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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.

As a result, negative coverage of Romney's reaction to the Libyan attack and a leaked video of his comments to campaign contributors have filled the holes in his narrative.

Outcomes

The contest between the campaigns' mythmaking, the media narrative and the voters' perceptions will not be decided until Election Day.

Most polls continue to show a close race, with Obama slightly ahead but failing to reach 50 percent.

What is telling, however, is at a moment when the Republican Party is ready for a strong ideological leader, Romney - the party's candidate - is not that figure.

"I think the parties are in fundamentally different places," Sara Fagen, former political director for President George W. Bush, said on Sept. 18 at the Atlantic's Women of Washington event.

"The Democrats are still very much under the shadow of Bill Clinton. He's still the ideological father figure in many ways that Democrats reference," she said. "For us, for Republicans, we are sort of coming to the end of the Reagan era, and [in] this next generation of [Republicans], someone is going to emerge as a leader in our party - maybe it's Paul Ryan, maybe it's a [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie - where they take the party forward for 50 years in terms of the ideological discussion that needs to happen in this country, which I think is going to be around entitlement reform and tax reform."

Tellingly, Fagen did not mention Romney as her party's ideological leader and the man imbued with the ability to lead the Republican Party into the next generation.

That's not to say a President Romney couldn't alter the equation. But candidate Romney has yet to.

The power and importance of narrative is not new. Mythmaking has served American politicians for as long as the republic has existed, from George Washington chopping down the cherry tree to Abraham Lincoln the rail-splitter to John F. Kennedy and PT-109 to Bill Clinton, the man from Hope.

Neither myth nor countermyth can win a race alone.

But in uncertain times, in a tight political contest, during a national ideological tug-of-war, a candidate's story matters. Whoever controls the story has the best chance at victory.

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