This election was a reality TV event, from the loopy Republican primary to the media's who's-up-who's-down obsession with polls. "Facts" were distressingly fungible. Debates were reviewed like drama.
But one video cut through all of that. It showed Mitt Romney speaking at a hedge fund manager's Boca Raton fundraiser to people much like himself. His comfort in that room was palpable; if you read the transcript, you'll see jokes about the food, an imitation of Henry Kissinger's accent and a tart take on Whoopi Goldberg and David Letterman. And then you get remarks about the 47 percent -- "people who will vote for the president no matter what... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them" -- that sound pretty much like what you might expect to hear at the dinner table of a white, Republican business leader of a certain age.
Romney's not-for-publication remarks cratered his campaign for weeks and may, months later, have been fatal to his candidacy. For this, we have one person to thank: a bartender at that fundraiser who turned on his/her smartphone and recorded Romney's talk.
In writing classes, students learn "Don't tell. Show." That's what this video was: a show so vivid it needed no commentary. That was Mitt Romney, and those were his words. No opportunity to say he was misquoted. Views on YouTube: 3.7 million. Media coverage: full court. A factor in the debates: see Barack Obama's closing argument.
We've heard a lot about changing demographics in our country. Here's another: Even the little people -- even the 47 percenters -- have video-equipped phones. Unless employers confiscate them, no one is safe from stealth documentarians. We're all in show business now, even and especially "the help." There is no off-the-record.
Occupy Wall Street gave us an important concept: the 1 percent. But Occupy can never escape its tents. The Boca Raton bartender, the unknown hero of this election, breached the walls. And that made all the difference.
Follow Jesse Kornbluth on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HeadButler