Ordinary People

August 29, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ann Romney’s speech last night – the Andy Borowitz headline had it about right
Romney Hailed as Regular Guy by Woman with Horse in Olympics 
Mrs. Romney has taken on the task of persuading people that, regardless of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the rich really are just like you and me.

The speech reminded me of “Jackie!” the article by Carol Lopate that first appeared  in 1978,* when magazines were running Jackie O cover stories about every two or three minutes.  Newsweeklies like Time and Newsweek, middle-class magazines like The Ladies’ Home Journal, and fan mags like Photoplay – each had a Jackie whose concerns resembled those of their audience.  The middle-class Jackie was an active mom who took her children to school, looked for a new job and new relationships.

(Apologies for the camera angle. This is what I could find on e-bay.

The working-class Jackie was more passive; she coped with trouble – heartbreak, illness, overpowering emotions, and other things she could not control.

Ann Romney’s speech used the same strategy to deliver the same message:  Pay no attention to the wealth. I’m just like you. 

So she emphasized ascribed roles common to all women.
We're the mothers, we're the wives, we're the grandmothers, we're the big sisters, we're the little sisters, we're the daughters.
From her opening line, she played up women’s socio-emotional roles:
I want to talk to you from my heart about our hearts.
 and on through the  “you know” section.
You know what those late night phone calls with an elderly parent are like . . . You know the fastest route to the local emergency room.
“You know” here is a way of saying “We know – we women.”  Ann knows that you know these things because good middle-class Ladies’ Home Journal mom/daughter/sister that she is, she’s been there too. She’s just like you. 

There’s also a Photoplay aspect to the Ann Romney that spoke last night.  She tells us she  was powerless over love. It overwhelmed reason.
There were many reasons to delay marriage, and you know? We just didn't care.
She even takes the powerless, fatalistic view that women have no control over their own fertility,
Then our first son came along.
as though the stork had delivered a surprise package.

But the Protestant Ethic (hard work plus frugality) and love would conquer all.
We got married and moved into a basement apartment. We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish. Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses. Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. Those were very special days.
This struggling-students section of the speech is a bit disingenuous. In fact, the Romneys paid for the pasta by selling stock given to Mitt by his family – stock whose value at the time was $60,000, about $375,000 in today’s dollars. 

It seemed that Mrs. Romney did a credible job in this speech, though I’ve seen no data on how the public reacted.  Nor is it clear that the magazines will co-operate in the effort to sell the Romneys as “just plain folks.”  Even if they do, Mrs. Romney may have to wait.  The media did not work this metamorphosis of Jackie until years after she had left the White House.


* Also in Hearth and Home, edited by Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benet.  I don’t have the book with me here down the shore, and I can’t find the essay on the Internet.  My recall of the content of the article may be severely flawed.

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