Washington Post writer: Mitt Romney lost because he's Superman; modern voters prefer Batman

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

In this June 8, 2012, photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles has he talks with his staff while riding on his bus after a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

The world has changed since 1938 when Superman made his first comic book appearance, and that changing culture can perhaps help explain why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach argued Friday.

Superman has long been a challenge for fans and artists alike, a 2004 Time Magazine article suggested, with Jim Lee, who took over the art on Superman at the time, citing believability as the character's biggest challenge.

"Batman is a more modern-era type character," Lee said. "He's fueled by vengeance; he's the boogeyman. Superman is the altruistic alien hero that protects us all. It's difficult to make that believable in this day and age."

"This is a guy who's from outer space — he was born on the planet Krypton, let's not forget — but he's also from another time. He debuted in the 1930s, when Americans liked their heroes like they liked their steaks: tough, thick and all-American. Nowadays we prefer our heroes dark and flawed and tragic. Look at the Punisher (wife and kids dead), or Hellboy (born a demon), or Spider-Man (secretly a nerd). Look at Batman: his parents were killed in front of him, and he dresses like a Cure fan," Lev Grossman wrote for Time. "Now look at the big blue Boy Scout, with his cleft chin and his spit curl. He's just not cool."

"As someone who loved the dark side for a long time, I had little or no interest in Superman for years," writer Chuck Austen said in the same article. "He was perfect — his powers left him with no vulnerability."

This change in the culture — a preference for flawed superheroes and the inability to connect with a seemingly alien person from another time — are to blame for Romney's election loss, Achenbach suggested. The culture changed.

"Romney was a DC kind of presidential candidate," he wrote. "He looked too perfect, seemed too square, didn’t have the common touch. OK, so technically he looks like Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, but that makes my point, too: Dr. Richards was always bland by Marvel standards. The United States has steadily become, over time, more diverse, more tolerant, less beholden to and trusting of authority, and just in general more of a Marvel culture than a DC culture."

"Romney is too distinguished by his success, by his good looks, his clean living and picture-perfect family to be the vehicle through which a mass of today's Americans express themselves in politics," Michael Brendan Doughherty wrote at Business Insider in January 2012. "We can forgive riches (George W. Bush), or a little vice (Clinton), or a good family life (Obama), so long as there is a little tinge of the frathouse or at least a cigarette habit to offset it. In a society that assumes equality — that we're all basically the same — Mitt Romney just stands a little too tall and straight . . . It would be better for him if he was cheating on his taxes a little."

Comparisons between Superman and Mitt Romney were prevalent during the 2012 election, with the MittFitts website producing at least one "Mitt of Steel" cartoon where bullets labeled with words and phrases like "non Christian," "elitist" and "insincere" bounced off the candidate.

A 2011 cover caricature from The Week Magazine showed Romney looming large in front of fellow Republican candidates, holding his button-up shirt open to reveal the Superman logo. "Waiting for Superman: Do Republicans have a candidate who can beat Obama?" the article asked.

Romney-Superman also showed up on cheezburger.com with a "Superman Totally Looks Like Mitt Romney" comparison.

Portrayals of Romney as Superman in both good and bad lights existed during his first run for president in 2008 and reemerged with his second run in 2012.

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