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Mitt Romney Goes Viral: Countdown Day 48

Posted: 09/19/2012 5:21 pm

NEW YORK -- Mitt Romney has become the PSY of presidential politics. And that's bad news for the Republican candidate on the 48th day before Election Day.

PSY (Park Jae-sang) is, of course, the South Korean rapper whose "Gangnam Style" dance video has generated an astounding 220 million YouTube views and rocketed him to global popularity virtually overnight.

WMR (Willard Mitt Romney) is, of course, the star of a now-infamous 48-minute, surreptitiously recorded video in which he bares what appears to be the essence of what appears to be his supply-side, let-'em-eat-cake soul to like-minded rich people at a fundraiser. The only music is the "pop" generated by the uncorking of fine wine.

The video, from which The Huffington Post posted excerpts on Monday (and Mother Jones later posted in the complete, extended-play dance mix), jolted websites, Twitter feeds and cable TV -- and the Romney campaign.

Here at HuffPost, the story generated more than 150,000 reader comments, far and away a record even by the engaged standards of our very engaged readership. Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek/Daily Beast, told me last night that her site's traffic numbers spiked dramatically. They did elsewhere online and on cable, too.

Fox News was forced to interrupt its regular programming to deal with (that is, to promote) the video. The tone was interesting, which is to say, not kind to Mitt. They treated it as the car crash it was.

Looking and sounding like a skeptical detective at the scene of the accident, Fox's Neil Cavuto asked Romney if he hadn't just "kissed half the electorate goodbye" by claiming, on the video, that 47 percent of Americans are "moochers" who selfishly rely on the largesse of the federal government for food, shelter and health care even though they pay no federal income taxes.

By Wednesday, Fox was back to jamming the Democratic radar, touting a 14-year-old audio tape selectively edited to make President Barack Obama sound like a socialist believer in what Romney calls the "foreign" (but actually very American) idea of "redistributing" wealth.

The Mitt Vid story and its consequences say a lot about how campaigns are conducted in our digital day, and why all of Mitt's millions may not be enough to save him from his own aloof self.

In case you haven't noticed, we live in a place I'll call GTF America: Google, Twitter and Facebook. No amount of advertising, scripted campaign stops or TV interviews can counter the power of a single video the digital crowd suddenly demands to see. The power of word-of-mouth, amplified by those darned Internets, is almost beyond imagining, and way beyond any mere "broadcast."

Not coincidentally, the Mitt Vid was first obtained by websites.

Likewise, no amount of media "commentary" or "analysis" can match the power of voter/viewers looking at raw footage on their own, coming to their own conclusions about what they see, and then passing those conclusions (and the video link) on to others.

It's also worth noting that in these times, almost no event -- even with Secret Service in the vicinity, as was the case at that Florida fundraiser -- can be serenely and confidently viewed as off the record. Not when every phone is a video camera, and every camera is HD.

PSY's video became a sensation because it was a surprise, a startlingly catchy novelty.

WMR's video became a sensation because it was not a surprise: It confirmed every bad impression that voters have of him. The only surprise was that he actually said what people imagined he might say to people such as himself behind closed doors.

In the video, he undercuts whatever social legitimacy there was to supply-side economics, dismisses half the electorate as freeloaders and says that Middle East peace will never happen.

Romney's video proves to be a corollary to columnist Michael Kinsley's famous dictum that in politics, the biggest scandals arise when people say the most obviously true but usually unspoken things. Well, they also get in trouble when they say what they really think.

And truth is viral.

For Howard Fineman's full 2012 Countdown, click here.

 

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