Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Common Touch

Back on April 17th, Cookie Gate was born as described in this Washington Post blog.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Go to a Pittsburgh suburb. Hang out with a few “regular Americans” and sit and chat about taxes over chips, lemonade and cookies.

And so it was that Mitt Romney, dressed in brown loafers, grey slacks and blue tie with shirt sleeves rolled up, found himself strolling toward a picnic table in Bethel Park on Tax Day for a simple, utterly staged, roundtable with four couples handpicked to have an audience with a man who could be president.

But for Romney, who is not known for his gift of the regular-guy gab, a table, eight regular people, microphones, cameras, cookies, lemonade, reporters, chips, and dead air that needs to be filled with things that people say, can often be a recipe for awkwardness.

“I’m not sure about these cookies,” Romney said, looking at the women and around the table. “They don’t look like you made them. Did you make those cookies? You didn’t, did you? No. No. They came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or wherever.”

Democrats and marketers pounced and “Cookie Gate” was born.

The video of the exchange is in this link.

So what do we make of all of this?  There have been a number of examples where Romney has not exhibited the common touch when speaking to ordinary people.  By the way, the common touch is defined by the free dictionary as the ability of a rich or important person to communicate well with and understand ordinary people.

But the example with the cookies was in a class by itself.  How many of us would ever complain about food we were served by other people (other than in a restaurant)?  What made it more silly is that Romney didn’t even taste the cookies before criticizing them.  Tasting them first, would have avoided the unkind words. And as far as I can determine, Romney never tried any of the cookies so he was unable (or unwilling) to offer an apology to the bakery that made the cookies.

It’s easy to say that some faux pas over some cookies is not going have any effect on the election.  But not so fast!  Politicians on the campaign circuit are regularly expected to interact with the electorate whether it is kissing babies or eating all of the local specialties.  Yes, delivering a speech on foreign policy is OK.  But it’s also about sharing a human side that voters also think is important.