Message: I Care

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney helps collect and pack donated goods as he attends a storm relief campaign event to help people who suffered from storm Sandy, in Kettering, Ohio, on October 30, 2012. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 32 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said. Officials in the US states of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris.

McKay Coppins has a great report on the frantic last-minute efforts by Mitt Romney’s campaign to turn an Ohio campaign rally into a “relief rally.” At the last minute, Romney sent staffers to go clean out a local Wal-Mart to display enough goods for the cameras. (Coppins doesn’t mention that donating goods rather than money is not only inefficient or even useless, but counterproductive, forcing relief organizations to divert resources to stow them.)

Of course, this is more than a bit unfair, since the handling of campaign stagecraft tells you nothing about a candidate’s merits. But the story does seem to be a perfect synecdoche for the Republican approach to social policy. The frantic obsession with appearing to help people counterposed against a total lack of concern with the substantive effect is exactly how the party has approached issues like health care, poverty, and education:

As supporters lined up to greet the candidate, a young volunteer in a Romney/Ryan T-shirt stood near the tables, his hands cupped around his mouth, shouting, “You need a donation to get in line!”

Empty-handed supporters pled for entrance, with one woman asking, “What if we dropped off our donations up front?”

The volunteer gestured toward a pile of groceries conveniently stacked near the candidate. “Just grab something,” he said.

Two teenage boys retrieved a jar of peanut butter each and got in line. When it was their turn, they handed their “donations” to Romney. He took them, smiled, and offered an earnest “Thank you.”

Don’t we need some kind of plan for people who have preexisting conditions? Just grab something!

Message: I Care