It is a photo of seven corporate raiders, grinning and brandishing dollar bills to underline the success of their company. And none is preppier, more handsome and more delighting in his trade than the man the middle – who just happens, 20 years later, to be front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Political candidacies in the US are defined by many things: words, personality and money. Perhaps above all, however, they are defined by images. This picture of Mitt Romney at the helm of private equity firm Bain Capital could sum up a man making his pitch based on his record as a super-competent executive: the man who rescued the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics; who was a well-regarded governor of Massachusetts.
Alas, the photo might suggest another Romney, the master of the leveraged buyout and dark financial arts, that made a few people like himself extremely rich, but cost the jobs of thousands of people employed at companies acquired by such techniques. Were this to happen, the moment could scarcely be worse.
On the Tea party right as well as the Democratic left, disgust at high finance and its cosy links with government grows by the day. The protest movement "Occupy Wall Street" is catching the national imagination; just this week a hedge fund king was handed a record jail sentence for insider trading. Could Mitt Romney morph into a latter-day Gordon Gekko, at a time when greed is most definitely not good? The answer is: probably not.
Yes, a photo can have a devastating effect on a presidential campaign. Exhibit A is probably the shot of Michael Dukakis, the Democrats' 1988 candidate, grinning from beneath a helmet, inside a battle tank. It was meant to show support for the military. It managed only to look ridiculous,
boosting Republican claims that a Democrat could not be trusted with national security.