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October 10, 2012

Picture of Awkward: Romney the White Guy

Mitt, didn’t we say never to flash the benjamins around?

Just when it looked like Romney had the “big mo,” there were two pics this week that shouted he’s that ignorant white guy.

In this first shot, we see the Romney’s getting into it with a Cuban restaurant owner in Florida over paying for takeout. (Being in debt like that, who knows when you might get a call one day insisting on help getting a relative out of Cuba.) Bottom line though, you don’t get into a kindness-killing contest with someone over courtesy gestures, so much so that you and the Misses get framed as a couple of well off finger pointers. (Do love th painting, by the way.)

Haner NYT Romney FL

In case two, we see Romney — still grooving off his debate performance –giving the thumbs up to African-American diners who somehow don’t seem to see him.  Maybe go easy on the take-out for a while?


If there’s a message in this “analysis” so far, it is: do not write a post at three in the morning. Is it significant that race comes up in these two campaign photos? I think it does, but it’s not reflected above, not in the tone and certainly not in the comments about the second photo.

As pointed out in the comment thread, it’s not clear in this second picture who Romney is gesturing to. And, looking at the figure near right inside the restaurant, the arm extended in a fist-like  gesture just above the blind, it could possibly be an African-American. (Seems like a darker skinned man, maybe bald as it looks like light reflecting off his head … but it’s hard to be sure.)

The relevance of the photo, however, has to do with The NYT featuring a photo of Romney juxtaposed with African-Americans, a demographic everyone knows he has little resonance with. Consider the real irony here, however (and maybe that is what photographer Haner was going for) of Romney, high off his debate performance, possibly receiving kudos from an African-American — and possibly with a fist shake, the gesture popularized by way of the black power movement).  Ultimately though, what is clearly here is how much Romney is separated from these citizens as he breezes by, the thumbs up as much a gesture of superficiality.

Another aspect to this, however, which is something that came up during the wonderful BagNews/Columbia J-School salon we had last night (which — no excuse for the poor words above, did keep me out late and focused elsewhere) has to do with who’s inside and who’s outside. A primary theme of conversation last evening, especially between Alice Gabriner, who formerly edited the White House Flickr stream, describing the insularity of the White House, and NYT photographer Stephen Crowley, discussing the (escalating) problem of accessibility, is how much these candidates, and certainly the President, reside in a bubble. One thing striking to me about the photo (and why Team Romney must be happy with it) has to do with how much this contradicts the fact Romney and Obama are the obvious “insiders” (with the real seats at the table) from a cultural power standpoint. At the same time, the fact Romney appears to be out roaming fancy-free also contradicts how much these guys, trapped in the bubble, never contact with the public or social space in any casual way.

One last point:  Obama has done photo-op after photo-op ordering food and walking out of restaurants with take-out. Given the act represents something average citizens do, it’s designed to make the President seem more like us. And now, we see the Romney campaign taking up the practice. Given the campaign’s late shift to the center, this gesture of populism deserves more than an eyes roll.

By the way, I’m not exactly sure of the context in photo one either. I’m assuming that the person at the counter wanted to comp Romney the meal and he and Ann insist otherwise. I’m not sure.  If that’s the case though, here are certainly plenty of dynamics there too.

By the way, we have audio and video from the Salon last night and we will get it online as soon as we can.

(photo 1: Charles Dharapak/AP via Twitter. caption: TAKE OUT: Mitt & Ann Romney insist on paying for their order at La Teresita, a Cuban restaurant in Tampa .photo 2: Josh Haner/The New York Times. caption: Mitt Romney made an unscheduled stop in Tampa, Fla., on Friday night.)

  • Bejan

    In the second picture, there is someone you can’t see behind the curtain raising a hand to Mitt. I agree he is out of touch in general, but to assume he is just going to give a thumbs-up to a group of black people just because he saw then dining near a window he is walking past is reaching.

  • jonst

    so, are there “ignorant black guy” pictures you have? How about ‘retarded Spanish woman’, “or ‘fiendish Asian guy’ ones? Is this really how you want to categorize things? Maybe you could “go easy” on the race stuff? Because it sure is creepy when the Right does it to a genuinely great man.

  • BooksAlive

    I’m reminded of Ann’s $900 t-shirt with a big fish that she wore for a TV interview; I suppose her black and white window-pane check jacket is pricey, tho’ less flamboyant. Could they be speaking Spanish to the clerk?

    Secondly, due to the size of their family, when the Romney’s order take out, they probably purchase a large amount of food. It’s possible there are some sweets in the bag and boxes – I think that Cheesecake Factory was where they ordered food before the Oct. 3 debate. There were some jokes about that afterwards and based on that restaurant’s menu of rich foods, I’d guess they may have found something similar at La Teresita.

  • Michael Shaw

    Jonst and Bejan: Your comments are spot on. No excuses on my part, but please do go back and read my update.

    • jonst

      Michael, you are a good man, who provides a great service. For free basically. this community owes you. I have learned, and relearned, and re-re learned that same lesson re 3AM emails. Or it’s other variation, the three wine glasses consumed email….and I wanted to be ‘understood’ when I did it. You know I love you, big guy!

  • Marie

    In the first image, I’m struck by not only how much taller Mitt and Ann are than the cashier/owner, but how high their hands are relative to her face. It feels aggressive to have the hands that high when gesturing. And also, why is MItt waving the big bills around, again, that high? If you insist on paying, sure, but why wave the money at that height? Add the pointing, and it looks as if Mitt is describing what he’d going to do. “I have big bills, see? You’re going to take them, see?” Meanwhile, the restauranteur has her hands up rather defensively as if trying to ward them off. It’s the battle of the hands!

    • Scarabus

      Reminded me of another photo of a nastily sneering woman.

    • ciclo

      It’s a Cuban restaurant. Maybe the RMoneys had to speak English slow and use hand signals.

  • Gasho

    I like the eyebrows of the guy in the top picture. Is that the husband of the woman at the register, perhaps? She’s waiving off his cash.. but the other guy seems like he thinks she’s nuts.. “Do you know how loaded this guy is??? Take the money!!”

  • Scarabus

    For the Romneys the only index of value is cash. They can’t imagine the intangible pleasure of giving something with no expectation of quip pro quo.

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