Mitt Romney agrees with you.
I admit that I was skeptical. I tend to fall more on the ‘disappointed-progressive-vaguely-considering-Jill-Stein’ side of things. But after selecting ‘liberal’ views on a variety of political issues, RoboRomney furnished me with curated quotes from Mitt Romney espousing views similar to mine, accompanied by a video supercut supplying further evidence that the Republican presidential candidate had, in fact, said all these things. Bemused, I repeated the process, substituting first “moderate” and then “conservative,” and was greeted with similar results.
According to James Williams, Alex Copulsky, and Parag Khandelwal, the creators of RoboRomney, “We were following the Republican primaries pretty closely, and as former Mass residents during Romney's governorship, we were very impressed with Romney's flexibility. We kept hearing about how his stance on issue X-Y-Z had changed, and thought it would be pretty darn funny to put all those together in the same spot. So we spent a lot of time watching old Romney clips and cataloging his responses based on what he was saying. The governor gave us plenty of material.”
At BetaBeat.com, blogger Myles Tanzer describes RoboRomney as “on the more incisive end of political meme-critiques (meme-tiques?).” It’s certainly true that this election season seems to have been dominated by social media and the internet. Even old-school journalists seem to be using some sort political l33tsp34k. But what kind of political critique can the internet proffer when it comes to Mitt Romney? More specifically, why RoboRomney?
“He’s America’s first fully configurable presidential candidate,” the trio explained to me via email. RoboRomney’s creators hope first and foremost to make people laugh — and, secondarily, to get them to consider who the candidate that they might vote for really is, and what he might do in office.
“All leaders change their mind in response to changed circumstances. President Obama ran against Hillary Clinton swearing up and down to oppose an individual insurance mandate,” they wrote. “However, we happen to think Governor Romney’s shifting positions are in a league of his own. He doesn’t just change his stances on issues, but his political orientation and persona whenever it is convenient. Watching this many clips of Governor Romney caused us to be less and less sure of what it is he cares about in politics.”
Whether or not a website put together without any real money, media plan, or even political agenda behind it (the founders say they believe the site could easily have been made by a liberal or a conservative, because Romney has given every voter something to like and something to dislike) can influence the election in any substantial way remains to be seen. As the RoboRomney creators put it, “The internet can be a great place for politics and a terrible place for it. For evidence of ‘great’, look at deep policy websites like yours or Ezra Klein’s, which boil down policy to laypeople like us. For proof of ‘terrible’, look at the comments sections.”
Nonetheless, Williams, Copulsky, and Khandelwal think that internet phenomena like RoboRomney (and, after last week’s vice presidential debate, Laughing Joe Biden and Mansplaining Paul Ryan) are here to stay. Just days after its launch, RoboRomney was featured on Gawker, Reddit, the Financial Times blog, and BoingBoing.com. The website generated over 500,000 hits within its first week, without any resources spent to generate traffic. This put RoboRomney on the map as one of the top 300,000 most visited sites in the world, and one of the top 25,000 most visited sites in the U.S, according to data collected by Alexa.com. And more informal networks show that the site is just as popular —over 33,000 people like RoboRomney on Facebook.
“We actually think memes have taken the role of political cartoons for the twenty-first century — boiling complex and meaningful disputes down to the most salient points and communicating them effectively and punchily.”
And Mitt Romney agrees with them.