September 23, 2012

‘Gotcha’ Has No Place in Politics: All’s Not Fair in Campaign Wars

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How many hidden cameras does it take to derail a campaign? After the events of this week, many pundits would say just one. But I’m not so sure. A few days ago, Mother Jones leaked a video that was recorded at a Romney fundraiser last May where the Republican candidate was recorded saying that he was disregarding 47 percent of the electorate because they were already firmly entrenched in their loyalty to Obama. He said that he had no reason to attempt and woo them because his messages about lower taxes would ring hollow.

To be fair, this was probably not one of Romney’s best moments. But will it be fatal to his campaign like so many are suggesting? No.

This isn’t the first time a politician has been caught with his foot in his mouth. Last month, Biden was accused of being racist after he made a comment about putting people “back in chains.” Eric Fehrnstrom got in a spot of trouble after drawing an analogy between Romney’s policy stances and an Etch A Sketch. And four years ago, a certain senator from Illinois received significant flack after referring to some conservatives as “clinging to their guns and religion.” That guy went on to win the presidency.

If the past is any indication, the public loves a good gaffe. They love to point and ooh and cackle mercilessly, “Ha! I’ve got you in a corner now.” But the thing is: We have an extremely short attention span and an even shorter memory. If it’s slip-ups, gotcha moments or oops you’re looking for, just wait until the next news cycle. Will we still remember this particular incident come November 6? As we’re standing in that polling booth, are we really thinking about the comments Romney made in a grainy cell phone video?

And I would argue that Romney’s comment wasn’t so much of a Freudian slip as it was a poorly executed political strategy. Consistent candidates are unicorns — they just don’t exist. All candidates will start out in the primary season catering to extreme right or extreme left voters. As we move into the general election though, independent voters become much more important and you see candidates moving to the middle. (Romney, for example, spent all summer saying that he would repeal Obamacare as soon as he took office. Yet a few weeks ago, he told Meet the Press that there were parts of it he would like to keep.) The point is that, when it comes to political rhetoric, there isn’t just a message; there’s an audience as well. And it’s strategic to manipulate that message depending on your audience. Romney’s speech at the NAACP was vastly different than the one he gave at the RNC, and rightly so. In this case, he was speaking to people who can afford spending $50,000 for a dinner. Is he going to sound more snooty and pretentious than usual? Yes, and he should. He’s trying to take their money.

Finally, moments like these are not only distorted to generate the most shock factor, they’re also downright distracting. What Romney said wasn’t so far from the truth — those 47 percent most likely won’t vote for him. His comment speaks to his campaign strategy, not his issue position, which ultimately, is what really matters. It bothers me that people on Facebook can quote Romney verbatim on his gaffes but have no idea what his ideas on job creation are. Which is a better judgment of a candidate’s electability? The way he schmoozes with the fat cats or the way he runs an economy?

Candidates fight dirty during elections. The highest office in the world is up for grabs, so it comes as no surprise that most politicians take an “ends justify the means” approach while they campaign. At the end of the day, we have to acknowledge that playing clean and fair is a distant dream of the past. But we still have to find the best person to lead. More focus should be placed on the substantive issues of the election. And whoever wins, we should be proud of the policies he plans to enact, even if we have to turn a blind eye to the tactics it took for him to emerge victorious.

Joyce Wu is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jw637@cornellsun.com. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Joyce Wu

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