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August 24, 2012

Warm Milk and Cookies in the Search for Romney — Lauren Fleishman for TIME

I could use your help with this one. There is a quality that keeps turning up in Romney images that I can’t quite articulate. Depending on the specific scene, we’re offered a man and his image of life in America that is particularly straight-laced, clean cut, innocent, moralistic, 1950-ish, Andy of Mayberry (1, 23, 4).

On the verge of the Republican Convention (unless a rapturous flood washes it away), this photo — from a series at TIME by photographer Lauren Fleishman who trailed Romney and Ryan for a week — seemed, in a subtle way,  to capture the sense in a nutshell. The caption reads:

Aug. 17, 2012. Warm cookies and milk served on Romney’s plane from Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass. to Long Island, MacArthur Airport.

Still, I can’t quite get my arms around the quality of this lonely warm cookie and, particularly, the warm glass of milk, except to say it feels both gracious and loaded. I envision obedient children sitting down at the kitchen table just before bedtime in an aura of goodness and modesty. I’d like to know how you read this and, by extension, what you think it has to say about Romney’s view of the world. To me (like the man), it feels like a righteous dose of piety.

(photo: Lauren Fleishman for TIME)

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  • jonst

    Well, first off, I don’t know how “warm” the milk is, in fact. Given the Mormon diktat that one shall not drink “hot liquids”. Second, any glass on a tray like that, absent a human to make sure it does not spill is odd to me. Last…..the while the angle is tricky be sure about…the distance between the seats had a 1950’s quality about it…you know, back when they did not cram humans in increasingly smaller spaces.

  • black_dog_barking

    straight-laced, clean cut, innocent, moralistic, 1950-ish, Andy of Mayberry …

    This would be the new “Ange”, the one who is a self-centered prick that overbills the county when Otis spends the night. Like nearly everything else coming from the Romney camp I see the barren cookie and the half-empty glass of milk as a passive-aggressive “fuck you” from the wannabee commander-in-chief, an MBA “take it or leave it ’cause you ain’t gettin’ nothin’ else” bargaining device.

  • Thomas Gokey

    I assume that the milk is cold and it’s just the cookie that is warm, at least that’s the way that I read the caption. If it really is warm milk then it seems like bedtime for a little kid from a story book.

    There is something infantilizing about the image, but I would never describe Romney as childlike or as innocent. Indeed, he can be nothing but adult. Instead it maybe feels a bit like a spoiled brat, or give off the feeling that Romney lives in a fantasy Pollyanna world and doesn’t have a clue how the rest of America struggles.

  • marcsobel

    I think it goes along with the mythology/fantasy of 50’s style family life. All of his tax machinations would have been tax evasion not avoidance in the 50’s.

  • robert e

    Well done! Jet-set Norman Rockwell homeyness, on disposable tableware, in the belly of an aluminum and plastic machine a mile high above the world? What a loaded minimalist image!

    Bleached of the primary reds and blues of the other photos, we’re freer to focus on the content. But let’s note in passing that, but for the slivers of electric-green, this is a monochromatic image in almost-nostalgic-sepia, The almost homeyness is overwhelmed, however, by the hard plastic environment, the disposable napkin, plate and cup, the meagerness of portions, the featureless sky.

    What catches my eye is the artificial green arcs like quotation marks around the cookie, echoed by the highlights on the cup “quoting” the milk. Both cookie and milk have the look of packaged goods, rather than something from kitchen or farm.

    All this reinforces our knowledge that this is no one’s home, nor should it ever be. Yet we know that planes, buses, hotels and fast food are pretty much “home” for the staff of a national political campaign. This image can be read both ways I suppose–clinging to home, or quoting home to win.

    Taking this image as a code key to the rest of the images, they echo notes of “nostalgia”, “ersatz”, “disposable” and “almost”. More staged illustrations rather than documentations, they reveal nothing about the candidate but much about the candidacy. In hindsight, the fact that the campaign was launched in a museum is sublimely appropriate (the Times photo merges Romney with the modern SUV, as he looks toward the glowing vintage auto).

    Of course, the use of nostalgic imagery applies to some extent to all presidential campaigns, not just Romney’s, but I think you, Michael, perceive that his campaign has embraced this backward-looking idealized nostalgia to a far greater extent. And why not? The less we think about where we are, where we’re likely headed, how we got here, and who is largely responsible, the better for Romney, or any conservative candidate.

