Mitt Romney's 'Them' Problem

More

Presidential elections are decided in the first-person plural and the second person. Anyone operating in the third person is in trouble.

Mitt Romney's campaign on Wednesday released an ad featuring the candidate speaking straight to the camera, all by himself:

It's not the most polished video in the world. But you can see the thinking behind it. The candidate will directly address the voters, making a spare, authentic, heart-to-heart appeal that he cares about how "too many Americans" are suffering.

And then he says it.

"President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families. The difference is my policies will make things better for them."

Them.

Mitt Romney keeps talking about the people whose votes he needs as "them."

In the 47 percent video, it was "those people."

"I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," Romney said.

But presidential elections are always about the grand national us. They are about we, the people. And when it come to a candidate, they are about me and you.

As Bill Clinton famously said, "For too long we've been told about 'us' and 'them.' Each and every election we see a new slate of arguments and ads telling us that 'they' are the problem, not 'us.' But there can be no 'them' in America. There's only us."

That statement elides a lot of social divisions, but Clinton was right that as a matter of politics that's how you have to talk win. Even George W. Bush ran as "a uniter, not a divider."

The problem with Romney's campaign is not just a secret video, or media- and PAC-hyped candidate gaffes. It's an approach to talking to and about people in a way that is othering, rather than empathetic -- so much so that in direct appeal to middle-class voters, Romney doesn't think to say (or, rather, no one on his campaign thinks to have him say), "The difference is my policies will make things better for you."

The vast majority of Americans identify as middle-class or working class.

If Romney wasn't talking to them in this spot -- and by his language he made clear that he was not -- who was he talking to?

Jump to comments
Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Death of Film: After Hollywood Goes Digital, What Happens to Movies?

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In