There’s been a lot of talk–gleeful and rueful–about the “Etch-a-Sketch” comment by one of Mitt Romney’s advisors. (For those who missed it, the advisor was asked by a CNN reporter whether he worried that Mitt had been pushed so far right during the primary process that he would be unable to attract moderates during the general election; he responded that he wasn’t concerned, because the general election was like an Etch-A-Sketch–you shake everything up and start over.)
The remark underscored one of Romney’s biggest problems: the widespread perception that there is no “there” there–that he is Mr. Inauthentic. But I think it displayed an even more fundamental disconnect.
Today’s GOP has become a party of old white men who don’t understand how people communicate in the world of twitter and Facebook. We saw this during the last campaign–John McCain was often (aptly) described as “an analog candidate for a digital age.”
Romney’s advisor wasn’t wrong, exactly, about the nature of the primary and general campaigns–he was simply behind the times. It used to be that candidates could target voting blocks and special interests with direct mail appeals that flew under the radar of the electorate at large. It used to be that primaries could be conducted as largely “in house” contests–and it was usually only political junkies who would read the traditional media’s reporting on those primaries.
We don’t live in that world anymore. Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, among others, have altered the political landscape; people see a ridiculous remark, or are angered by a political position, and post it. Posts go viral. Literally millions of people are drawn into arguments that would have been “inside baseball” in days gone by.
And speaking of days gone by–nothing says old-fashioned and out of touch like a reference to Etch-A-Sketch.
Romney’s problem isn’t just that he’s willing to say anything to anyone. It’s that he and his team of old white guys don’t understand the world they now live in.