The Czech novelist Milan Kundera has lamented that life is like a sketch without a painting, lived only once and never subject to revision or perfection. It goes to show that when it comes to creativity and optimism, the Czech novelist has nothing on the American politician.
To the latter, life is more like an Etch A Sketch, subject to virtually infinite revision without regret. An aide to Mitt Romney, Eric Fehrnstrom, gave us this unfortunately brilliant metaphor last week — brilliant because it describes much of the trouble with American politics, and unfortunate (for Fehrnstrom and his boss) because it describes even more of the trouble with Mitt Romney.
Asked whether conservative positions taken in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination could hurt Romney when the race shifts to a general-election battle for the mushy middle, Fehrnstrom didn’t think so. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch,” he told CNN. “You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”
This powerful mixture of apt analogy and baby-boom nostalgia quickly became a sensation. The Ohio Art Co., which makes the 1950s-vintage proto-tablet, shipped barrels of them to the campaigns. Romney rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich added the prop to their extensive repertoires of ill-meaning sarcasm. And shares of the company’s stock leaped to a nine-year high, possibly setting the stage for Romney’s most defensible claim to job creation yet.
In fact, virtually every American politician forced to wage high-profile primary- and general-election campaigns, including President Obama, has been caught giving the Etch A Sketch a good shake around June. Romney’s problem is that he’s done so more than once on the national stage, and the trick — like most toys — gets old fast.