FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
The Meme War We Must Win
In the past week the presidential campaign has been hit by two events that many have termed silly. First there was the Hilary Rosen comment denigrating Ann Romney’s decision to stay at home and actually raise her children rather than elect to have a stranger do that. Second was the softer Seamus-on-the-roof story rolled out by the Obama campaign yesterday.
Many, especially our own “smart set”, have criticized the attention these events have attracted as somehow taking away from the high minded policy discussion that is supposedly taking place.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Since Mitt Romney has become the presumptive GOP nominee we’ve seen two broad lines of attack opened against him. The first is “Mitt is an out of touch rich guy.” The second is “Mitt is a Mormon and Mormons are very, very strange.”
The closest they have come to making a policy attack on Romney is criticizing him as a conservative. How this is supposed to hurt him is anyone’s guess as the major knock on Romney during the primary was that he wasn’t conservative.
Both the stories on Ann Romney and Seamus the dog are designed to build a meme portraying Romney as a plutocrat, some sort of latter day (nyuk nyuk) J. P. Morgan. For instance, the recent Paul Begala article in The Daily Beast refers to Romney as Thurston Howell III:
And I mean elite. In Mitt Romney the Republicans have the apotheosis of wealth worship. Romney has amassed a fortune so vast he is expanding his $12 million beachfront mansion and installing an elevator … for his cars. For his cars, people. If you’re insanely rich, you might have an elevator in your mansion. But a lift for your Lexus? Keep in mind he’s running for office, for Pete’s sake. What’s he going to do if he wins? Use orphans as human golf tees?
[…] So far Romney has had a case of Marie Antoinette Syndrome. Every time he tries to connect with a middle- class voter he makes the Grey Poupon guy look like Joe Lunchbucket. He brags about his friends who own NASCAR teams and NFL franchises. He casually makes $10,000 bets. He says the $374,000 he made in speaking fees isn’t a lot of money. When a kid gives him an origami duck made out of a $1 bill, all he has in his pocket to replace it are hundreds.
Romney apologists will say I’m taking this out of context. Baloney—or rather, Wagyu filet mignon. The context is that Romney truly is out of touch [my emphasis] , and middle-class voters may conclude that he is not on their side.
To understand why this important one has to take a short side trip through recent presidential campaign and think about some notable moments. What do we remember about Gerald Ford? Sorta slow and sorta clumsy. Did his falling on the steps of Air Force One or hitting a woman spectator with a golf ball really say anything about his presidency? Absolutely not. To say they did not play a measurable role in his loss to Jimmy Carter is nonsense. Of course they did and today Ford is remembered as much for being sorta slow and sorta clumsy as he is for pardoning Richard Nixon.
Fast forward to 1992. Two images stand out from that campaign. George H. W. Bush impatiently looking at his watch during a debate (he wasn’t the only one doing that, trust me) and George H. W. Bush seemingly amazed by a supermarket scanner. Did either of those accurately reflect Bush’s presidency which encompassed a successful end to the Cold War and successful war with Iraq? No. But they buttressed a meme developed by James Carville and Paul Begala as, wait for it, an out of touch rich guy who believed he was owed the presidency as a birthright. In that same campaign, the ridicule of Vice President Dan Quayle became an art form.
In addition to the attacks on Romney’s wealth the left and the media, to the extent they aren’t the same, is gently rolling out the Mormons are strange attack. In this case, from Buzzfeed’s staff “Mormon expert” McKay Coppins an article called “Why Ann Stayed Home” you can see how cleverly the “Mormons are Strange” and the “War on Women” are linked.
Ann Romney was already fully immersed in stay-at-home motherhood — raising five sons, ages six to 16, in her Belmont home — when Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson took to a pulpit on February 22, 1987 and delivered a definitive sermon on gender roles in the church titled, “To the Mothers of Zion.”
His message to working moms: “Come home.”
The religious dynamic of the Romneys’ Leave It To Beaver lifestyle has been largely lost on the partisans making hay out of the latest flare-up in the mommy wars, which was sparked by a Democratic strategist charging that Ann “has never actually worked a day in her life.” But while much of the debate has centered on class — with liberals casting full-time motherhood as a luxury for the rich, and conservatives hoping working-class women will identify with her — the fact is that even if Mitt were a middle-class schoolteacher, there’s a good chance Ann still would have foregone a career.
That’s because for many Latter-day Saint women, staying at home to raise children is less a lifestyle choice than religious one — a divinely-appreciated sacrifice that brings with it blessings, empowerment, and spiritual prestige.
Contrary to what a lot of folks on our side are saying these attacks are far more important to defend against than obsessing over Romney’s position on Afghanistan or the capital gains tax because this election is not going to be fought over issues and ideas. Were ideas and issues really important, Obama would be sitting alone in a by-the-hour motel room with a bottle of cheap bourbon and straight razor. He doesn’t have issues and he doesn’t have accomplishments so all that is left to him is to tear down Romney.
If he can convince you that Romney is a cross between Scrooge McDuck and Moe Howard who adheres to a very strange set of religious beliefs then he wins.
In both of these cases above we dodged the bullet. The rather stupid attack on Ann Romney’s decision that raising her kids was important has, in effect, made a mockery of the whole “War on Women” meme the Democrats have spent months developing. The Seamus story was short circuited by an own goal, Obama’s self-reverential memoir brags about him having eaten dog, and by Ann Romney’s candid discussion of the issue.
Had we taken the advice of any number of pundits, by Election Day these incidents would have been as much a part of Romney’s public persona as President Bush and the supermarket scanner.