most people an undifferentiated collection of squeaky-clean Mormon young manhood with slightly odd and difficult-to-remember names like Tagg, Tink, Turf, and Torp. The fact that Romney's kids are grown makes it harder for him to make us think of him as a dad.

Fair or not, who would have thought that we'd see an election where the Democrats are the ones making us think that their guy is the one you'd want to have a beer with? I'm sure this is driving Republicans batty. They think Obama is a failure, and Romney is a smart and accomplished person who can turn things around, yet he's being pummelled for seeming elitist, socially awkward and inauthentic. Kinda sucks, doesn't it? Well, now you know how we felt in 2004. And 2000. And 1988. And so on. Well, Republicans, you created the modern authenticity fetish. Eventually it was bound to come back and bite you in the ass.

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