First it made the rounds in social media. Now it is plastered on the website for MoveOn.org. It is a picture that seems to show Mitt Romney getting his shoes shined on an airport tarmac, while grinning happily. Next to that image, President Obama is shaking hands with someone in a uniform commonly worn by blue collar workers. The caption states: "Notice the difference?"
Liberals have promoted the picture, claiming that it demonstrates Mitt Romney is out of touch with Americans and that he exploits low-income individuals. By contrast, Obama is a man of the people, who shakes their hands rather than using them to shine his shoes. For several reasons, the picture says more about its liberal promoters than Mitt Romney.
FIRST, the picture is highly deceptive. Romney is not getting his shoes shined. Instead, he is getting scanned by a TSA agent before boarding a charter jet. The use of deceptive photography has no place in civil political discourse.
SECOND, despite the deceptive nature of the photo, some liberals insist upon defending its use. MoveOn for example has apologized for implying that the photo shows Romney getting his shoes shined. Nonetheless, the organization says that "[w]e still feel it goes a long way in showing Mitt Romney’s special circumstances in comparison with the 99%." It is difficult to understand how a misleading picture demonstrates anything. This is poor judgment by MoveOn and others who have made similar arguments.
THIRD, even if it were true that Romney was getting his shoes shined on a tarmac, this alone would not prove anything about his character. Wealth alone does not make a person unsympathetic to poor folks.
FOURTH, using the photo to demonstrate Romney's inability to connect with the public hypocritically ignores similar activities by other politicians -- including President Obama. Many political candidates use private planes during campaign trips. Obama does so himself.
Obama boarding campaign plane
Planes allow candidates and their staff to make multiple stops and to conduct meetings while they are traveling. Indeed, there are many photographs on the Internet of Obama traveling and boarding his own private campaign jet. Yet these photographs have never led to liberal uproar. Granted, none of the pictures shows Obama getting a security screen while sitting in a chair, but this tiny distinction could not reasonably explain the disparate reactions to the two of them. Furthermore, Obama's campaign plane has luxurious seating. Most of the "99%" have never flown in such comfort. So, if Romney's exclusive experiences make it impossible for him to understand Americans, one could reach a similar conclusion about President Obama.
Interior of Obama's campaign plane
FINALLY, liberals' disparate and partisan reactions to wealth come across as a faux class critique. There are many wealthy liberals, including esteemed persons like John F. Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. Many other presidents in US history were wealthy, and, after adjusting for inflation, some were wealthier than Romney. Some reports estimate that the Obamas hold $10 million in assets. That wealth far exceeds that of most Americans.
Furthermore, there are several ways in which all of us benefit from the work of poor laborers, many of whom earn less than persons who shine shoes for a living. Apple products, for example, are assembled in China by very poor and badly treated workers, including many young children. Restaurant staff are often underpaid and mistreated. And hotel housekeepers earn notoriously low wages. Yet, liberals eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and use Apple products. Indeed, Obama apparently uses Apple products, in spite of the fact that the company has admitted to using child labor. If getting a shoe shine is a sign of class indifference, so are these other activities that many liberals enjoy.
A Better Debate: Analyze Policy
Liberals are using the photograph to construct a narrative about Romney. They argue that his wealth makes it impossible for him to understand the struggle that Americans are facing during this economic downturn. Even if this argument were legitimate, the picture does not convey this point. For the various reasons stated above, the picture speaks more negatively about its liberal supporters than Romney.
Romney's policy positions are far more important than his personal wealth. Also, focusing on policy is much healthier and educational for public discourse. A few years ago, liberals complained that conservatives were running from real issues by probing things like Obama's religion, his minister's anger, his fondness for arugula and Whole Foods, and his international background. During his presidency, conservatives have said that he has inappropriately taken vacations while Americans are struggling economically. Unfortunately, some liberals are replicating this negative behavior. Shame on them.