The Gipper. The Boy From Hope. The Reformed Drinker. The Commander of PT-109. Running for president is often about telling stories that convey a candidate’s character, values and experience.
Ronald Reagan only played George Gipp in a movie, but the doomed football star displayed uncommon courage in the face of adversity. Bill Clinton used his hometown of Hope, Ark., to send a message of optimism and resilience. George W. Bush’s recovery from addiction showed that he was not just a well-born elitist insulated from life’s struggles. John F. Kennedy’s wartime heroism made him the symbol of a “new generation of Americans.”
But candidates can also be victimized by stories that emphasize their flaws, failures and inconsistencies. John Kerry’s statement about Iraq war spending – “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it” – sealed his image as an unprincipled flip-flopper. John McCain’s years as a POW in Vietnam made a compelling tale, but it was 35 years old and emphasized McCain’s age and frailty. Jimmy Carter never recovered from the enduring image of American hostages led blindfolded through the streets of Tehran.
Which brings us to Mitt Romney. The story he tells about himself is pretty straightforward: I’m a businessman, not a career politician. I understand how the economy works and can create jobs. My company, Bain Capital, invested in successful startups like Staples, which today employs 90,000 people. I even helped stock the shelves before the first store opened.