Branding 'Retro Romney'

Now that Mitt Romney's nomination as the Republican presidential candidate seems almost inevitable, the Obama campaign is in a hurry to define him to the public before the public defines him for itself.

When Obama's chief campaign strategist David Axelrod jokingly suggested that Romney has trouble distinguishing TV make-believe from reality by quipping that Romney "must watch Mad Men and think it's the evening news," this statement of Axelrod's was no breezy ad lib. It emerged as part of a concerted effort by the Obama campaign to paint Romney as a hopelessly out-of-touch and out-of-date cultural dinosaur who wants to turn back the clock on the last half-century.

American voter, meet Retro Romney.

President Obama has gotten into the act, too, by mocking his opponent. Obama performed this service (traditionally relegated to a vice president or other surrogates) when he made fun of Romney's use of the supposedly outdated word "marvelous"-- although Obama was probably hoping that we wouldn't notice he's said it himself three times so far during his presidency. The Retro Romney theme was also interjected into an Obama fundraising message that stated that Romney has "a social agenda from the 1950s."

Nearly unnoticed amidst the furor over Hilary Rosen's dissing Ann Romney for having "never worked a day in her life" was the fact that Rosen ended that same controversial interview with a salvo at Mitt himself that took up the Retro Romney refrain and linked it to policy again: "He seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women...because he doesn't really see us as equal." No evidence for this charge was presented, because there is none; in fact, Romney included women at the highest levels of his administration when he was governor of Massachusetts. But that didn't stop Rosen from staying on message with her associative innuendos aimed at the primary target, which was Mitt rather than Ann.

It's clear that this is all part of a carefully coordinated attempt to drum up the fear that, because Romney's looks and manner give off a Fifties vibe, he is a throwback who secretly dreams of marching us all back to the bad old days of mid-twentieth century sexism and racism and every other nasty "ism" that ever was. Who knows where the man might stop? If given the chance, no doubt he'd try to revive little white gloves and the panty girdle.

In line with that word "secretly," a secrecy meme has also been recently unveiled, introduced in relation to Romney's delay in releasing his 2011 tax returns. Axelrod was at it again with the television comparisons when he said, "Harkening back to my youth ... there was a show called, ‘I’ve Got A Secret.’ Increasingly, I think that would be the appropriate title for the Romney campaign.”

Put together "I've Got a Secret" and Mad Men and what have you got? Why, Don Draper again, the Mad Men character whose smooth and ultra-controlled exterior is a false screen that hides his real identity, and of whom another Mad Men character says, "Who knows anything about that guy? No one’s ever lifted that rock."