Video Killed the Radio Star
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only President in the history of the United States to have been elected for more than two terms. After implementing the New Deal, which helped to reduce unemployment, increase consumer confidence, and effectively pull America out of the gutter that was the Great Depression, FDR was re-elected by a landslide in 1936, and then again in 1940 and ’44. He was wildly popular with the American public, boasting a higher approval rating upon his death in 1944 than any other modern American president when they left Office. But there is also another defining feature about FDR during his term in Office—he was the only American president with a very visible physical disability.
In his day, Roosevelt was famous for his evening “fireside chats”. In each address, he spoke directly to citizens about the issues facing his administration and how they could help him achieve his goals. Video was not yet a popular (or practical) form of communication, so these “chats” were conducted over the radio. Listeners heard only his voice, his message. When he appeared in public, he used steel leg braces to help him walk unassisted. FDR never revealed to the American public that he was paralyzed from the waist down and almost always confined to a wheelchair.
In this day and age, the Internet is alive with pictures of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit cleavage and Mitt Romney’s mom jeans. The great FDR and his leg braces wouldn’t stand a chance in our increasingly multimedia culture, where appearance is just as, if not more, key to selling the campaign as the message behind every million dollar smile. Though FDR’s policies were great, his appearance left something to be desired. And in front of today’s media’s high-resolution lens, that just wouldn’t cut it. Mitt Romney, it seems, has the opposite problem.
Romney looks the part. He’s handsome, but in a salt-and-pepper sort of way that suggests hard work, experience, and culture. At 6’2” he’s relatively tall, commanding the attention of whatever audience he’s speaking too. He is also excellent at flashing the camera a toothy grin at just the right moment, letting the voters at home know that he is talking to them too. Mom jeans and all, Mitt Romney is the perfect presidential prototype, the natural choice for the next face of our country.
But the man has no message.
Romney should be taking heed from FDR, who ran in the midst of the worst economic crisis in modern American history. Roosevelt’s message was first and foremost the economy. Incumbent Herbert Hoover had allowed the economy to run into the ground, and FDR was campaigning on his ability to restore America to its former greatness. While President Obama himself did not allow the economy to tank—that happened under George W. Bush in the eight years before Obama took office—he has not drastically helped the situation. Unemployment still hovers around 8.3%, a rate unheard of for any incumbent victory since the Great Depression. The economy is still the most important issue to voters, despite the tiffs over social issues that have dominated the news lately. Whoever can convince voters that he can solve our economic problems will win this election. Romney could very easily win this election.
Instead, Romney chooses to focus on foreign policy and repealing health care reform. He talks about why he can’t talk about his taxes, about cracking the windows on moving airplanes, and about the 47%. In a misguided effort to appear in-touch, he calls for the union refs to return to “the NFL playing fields”. He chatters on about anything, and everything, that is not central to his campaign. News networks and social networking sites are abuzz with reactions to his comments, painting him as an out-of-touch billionaire and an enemy of the coveted middle class. Information is being exchanged at light speed, pressing Romney to come out with even more statements regarding the statements he made earlier. Romney is on TV. Romney is on Facebook. Romney is being Tweeted and reTweeted. Romney has an App for the iPhone 5. Romney is a face, but no longer a message.
Right now, it wouldn’t kill Romney to sit down in an armchair in his study, like Franklin D. Roosevelt did so many years ago, and speak to the American people. No high-res cameras or status updates. Just a simple chat by the fireside, letting the people he is hoping to represent know what it is he really stands for.
Mitt, we’ve seen enough of your pretty face. Now let’s hear what you have to say.
– Claire Douglas