This week, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign released a software application for mobile communications devices. Why anyone would need to download special software for a presidential campaign is beyond me, but many Americans have an app-diction to such things. Anyway, the general release of the application itself was a the source of controversy. The misspelling of one word was. The word, America, was displayed on the app as Amercia.
Democrats howled. “Teh stoopid is strong with Republicans,” they wrote, in quick little postings made with social media apps. The commentary never got much longer than that, and often consisted of nothing but photographs, but it was prolific. Tens of thousands of postings mocked Romney’s Amercia.
Yes, it’s a little funny that Mitt Romney’s campaign app had a typo, but what does this particular error signify? Not much – just that someone hired by the campaign made a mistake, and that campaign aides failed to check the work closely enough. Mitt Romney himself wasn’t in on the deal.
Misspellings can sometimes represent a deeper problem. That was the case when the Romney campaign had a bunch of kids holding cards spelling out the Romney last name, but misspelled as Rmoney. The misspelling called brief attention to the fact that the Mitt Romney campaign often seems to be centered around the greed of rich people who want to hold onto their money.
What can be done with Amercia? Not much. There’s no Romney policy related to the CIA that’s much different from what Barack Obama offers. One Twitter commenter pointed out that Mercia was a kingdom in ancient Britain, but so what?
Typographical errors happen all the time in politics – and in real life. Before we judge Mitt Romney’s campaign, we ought to look back at our own work. I know that I make several misspellings every day – and sometimes, it’s just because I don’t know the correct spelling of the word. Nobody ever gets every tiny detail right.
Just yesterday, Congressman Peter Visclosky, in written testimony before a hearing of the House Committee on Rules, misspelled the name of the Committee’s chair, David Dreier. The correct spelling was scribbled by hand over the incorrectly typed name.
Nobody in no one from the Republican or Democratic Party pounced on this misspelling. No one, until this moment, has written about Visclosky’s mistake at all. Why?
The answer is much more embarrassing than the typographical error. Nobody has written about the Visclosky mistake, or Visclosky’s testimony, because practically nobody in America was reading it.
Visclosky’s testimony related to the physical safety of huge numbers of Americans, in a hearing which dealt with issues at the core of efforts to preserve the constitutional liberties that keep our democracy alive (you’ll hear more about this hearing from me later this morning). Yet, Americans weren’t looking at this hearing.
The hearing didn’t have an app, to reduce its weighty content down to 144 characters. Even more of a handicap was the fact that the hearing took place in Congress, which does, you know, complicated stuff.
They were on Twitter, and Facebook, hashtagging about a campaign app that had absolutely nothing to do with anything with any policy of substance. The reason that the misspelling by Mitt Romney’s campaign went viral, and the Visclosky misspelling didn’t, is simply that the Romney misspelling was on an app for Twitter and Facebook, and Visclosky’s wasn’t.
If a source of information can’t fit on a mobile screen, many Americans simply won’t look at it anymore. If it doesn’t have an app, they don’t take time for it. The viral mocking of the Amercia mistake from Romney spread so quickly because it was quick and easy to do – all people had to do was download the app, take a snapshot to go with it, and post. Little thought or learning was required.
There’s nothing wrong with mocking a prominent typographic error. A quick and easy joke is nice every now and then. What’s gone wrong with Americans’ involvement in the political process is that they’ve allowed the quick and easy joke to replace serious attention to political issues.
Mitt Romney would be a bad choice for President, but not because his campaign made a spelling mistake. Not many of the Facebook and Twitter accounts that mocked Amercia yesterday will be used today to comment with more penetration on substantial political issues. There isn’t room on their users’ screens for all the words.