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.