I received my official photo of Mitt Romney in the mail today. It came from the Republican National Committee. It shows Governor Romney standing before an unpainted barn, an American flag hanging to the photo’s  left. Animal stalls appear to be in the background. A small tractor is nearby. And there, off in the distance….is that a log cabin?

The Candidate himself is wearing blue jeans—the apparel of the working man—with a simple grey work jacket. His hair is slightly ruffled, as one would expect from a man used to hard, outdoor labor. The only discordant note is a white shirt somewhat too crisp and clean for its setting.

I suppose we should despair over the distortions of background and character found in photos like this. I prefer to see this one as a sign of hope. After all, the largest and greatest team of publicists that money can buy has clearly determined that Mr. Romney should NOT be seen in his normal clothes—the grey three-piece suit—or in his natural habitat (mansion or skyscraper). Instead, staying true to political conventions reaching back to the early Republic, he MUST be seen as an Agrarian, a man of the soil, one who works with his hands, one who knows the ways of nature and Nature’s God.

We can be sure that this photo was vetted before a multitude of focus groups; the man fixed in this photo is the human type that a majority of Americans want as their President. As the caption says, “This is a moment that demands we return to our basic values and core principles.” The clear implication is that, at some deep level, those values and yearnings remain Agrarian.

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Allan Carlson is President of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society in Rockford, Illinois and founder and International Secretary of The World Congress of Families. During the 2009/10 academic year, he is also Distinguished Visiting Professor of Political Science and History at Hillsdale College and Visiting Professor at The John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. He holds his Ph.D. in Modern European History from The Ohio University. His ten books include: Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen created Family Centered Economies...and Why They Disappeared (2007); Conjugal America: On the Public Purposes of Marriage (2006); The 'American Way': Family and Community in the Shaping of the American Identity (2003); and The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in Twentieth Century America (2000). He is a contributing editor to Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity and Series Editor for Marriage and Family Studies at Transaction Books. He is currently writing a book on how Evangelical Protestants responded to the issue of birth control between 1873-1973. Dr. Carlson lives with his wife Betsy on her family farm in Owen Township, Winnebago County, Illinois, where he specializes in potatoes. They have four children. See books written by Allan Carlson.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I think that’s what Romney’s PR guys want you to think, yes. Farming is (rightly and wrongly) deeply associated in this culture with certain virtues, and anyone who associates himself with farming can bask in their reflected light. But expecting Mitt Romney to actually embody and promote those virtues himself is like trying to run your house on lunar power. There have been agricultural pharisees in American politics for two centuries, drawing on the imagery of farming, promoting themselves as common working men, while they live in ever bigger houses and the people who vote for them drift ever further from the land. In 1846 (!) the editor of The Southern Cultivator wrote, “Unfortunately for agriculture, its loudest and most conspicuous admirers are constantly lavishing upon it expressions of respect, while, at the same time, they disdain the idea of proving their sincerity by any act whatever. They admire the profession but advise their sons to pursue another.”

    If that was true when the great majority of Americans were farmers, it’s only gotten worse since. That kind of imagery has become a way that we can all feel better about whatever we’re really doing with our lives; we can sigh over TV commercials or visit it on the weekend and “chat with other farmgirls” in the evenings and feel that we’re still in touch with our roots. But I don’t see any evidence that embracing the imagery has ever brought numbers of people back to the real thing; on the contrary, we seem to make it more vivid the further we drift from it.

    In any case, it’s what a candidate does, not what his advisors think people want to hear, that’s going to make a difference.

  2. The other day the White House and the USDA sponsored a summit on local food. But I still think that for the most part an agrarian restoration will take place without the assistance of the Nat. Gov’t, and that’s fine by me.

  3. This is the standard William Henry Harrison campaign ploy. Pick a patrician candidate with all the desirable elite connections, then portray him to the masses as the exact opposite, a homespun man-of-the-people from humble origins, working out on the land. In Harrison’s case it was the Log Cabin and Hard Cider, when he was in fact the son of a Virginia aristocratic planter, who had been military governor of Indiana among other things. I don’t think it will have much play this year — Romney’s other images are too well known.

  4. I suppose it is hopeful to think that we retain latent memories that yearn for our agrarian past. However, I find this image to be a sad reminder of the 2008 campaign when Sarah Palin worked the small town circuit waxing on about the “real America” while damning the alien others on the coasts. This is not memory at work, it is toxic nostalgia.

  5. Nice try, GOP, but as one who hopes for a more agrarian future–that is, more people engaged in farming their own lands–it’s hard to conceive that anyone in your party will do anything to prevent the further centralization of agriculture under megacorporate control. As Voltaire, inspired by Satan, said of the Catholic Church, I, inspired by love of country, my family, and God, say of the Republican Party, “écrasez l’infame!”

  6. As long as someone has raised Sarah Palin’s “real Virginia” etc. remarks, people forget that states shift in part due to people moving in, from somewhere, or out, to somewhere.

    Sure, the DC suburbs of northern Virginia are voting differently than the placid rural counties on which they were built, or the environs of Richmond, or Wytheville. But all those modestly “liberal” voters USED TO vote that way in other states, Indiana perhaps, or Iowa, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, even perhaps Kentucky.

