"Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
March 21, 2012
It isn't too surprising, really, that Mitt Romney's rivals for the Republican nomination — and his other critics — have been getting some mileage out of Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom's unfortunate Etch A Sketch analogy.
That analogy plays on what has been possibly the greatest concern conservatives have had about this particular candidate — that he isn't genuine.
And it might have worked in Obama's favor, too — if the election had been held today.
But when the voters go to the polls in November, my guess is that conservatives won't be persuaded to stay home because of it. And most are not likely to gravitate to a third–party option, either. Defeating this president is too important to them; by November, most will go ahead and vote for Romney, even if he isn't everything they would like in a Republican nominee.
By November, I expect most of this Etch A Sketch talk to have faded and the political conversation to focus on the economy, jobs, high gas prices (and the higher commodity prices they will no doubt spawn) and the other kitchen table issues that should take center stage in this campaign.
But what should be in American politics is not always what is. This Etch A Sketch stuff might turn out to have legs, and we might still be having this conversation in September and October — instead of having a national conversation about energy and jobs and the things that will affect all our lives for the next several decades.
If his foes are still talking about the Etch A Sketch comment this fall, I suggest that the Romney campaign compare the Etch A Sketch candidate to Obama's Silly Putty presidency.
I played with both toys as a child — most of my generation probably did. And, if I must compare my preference in the presidential race to either of those toys, I prefer Etch A Sketch.
Etch A Sketch encouraged originality and creativity. I was never much of an artist so my drawings weren't very good, but, as a child, I found it to be advantageous to be able to start anew and apply what I had learned. I found, as I got older, that real life doesn't allow for do–overs, but the real lesson of the Etch A Sketch was that you and your knowledge and your skills are evolving things.
And I have long felt that it is a clear sign of maturity when someone can conclude that he has been mistaken in his approach to a problem and makes appropriate adjustments.
My father summed it up in a conversation we had when I was in my teens.
When he was a young man, my father followed my grandfather into an occupation that was not his first choice. Young men of his generation were expected to follow in their father's footsteps, and that is what he did, I suppose.
But many years later, after both of my father's parents had died, he returned to college to pursue a degree in the field in which he had always been interested.
I asked him one day why he had decided to do that. He was, after all, at or near a point in his life when most men probably would opt to stick it out to their retirement age rather than embark on an entirely new career.
Dad said, "Why should I feel obligated to a decision that was made by an 18–year–old?"
In much the same way, I prefer a president who is willing to apply knowledge he has gained to new approaches to problems and doesn't have so much of his ego invested in one approach that he won't try something else when a policy proves to be unsuccessful.
As Harry Truman said, "It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit."
Silly Putty didn't encourage creativity. It was parasitic, feeding off others. You could press it against a page from a book or a newspaper or a magazine and make a copy of someone else's creation — but you couldn't create anything with it yourself.
Silly Putty was — and still is, I suppose — a special substance with many unique qualities. It was whatever you wanted it to be — it could be rolled into a ball and bounced like any rubber ball, but then you could flatten it like a pancake, press it on a page and transfer the image it picked up to the substance.
It was flashy and shiny, but it mimicked others — at best.
Give me Etch A Sketch any day.