What the Etch A Sketch Really Reveals

While Mitt Romney continues his limp toward the Republican nomination, his Etch A Sketch moment has revealed and even deeper and more fundamental flaw in his campaign strategy.

While there is a part of me that is pained to see a favorite childhood toy become a political metaphor, it shows that his campaign ultimately sees this election as less about the mettle and personal characteristics of the candidate and much more about the environment in which he is running. Hence, the example used by Romney’s senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom. In his mind, it was an apt example of the way they see the world, they keep drawing pictures to please the audience and they can simply clear it away and move onto the next drawing, because in the end this election is not about the candidates rather about the conditions in which this campaign is taking place.

A tough economy, high gas-prices, rampant unemployment, lackluster approval ratings, ask any student of politics and they would say this doesn’t bode well for the incumbent President. The mistake of this mindset it that it ignores the human nature of most voters—they want to vote for a candidate and not against them.

This fallacy pervades much of partisan politics and will certainly undermine Romney with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. While many primary voters continue to pull the lever for Rick Santorum in his increasing quixotic bid for the nomination, they say they will support the eventual nominee even if it is Romney. The truth is that while some may do it, many will not be motivated to go to the polls and their lack of enthusiasm will pervade the race at every turn.

Which brings us back to Romey’s Etch a Sketch strategy for the fall. The campaign seems to believe that by simply pointing out how bad things are, they do not have to present a candidate who actually gives people something to get excited about. Shake it up, start over, and try a new design—loads of fun for an eight-year-old in the 70’s and not the way to electoral success in 2012.

All this brings us back to the issue everyone keeps talking about and to which the Romney campaign seems impervious—Mitt keeps redesigning himself with no more solidity then the sand on the screen. Who is this man? What does he really stand for? Is he passionate about anything other than making money and continuing his father’s political lineage?

My guess is that like so many heir apparents their life, while blessed by money and position, has done little to support an understanding of who they truly are and what they really care about. Romney’s campaign has brought this into stark relief and the only perplexing piece is why it has done little to bring about any introspection on his part. Which explains the strategy if they can’t give people any solidity on what they are voting for let’s get them to vote against the opponent.

Sadly, this tactic rarely works and that is the good news; despite all we are faced with in the world today, our human spirit is touched more by the desire to believe in, then it is to fight against. No, this won’t be true for everyone this November and I am confident that it will be enough to see President Obama re-elected.

Let’s hope in Romney’s doomed strategy that perhaps he finds the courage to speak his own voice. While it won’t assuage the right-wing, it may give him some small satisfaction that the past few years have produced at least some positive impact. And in knowing that many will be going to the polls this November is search of something better, let us hope that President Obama gets the message and the courage to actually bring his visions into reality instead of building them on shifting sands.

Kathleen Schafer is the founder the Leadership Connection (www.leadershipconnection.com) and the author of Living the Leadership Choice — A Guide to Changing Your Life and the World

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