By sheer coincidence, my nine-year-old begged me just the other day to buy him one of those iconic toys from my own childhood, the Etch-A-Sketch, which is manufactured by that equally quirky and iconic toymaker, Ohio Art.
And so, thanks to my son, I am now equipped to pile on like everyone else onto Mitt Romney’s PR wingman, Eric Fehrnstrom.
Fehrnstrom, as by now everyone with access to YouTube surely knows, famously replied when asked by CNN’s John Fugelsang how Romney intended to pivot from the Republican primary to the general election: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”
It was a stunning, perhaps catastrophic mistake. Rachel Maddow called it the gaffe of what has been a gaffe-laden campaign. Not only was Fehrnstrom’s answer supercilious and snarky. It also fed into one of the central narratives against Romney in this campaign, namely that he is an unprincipled fraud who will do or say anything to be president. And now Romney’s top aide has said he agrees. On the record!
Eric Fehrnstrom is living every press secretary’s and publicity agent’s worst nightmare. He’s not only given his guy’s enemies a talking point they can use against him. He’s given them a talking point with props!
I never much cared for the Etch-A-Sketch myself. I quickly tired of the toy once I discovered the best I could do by twisting its two white knobs was to produce a tedious succession of boxes and big city skylines. But somehow I am guessing that between now and next November Ohio Art’s signature product will be the toy the political world just can’t put down.
As Timothy Noah of New Republic says, Fehrnstrom may have just committed “America’s first multi-platform gaffe.”
What makes it so new and different, says Noah, “is its extreme ripeness for visual exploitation at the virtual dawn of a new era of social networking on proliferating varieties of gadgets.”
Normally when a candidate or top aide commits a gaffe, says Noah, it enters some vast “echo chamber” either of words or images and is quickly forgotten as other words and images overwhelm and take its place.
But Noah says the Etch-A-Sketch gaffe is different. It provides endless possibilities for parody and visual mockery using an image familiar to most Americans to say something about Mitt Romney that has the virtue of being fundamentally true: that he’s a fake, a fraud, untrue, what you see today is not what you get tomorrow. And that, says Noah, is a “fatally candid” combination.
As it turns out, I know Eric Fehrnstrom pretty well from our days in the Massachusetts State House Press Gallery when Eric covered politics for the right-leaning Boston Herald when Mike Dukakis was Governor.
Our paths crossed again when Eric was State Treasurer Joe Malone’s press guy in the early 1990s and again when Fehrnstrom ran the communications shop for then-Governor Romney.
I’m also guessing that despite the sort of grim sympathy a herd of wildebeest has for one of its own being devoured by a pride of lions, Massachusetts own political herd is no doubt watching the hard-ball playing Fehrnstrom being devoured today and is thinking to itself: This couldn’t be happening to a nicer wise-guy.
But Fehrnstrom is simply too experienced a media pro for me to believe his epic gaffe occurred just because he’d let down his guard while savoring the satisfaction of another primary win. Something this big and stupid has to be cultural.
And in reaching for the Etch-a-Sketch metaphor, Fehrnstrom was only doing instinctively what the Republican Party has been doing deliberately ever since George W. Bush ended his disastrous eight-year reign, which is to wipe the historical slate clean and forget all about it so that everything that’s gone wrong before or since can be blamed on Barack Obama.
Fehrnstrom’s cynical response on CNN is nothing more than of a piece with a Republican presidential campaign and a Republican Party that is steeped in cynicism and betrays a contempt for facts, a contempt for truth, a contempt for principled consistency, a contempt for American traditions and institutions and a P.T. Barnum-like contempt for the average American voter that you’d expect from a party that thinks it’s found the secret to creating its own reality.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, Salon, March 22, 2012
Alexis Levinson of The Daily Caller has a short item up where she interviews some of the executive officers of FreedomWorks about a possible Mitt Romney presidency. They are remarkably sanguine about the possibility:
In a sit down with The Daily Caller, FreedomWorks Chief Operating Office and Treasurer Ryan Hecker, and Executive Director Russ Walker, explained that they were focused on their “Senate strategy” — getting strong conservatives into the Senate who can work with the House conservatives to drive an agenda, regardless of who is in office.
Most Americans assume that leadership in the country comes from the Presidency downwards. Freedomworks thinks it can come from the Congress and that Romney’s actual political opinions are irrelevant:
“The smaller-government movement has always looked for the man or the woman on the white horse to come in, take the presidency and move good policy. And the truth is, you can’t do it without a caucus within the Senate and the House that’s willing to move that same policy,” Walker said. “And our perspective is that if we build that caucus … that they will push good policy to the president regardless of who’s [in the White House].”
The most stunning part has to be when Freedomworks explains what they think will make Romney a historic president:
“My hope is that fifty years from now, someone is going to write a biography and it’s going to be known that Romney was one of the most conservative presidents in American history, and a conservative hero,” Hecker echoed. “And it’s going to be because a conservative Senate put bills in front of him that he signed.”
He joked that fifty years from now, Romney, who is currently being slammed for his political flip-flops, would have “a monument in D.C. or something because of his conservative bona fides.”
What would a monument to political obsequiousness look like?
This sentiment coming from Freedomworks may have first been expressed by Grover Norquist at CPAC. Clearly, the mood is spreading. Expect more conservative organizations and pundits to get the memo as it becomes obvious that Romney is going to be the nominee.
It will be a pretty interesting pitch: “Vote for Romney: He’ll Do What He’s Told.”
By: Noah Kristula-Green, The Daily Beast, March 22, 2012
Answering critics who are gleefully calling him the the Etch A Sketch candidate, Mitt Romney stood fast on one of his long-held positions Wednesday, defending George W. Bush’s financial bailout of Wall Street in 2008. That might be considered a rather gutsy stand, considering that Bush has been persona non grata among Republicans in this campaign, the conservative base despises the policy and Romney’s chief rival for the presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, has condemned the bailout as unnecessary and “injurious to capitalism.”
And what Romney said is at least partly true: almost every mainstream economist agrees that had there not been a bailout, the entire U.S. financial system would have collapsed and the nation would very likely be in the middle of a second Great Depression right now.
But in his remarks in Maryland, Romney also ignored–or etched out–much of the financial history that led to the bailout. “I keep hearing the president say that he’s responsible for keeping America from going into a Great Depression,” Romney said. “No, no, no. That was President George W. Bush and [then Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson that stepped in and kept that from happening.”
Umm, yeah, they did, but only after Paulson, as head of Goldman Sachs, lobbied to raise leverage limits that fueled Wall Street’s untrammeled risk-taking machine and after Bush, for eight years, sponsored low-income housing and deregulatory policies that promoted the illusory idea of a self-stabilizing Wall Street, gutted the financial regulatory system and set the stage for the disaster.
It is little remembered today that President Bush was so completely flummoxed by the financial collapse that, according to his own former speechwriter, Matt Latimer, he didn’t seem to comprehend at first what had happened, nor that the Treasury was planning to pay more for Wall Street’s toxic securities than they were really worth in order to sustain the reckless banks. “Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he told Latimer plaintively. Just before the crash, Bush had hoped to deliver a series of “legacy speeches” touting his accomplishments, including a robust economy.
Romney, in his remarks, may have been just sketching out how he plans to run in the fall–as well as conveniently reminding voters of the story he hoped would dominate the news yesterday, that George W. Bush’s prominent brother, Jeb, had just endorsed him. But that’s no excuse for etching out the real story of what happened.
By: Michael Hirsh, National Journal, March 22, 2012