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Politics, Theater and Mythmaking

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Despite testimonials delivered by GOP nominee Mitt Romney's friends and family, the campaign is still trying to effectively tell his story.

"A hero, properly, is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself or other than himself," Campbell says.

Landy applies Campbell's language directly to the political realm.

"To be successful [in politics, the candidate] has to have a very clear mythological story," Landy says. "It's a reality. It's a super-reality, but it's a reality."


GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have such stories to tell, and both conventions attempted to tell those stories, albeit in starkly different ways. 

Romney has given over his life to creating a successful business, public service and his church, while Obama has spent his life as a professor, community activist and public official.

Going into the Republican convention, most analysts agreed that the Romney campaign had one main job to do: frame the story of a governor's son with matinee idol looks who had been born to privilege as one that was relatable to a large audience.

"I think we did a good job," said Kyle Downey, press secretary for the Republican National Convention. 

As Downey describes it, the RNC had a three-point objective, "a three-legged stool," where it had to explain why Obama and his policies haven't been and are not right for the country; why Romney and his policies are right for the country; and to tell the country why Romney is uniquely qualified for the job.

"That's what we based all of our programming around," he said. Because of Hurricane Isaac, however, Downey says, the convention's first objective - the Obama critique - had to be woven into the rest of the week.

And despite the heartfelt testimonials delivered by Romney friends at the convention, in some ways the campaign is still trying to communicate Romney's story.

A couple of weeks after they left Tampa, Fla., vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) suggested to a room of conservative voters in Washington, D.C., that the candidate needs to do more to tell his own story.

"You know, I'm not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life," Ryan said at the Values Voter Summit. "It wouldn't hurt if voters knew more about those little things that reveal a man's heart and his character."

"This is a guy who, at the height of a successful business, turned the entire company into a search-and-rescue operation the moment he heard that a colleague's young daughter was missing," Ryan told the crowd. "He's a man who could have easily contented himself with giving donations to needy causes, but everyone who knows him well will tell you that Mitt has always given himself."

As Ryan's testimonial hints at, Romney's super-narrative is actually more dramatic than the story the GOP has crafted but for various reasons it has had to be shackled. 

His professional successes, including the health care law enacted when he was governor of Massachusetts and a stunningly successful career at Bain Capital, have become fodder for both campaigns. 

In some ways, Obama is trying to use Romney's own story to create a countermyth.

And Romney's religious devotion and piety have been underplayed, perhaps over concerns about anti-Mormon prejudice. 

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