    But given America’s history, and these particular candidates, a potent aspect of nostalgia is race. Romney can for the most part slip into these Norman Rockwell cutouts without disturbing the racial context or content of the trope, while Obama, in most possible castings, would challenge both visual convention and idealizing nostalgia by bringing history and reality into the picture. His campaign could (it would require deftness) exploit this trope by turning it on its head, and box Romney into an idealized past that is at once irrelevant, dishonest, and dangerous.

    • Cactus

      Romney’s base IS the men of the ’50’s. They ran the country,
      the cities and the home. Period. Then the black people started to demand a
      piece of that white pie. Then the unkindest cut of all, their wives demanded
      their own lives. They are the men who have still not gotten over that — and
      don’t intend to. (I hear this nostalgia for the ’50’s frequently from
      60-something white men.) Hence all these ‘laws’ to control women’s wombs and
      other parts of their bodies. They are trying every means at their disposal to
      get their world, and their control of it, back. Romney’s job is to convince
      them that he is the one to help them do that. They don’t like discussions about
      class, or race, or prisons, injustices, especially comparisons to other

      Women and minorities remember a different ’50’s and it wasn’t
      pretty. The Rockwell images of the ’40’s-’50’s were sentimental kitsch
      referring back to the ’30’s that never were. So does that make it a full
      circle? Nostalgia for something 60 years ago that was nostalgia for something
      80 years ago? The sleight of mind to this trick is that Romney and his ilk have
      done (and will continue to do) everything in their power to destroy everything
      that made the ’50’s even possible.

  • Cactus

    Minimalist photography for a minimalist candidate. A lone
    cookie on a large napkin on a too-large plate with only half a glass of milk.
    Everything is short changed. Monochromatic and colorless, the tiny green rim of
    the plate is the only thing to distract from the drabness of the whole. Romney
    and his campaign is monochromatic and colorless, with the addition of the
    Catholic Ryan the only possible color, but muted by Romney. As if he cannot
    stand anything un-drab. I can imagine that, after a week with this campaign,
    the photographer was feeling a bit drab and hopeless.

  • bks3bks

    So the napkin is cleaner than the plate? I don’t get it.


  • Chris Schmidgall

    I just can’t WAIT for Santa to get here!

  • LanceThruster

    Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.

    • bill

      Yeah, and I was going to say you can’t trust a Republican either. But seriously, I’m not sure you can’t trust a Republican who doesn’t drink. You can’t be an adult Mormon without realizing that your drinking attitudes are, shall we say, off-normal. Most develop a religious pride, holier-than-thou attitude because of it. (While I’d say nothing breeds more Christian humility than an occasional binge, eh?) Granted this may make them poor friends but they can still be perfectly adequate bosses or leaders. Mitt surely realizes his milk&cookies, coffee’s-a-sin moral code will never be the law of the land, even if he tries to use it to establish his moral cred with the Base. The rest of the GOP (calling themselves the “moral majority”) I’m not so sure. They really can’t wrap their minds around the idea that a society may be best served by leaving certain behaviors legal that even a sizable majority may consider immoral. (It’s as if they believe the Church can’t have any power apart from the State, but I won’t wax theological here.) So for a Republican, Mitt the Mormon has an inherent moderation to him that we saw early in his career. But the GOP financial system guarantees even a Romney will choose a Veep and be extorted by the worst elements of his Party. Sigh.

  • nina

    The milk and cookie is being served to whom? It’s not clear in the caption but I suspect it’s for the press and not Romney.

  • Lauren Fleishman

    The cookie was warm and the milk was cold.

  • bks3bks
  • Jan Marra

    That looks more like soy milk than cow’s milk.

  • Me

    Wow…the man hoping to become the next leader of the free world needs milk and cookies at night? How embarrassing!

  • acm

    I don’t think that adult men in our country drink little cups of milk. A way in which Mormonism is out of touch with the times, I suppose, but even without a glass of scotch, couldn’t he manage some pretzels or nuts? It does come off a bit precious, juvenile.

  • Robert Dennard

    Lauren glad I stumbled across this. I hope you did enjoy the cookies. The cookie dough was generally purchased the day of or the day before each flight, and we started baking them shortly before boarding. The milk was added later after one person on board had requested it. I love the photograph They were some long days for the crew but a memorable time for us all.

  • LanceThruster

    By the end of this battle I’m hoping he’ll be chugging Mylanta because of his ‘early’ retirement.

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