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The Ann Romney “Controversy”

Published on April 16, 2012 by

I may be dim, but I spent a chunk of time on a cardio machine at the gym last Thursday and was reminded yet again why I don’t trust what politicians or news people say.

The TV was tuned to Fox News, which gleefully lingered on the controversy between Ann Romney and Hilary Rosen over the Democratic consultant’s comment that Romney “hadn’t worked a day in her life” (she’s the wife of multimillionaire candidate Mitt Romney and had worked at home raising their five boys). Romney created a Twitter account to launch her response, which was to cast the remark as an attack on the “life choice” of stay-at-home moms. She went on to repeat the theme on cable news shows. Panels of pundits were convened to debate what democrats really thought about motherhood. The Republican National Committee called on the Democratic Party to issue a formal apology to Mrs. Romney and all moms everywhere.

Everybody apologized, from Ms. Rosen to the White House. The story seems to have died out, but don’t count on it. Republicans are using it to fundraise. Democrats are using it to prompt debate on women’s issues.

I hate politicians for this stuff, and I hate the news media that enables it.

Rosen wasn’t insulting moms in the interview, but rather commenting on the fact that Mitt Romney himself had said he got his info and insights into what matters to women from his wife and that, since Mrs. Romney had never worked to support a family the way so many other women, she wasn’t the best source of intel on that voting block.

More broadly, it has been reported that candidate Romney is trailing President Obama among those voters by a wide margin. This is because of the ugly washover from the policies Republicans have pursued at the state level (ultrasounds required for abortions because women can’t be trusted to make abortion decisions) and nationally (the Paul Ryan budget slashes funds that hundreds of thousands of women depend upon). Mitt Romney had to approve of these activities, whether overtly or by omission, in order to survive his party’s primaries.

The Democrats pounced on these facts to tag the Republicans as waging a “War on Women,” which is about as truthful as the Republicans claiming every year that a secret cabal of secular humanists are waging a “War on Christmas.”

The only war underway is The War On The Truth. And we’re the losers.

Everybody knows the facts. The politicians know what one another is doing and why. So do the newscasters. We know most of them, whether we choose to fully comprehend or deal with them. Yet we all pretend like there’s a “controversy” based on less than a sentence of words uttered in answer to a question during a live interview by a private individual (who happens to be a Democratic consultant but is otherwise unaffiliated with the Obama administration or reelection campaign). We accept another kabuki drama in lieu of actual news.

In their defense, the politicians are doing nothing less than brand marketers do every single day:

  • Taking a sliver of something that’s truthful — In this case, the offending comment — and elevating it to gigantic proportions. BP did something similar when it built a decade-long brand campaign on the incomprehensibly little investment it made in alternative energy (dubbing itself “Beyond Petroleum”). Tylenol has built its reputation on recommendations by doctors when it bought them by distributing vast amounts of free samples for them to give to patients. It’s standard practice for brands.
  • Inventing a strawman to talk about — The Democrats invented the “War on Women” theme based on elements of Republican policy efforts that weren’t necessarily connected by anything more than vague ideology, and gave it a name. Then the Romney campaign tried to change the subject by getting news pundits to talk about some vague liberal bias against non-job-market-competing women. Both are “strawman” purposefully set up to attack…and done so knowing that they’re both untrue. Brands do it all the time when they knock the competition (just remember the “I’m a Mac” spots, for instance).
  • Ignoring the truth altogether — The truth that matters to voters in this Presidential election is whether they prefer the policies delivered by the Democrat or proposed by the Republican. Instead of providing a place to understand and vet them — say, a news studio, or truly independent and thoughtful debate — we get the tit-for-tat bickering about posture and intention. And we like it, almost as if it’s more comfortable to base our voting preferences on what we feel vs. what we know. That’s exactly how a lot of brands want consumers to think. Skip the facts and details and buy based on your emotions.

The media are doing the same thing, too, in that they cover the latest business news of, say, a merger as if the last 99 of them didn’t fail. They report new brand strategies and campaigns without the slightest context or truth (so we get Google “waging war” against Yahoo, or whatever).

I think that’s why so many consumers have learned to ignore what we hear from/about brands. It’s the same for politics, only politics matter more. It stinks.

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