With each day the most troubling aspect of Republican Presidential Mitt Romney’s campaign is how it seems to be a campaign that on so many levels is not being honest with voters. Now, in the case of Hurricane Sandy, we see that the planned political rally hurriedly transformed into a (supposedly) non-campaign rally storm relief rally yesterday was partly sheer photo op. Buzzfeed’s headline:
The Making Of Romney’s Storm Relief Event
A scramble to depoliticize a political campaign, and $5,000 in supplies from Wal-Mart. “Just grab something.
And the details:
But the last-minute nature of the call for donations left some in the campaign concerned that they would end up with an empty truck. So the night before the event, campaign aides went to a local Wal Mart and spent $5,000 on granola bars, canned food, and diapers to put on display while they waited for donations to come in, according to one staffer. (The campaign confirmed that it “did donate supplies to the relief effort,” but would not specify how much it spent.)
And this is laudable:
When showtime arrived the following morning, local campaign staffers were pleasantly surprised by their supporters’ generosity.
“We were incredibly pleased with the outpouring of support we received from volunteers and generous contributors from southwest and central Ohio,” said Christopher Maloney, Romney’s Ohio spokesman, adding, “We’re pleased that Ohio could play a role, albeit a minor one, in the relief effort.”
Reports yesterday painted the portrait of a rally that was in fact political, from the buttons to the glossy video about Romney that was shown at the GOP convention. Buzzfeed’s report says this was due to the late minute change and confusion. Fair enough:
But then you have this:
But even as Romney, clad in blue jeans and rolled-up sleeves, hustled around his area of the gym, shaking hands, thanking supporters, and stacking cases of bottled water on top of each other, signs of stagecraft remained.
As supporters lined up to greet the candidate, a young volunteer in a Romney/Ryan t-shirt stood near the tables, his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting, “You need a donation to get in line!”
Empty-handed supporters pled for entrance, with one woman asking, “What if we dropped off our donations up front?”
The volunteer gestured toward a pile of groceries conveniently stacked near the candidate. “Just grab something,” he said
Two teenage boys retrieved a jar of peanut butter each, and got in line. When it was their turn, they handed their “donations” to Romney. He took them, smiled, and offered an earnest “Thank you.”
Donations to storm relief? Laudable. The way it was stage managed where people had to grab a “donation” from the front to get to the line to greet the candidate (and be in camera range)? The intent was good but it became one more campaign event that used the pretext of the storm to generate images of the candidate in a way that was not completely honest with voters.
McKay Coppins has a great report on the frantic last-minute efforts by Mitt Romney’s campaign to turn an Ohio campaign rally into a “relief rally.” At the last minute, Romney sent staffers to go clean out a local Wal-Mart to display enough goods for the cameras. (Coppins doesn’t mention that donating goods rather than money is not only inefficient or even useless, but counterproductive, forcing relief organizations to divert resources to stow them.)
Of course, this is more than a bit unfair, since the handling of campaign stagecraft tells you nothing about a candidate’s merits. But the story does seem to be a perfect synecdoche for the Republican approach to social policy. The frantic obsession with appearing to help people counterposed against a total lack of concern with the substantive effect is exactly how the party has approached issues like health care, poverty, and education…
….Don’t we need some kind of plan for people who have preexisting conditions? Just grab something!
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.