Postcards from the Bus-Capade: Romney Road Report

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Some scenes from this weekend's Romney for America bus tour through hard-pressed (but very beautiful) areas of small-town Pennsylvania.

At a WaWa, in Quakertown -- where Romney ordered a hoagie and mixed with the crowd. That is The Bus in the background.

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Romney on the stump, at a historic iron furnace in Cornwall, near Lebanon, using the hoagie-ordering experience at the WaWa as a parable for what's right and wrong in America. (Wrong: a doctor told him that he had to fill out a 33-page change-of-address form, several times, to get the post office to send his mail -- including reimbursement checks -- to his new location. That is what happens with government-run organizations where you have "no competition." Right: at WaWa, great hoagies. Also, very efficient touch-pad ordering system. This is what you get with competition.)

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The shop at Weatherly Casting, south of Hazleton, where he talked about the need to reclaim America's industrial greatness, etc.:

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The substance of this trip is for an upcoming article in the magazine; thus, there will be very little activity in this space for the next few days. Snapshot points:

1) Typical comment from (age-appropriate) female members of the crowd as Romney mingled: "Oh, he is even better looking in real life!" If slighter in build than you would guess from TV -- in sporting terms, more like a lightweight rower than a tight end -- Romney has perfect-posture carriage, a very strong jaw, and (as with Bill Clinton) a large head that makes him seem bigger than his actual size. There is no doubt that he is a very good-looking man, especially for age 65. 

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2) His campaign has distilled its message to its purest possible essence, and with remarkable discipline and clarity that essence came through in every comment at every stop, by Romney and every one of his traveling associates: former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, plus current Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Governor Tom Corbett. The pure message is:
   - The president said he would fix the economy;
   - He didn't;
   - Give us a try.
Or as James Carville might have put it, "It's the economy, stupid." You can tell when campaigns have figured out their theme, and how to express it -- and how to get the crowds to react. At least for now this campaign has figured those things out. The Obama team is crazy if they take anything for granted in this election.

3) Romney's trademark small-talk exclamation, "Oh my goodness!" seems completely genuine. But I am trying to think of the last time I heard a 21st-century person use that phrase -- as opposed to all the other possibilities, which when you think about it range from coarse to profane. (Jeez louise, WTF, Holy shit, and on through a long list you can fill in yourself.) When combined with his Don-Draper-in-the-'50s very dapper personal style, it adds to a retro atmosphere that some people will find reassuring and appealing and others will find odd. More on this anon. [Update John McWhorter has an interesting piece on this antique turn of Romney's phrasing, in TNR. Thanks to Yair Rosenberg for pointing it out.]

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Later this week, I will have updates on a number of subjects readers have written in about. I will also talk about the nature of email itself, which over the past year I've come to view in a different way. But only after I've finished this next article.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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