There's been a lot of head-scratching in the past 24 hours over how Eric Fehrnstrom, Mitt Romney's longtime chief aide, could have stepped in it so badly with his "Etch-a-Sketch" comment yesterday. For those of you who were traveling in Albania yesterday, Fehrnstrom responded to a question on CNN about the risk of Romney being pulled too far right in the primaries by saying this: "Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-a-Sketch – you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."
But there is a fairly obvious explanation for Fehrnstrom's comment: it is just the latest example of the Romney campaign's remarkable, almost postmodern approach to political communications. Simply put, Fehrnstrom is a leading practitioner of the campaign's post-truth politics. Recall the quote attributed to a "top operative" for Romney defending the ad a few months ago that took brazenly out of context Barack Obama's 2008 comment, quoting a John McCain adviser, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." Here's what the unnamed Romney aide said:
First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business....Ads are agitprop....Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context....All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.
In other words: truth, schmuth. I'm not 100 percent sure that quote came from Fehrnstrom, but it's not hard to draw a line between this kind of thinking and his blithe declaration yesterday that the campaign will be able to simply shake everything up in a few months and leave behind Romney's comments and positions of the past year for a whole new reality.
Jonathan Chait yesterday noted the downside with the Romney campaign's "general problem of failing to hide its cynicism":
The problem here is that, for the process to play itself out the way political scientists would forecast, you need to conceal the calculations a bit. For instance, you obviously can believe that your need to win elected office would make you more reluctant to hire illegal aliens, but you shouldn’t just say that. And obviously you’re going to reposition yourself for a different audience, but that works a lot better if you pretend you’re advancing actual core beliefs.
Likewise, there are a lot of techniques guys use to pick up girls that work pretty well. But if they just said things like, “I am going to feign strong interest in what you’re telling me in hopes of establishing an emotional connection that will loosen your sexual inhibitions,” the success rate of those techniques would probably fall.
That's certainly true. But let's also take the opportunity here to praise Fehrnstrom. I doubt he's all that much more cynical than everyone else in the game; he's just being more honest with us about it. It's almost refreshing.