After President Obama’s re-election, pontification in extremis saturated the airwaves and print media. Some claimed the election was determined by the economy, others, changing demographics. Social media, government payouts, racism, and innovative get-out-the-vote efforts have been thrown into the mix. Others simply say Obama communicated a more appealing role of government than Romney. I don’t think any of these were the dominant reason the election went the way it did. And now that emotions have calmed and this discussion is yesterday’s news, I want to give you my view and why I believe it.
I think Obama won the election primarily because his culture was more appealing to most Americans. Obama communicates fun thoughtfulness, empathy with a smile, strength with a hug. His family would be the Focus on the Family model if they were Republicans. Since President Obama beat the odds of being raised by a single mom and grandparents, and still became the President of the United States, he models American opportunity. When he was younger he smoked, drank, used drugs, and enjoyed the girls, while at the same time excelled in school. Many people relate to some portion of that, and some admire it. He’s competent and hip, both at the same time. He’s just as relaxed speaking to a joint session of congress or to a foreign leader as he is to David Letterman, Jon Stewart, the ladies on The View, or Conan O’Brian. He’s pleasant.
Romney, on the other hand, avoided the pop culture media outlets for good reasons. He and his message were way too serious to be discussed in those formats, and he doesn’t connect with the culture of those shows. He doesn’t watch them. He doesn’t drink Coke, coffee, smoke, drink alcohol, or lust. We’ve all had pastors, teachers, or principals who were responsible like Romney in our lives. These are our authority figures who are concerned about how our decisions will negatively impact our future. They are right, but we are not so relaxed with them or smile so warmly seeing them. Having to talk to them at the supermarket is slightly awkward, and it would actually seem mildly gross to see them shirtless on a beach.
But not Obama. He comes across like a friend. He bothers people who are too serious. He makes us Republicans appear grumpy. He would be loads of fun to vacation with, is relaxed on the beach, but can kill, without hesitation, the Osama Bin Ladens of the world. I’m not discussing his specific political philosophies or governance decisions here, because I don’t think they were the determining factors in the election. I’m talking about the way he connects as a person. Obama coming to a barbeque at the house would be fun. If Romney were coming, we would have to paint, clean, upgrade, and improve. They communicate different auras. I believe this subjective intangible is what determined the election.
We Republicans were convinced that no one could win re-election with the unemployment rate, excessive government spending and national debt all sky high. We thought the ties to left-wing socialists and the sluggish recovery made a wholesome responsible businessman like Romney a sure winner. We drone on and on about particulars that don’t matter to many. Those specifics feel like “make your bed,” “brush your teeth,” and “do your homework” so your future will be bright, facts. These facts don’t feel relevant to daily American life because we are not having to pay back our debt right now, and the food stamps and unemployment checks spend just like real money.
I am sensitive to the reality that facts don’t really matter in certain situations because of the misrepresentations to the general public of my 2006 scandal. They said I spoke weekly with President Bush. I didn’t. They reported that I was a hateful preacher. I wasn’t. They said that I was a televangelist. I’m not. They said I had an adulterous “relationship.” I didn’t. They reported that I was a political activist. Never. I could go on and on but it would bore you because. . . facts don’t always matter. I was not innocent of wrongdoing, but it was the imagery and drama that stirred emotion, drew attention, landed my story on the front page and formed opinion. I had to accept the reality that the facts of my story were not necessarily relevant because I had become a symbol in people’s minds. The information that conflicted with the accepted story line felt like irrelevant minutia. I actually had a journalist tell me he didn’t want to talk to any primary sources in my story because it might influence his reporting.
I do not believe this last election was determined by hard realities, but by symbolism, world-view, philosophy, feeling, and culture. This realization is important to all of us in church leadership. Church growth experts tell us that 90% of Americans who choose to attend a church do not base their decision on the core message of the church, or its creed, but rather on the way the church makes them feel. The culture of the church is the dominate factor. I think we probably choose our spouses, grocery stores, hair salons, malls and athletic events based more on culture than we realize . . . and I believe, this is what resulted in our re-election of President Obama.