    Oklahoma has been a much more conservative state since the Okies moved to California, where, indeed, the Okies were more conservative than they had been in Oklahoma at the time of the Green Corn Rebellion. Those who gave 18% of the vote to the socialist ticket were more likely to be turfed out than not.

    When Idaho stopped electing Frank Church to the U.S. senate, the mines had closed down, and a lot of union miners who were heirs to the Western Federation of Miners moved out to… California, Oregon, Illinois…

    The West Virginia voters who used to elect firebrands, shut down the mines, and shoot company gun-thugs don’t live in West Virginia any more. There hasn’t been work for them for decades.

    So the “real America” is a shifting pattern, and changes in how this or that state leans reflect that. Equally important, a good 30-45 percent in any state vote differently than the majority, and those voters are “real” too, whether they are the millions in New York and New England who voted for George W. Bush, or the millions across the South who voted for Kerry-Edwards, and Barack Obama.

  7. Literary Politics Porchers,

    So what new ways to make old chestnuts gleam will you find this presidential election? How will you talk up the your agrarian moral superiority to both parties, (but especially to the Republican one) this time? What insignificant noises will you sound against Obama and the most statist Democratic establishment in our lifetimes?

    Brass Tacks Porchers,

    Face reality and vote Romney. This is not an election about whether to buy your food local or not. This is not an election about being generally green or not. This is an election about an out-of-control federal government, which expands the young people’s debt 4-fold, which extends in the name of better health care its rules into more and more of the fabric of our daily lives, and which came close to passing “safety” rules for young ‘uns that would have destroyed the legality of family farming this year. Obama for another 4 means a decisive tip of the Supreme Court liberal-ward (Carlson cares about abortion, I take it?), and it means massive deficits as far as the eye can see. And a lying technocrat for our leader.

    You don’t like the Walmart and corporate spirit you detect in much of the GOP? Good. Join the Republican coalition, but make your Porcher proclivities clear. Only way to school the present Dems, who are quite obviously the greater danger to Porcher values, short-term.

    The U.S.A., which yes, you remain a part of, needs your help. Reject this feel-good food of moral superiority that some Porchers peddle and get behind Romney, whether he poses in front of a farm or not.

  8. Oh, please Eric, what tired nonsense. Mitt Romney will spend quite as much as Obama, or more. Ronald Reagan ran up huge deficits, trying vainly to prove that cutting taxes increases revenues. Its not called the Laughter Curve for nothing.

    Big corporate business is quite as great a threat to liberty as big government. Romney will make anything he takes command of bigger, more powerful, more intrusive, just because he can. Romney campaign boils down to “I really admire the thought of ME being president. My wife thinks its cool too. What do I have to tell you to win your vote?”

    Google “A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney.”

    Now, as to the debt:

    When Clinton left office, we had a budget surplus, and were starting to pay down the national debt. Georgie-Porgie pudding ‘n pie said “Let’s give the surplus back to the people!” Thus, a $5 trillion debt was more than doubled, to over $10 trillion, mostly in good times. And Republicans have the nerve to finger-point that on the precipice of Great Depression 2.0, President Obama ran up another $5 trillion. If we had stayed on course paying down the debt in good times, our debt would have risen from $2-$3 trillion in 2007 to a mangeable $7 – $8 trillion today.

    Want to pay the debt? Repeal “Sugar Daddy” Bush’s tax cuts, which were financed by the National Bank of China.

  9. Since I actually DO believe in America, there’s no way I would vote for Mitt Romney.

    Obama is not my ideal choice, but he’s by far the better of the two. As Siarylys points out, spending won’t go down under Romney.

    With Obama, there’s a slim possibility that things might stabilize or improve. With Obama, there’s a slim possibility of gaining some traction on those who proclaim “bigger is better.”

    With Romney, there’s zero chance that anything will improve for anyone other than those in big finance and those who profit from even bigger, even more global.

  10. Some of us will be glad to support Romney (joke here), as soon as Mr. Scott can produce a truckload of evidence for Mitt’s deep (if well-hidden) commitment to a non-interventionist foreign policy. That evidence not arriving, negotiations will necessarily fail.

  11. It doesn’t matter. As soon as he opens his mouth in the debates, Americans are going to realize right away that he is a yachting type from New England. Doesn’t matter how many work shirts he wears or how many barns that he stands in front of. That Boston country club accent thing-y doesn’t fly with the rest of the
    country, let alone the idea that he goes around wagering $10,000 as is standard bet,
    and loves firing people and giving pink slips. With 1/2 the country
    out of work, that’s going to be a hard sell. Not to mention the horrible record in the last 50 years of *anybody* running for President from Massachusetts:
    1964 Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. defeated by Goldwater
    1980 Kennedy def. by Carter
    1988 Dukakis def. by Bush
    1992 Tsongas def. by Clinton
    2004 Kerry def. by Bush II
    It’s not Camelot anymore people! The Massachusetts thing worked with JFK, but that was 50 years ago!

  12. Emmett,

    Bush II pulled it off. He was a New Englander from Connecticut who had acquired a twang and portrayed himself as a Texan. Of course, Romney has not been a mouse in the Texas cookie jar, so he cannot claim to be a Texas cookie. Perhaps he could spend about thirty days in Iowa and acquire a folksy corny style.

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