The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Friday, August 31, 2012

We Own(ed) This Country

Republican National Convention – Night Three

Last night, Mitt Romney did not need to deliver the greatest speech in the history of American politics nor suddenly display telegenic charisma. He simply needed to come across as competent, decent, and memorable. He passed the first two tests adeptly enough. Not so much the final hurdle. Nobody this morning is marveling, “That Romney is a lot better than I thought.” Instead, they are all wondering aloud, “What the hell was wrong with Clint Eastwood?”

Eastwood was unquestionably entertaining to the crowd in the hall and he scored some genuine political shots against President Obama. Yet once he completed his rambling, off-script diatribe I suspect the Republican National Committee was wishing their big “mystery guest” had been a little less entertaining and a little more mysterious – certainly a little more brief, anyway.

Clint Eastwood debates a
(top), Mitt Romney
accepts the Republican
Party's nomination
Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave the formal introduction of the nominee. His speech did not contain a single memorable line or new insight, in my opinion. However, it was delivered well and did a good job summarizing and reviewing most of the themes touched upon throughout the convention. Perhaps the most charming moment was at the very start, when Rubio gushed like a star-stuck fan at having sipped water from the same bottle previously used by Eastwood.

Romney’s speech seemed a microcosm of everything good and bad about the candidate himself – it was entirely competent but a little underwhelming.

I felt that Romney would be most successful at humanizing himself not through contrived personal glimpses but by addressing, head-on, the criticisms most commonly leveled against him by Democrats. To this end, the topics I felt he most needed to speak about – in order of importance – were Romneycare, Bain Capital, his personal/family wealth, and his Mormon religion. I felt he touched on all of these issues effectively, albeit briefly, with the exception of the first and most important one.

His style was not political or oratorical so much as a quiet, serious conversation with his audience. He was successful at laying out the case for President Obama’s economic and foreign policy shortfalls/failures as well as presenting himself as an experienced and proficient businessperson who could correct them.

For me, the most effective line of the speech was “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise . . . is to help you and your family.” It nicely fit the theme that America needed less messiahs and more mechanics in its government leaders.

Romney also laid out his vision and mandate – create twelve million new jobs during his four-year term – and laid out five high-level steps to realize it.

Yet for all this there was a valium-like quality to Romney’s words. When he stepped up to the podium, the noise and excitement levels within the convention hall were as high as I had observed them during the week. By the time he finished, the crowd had quieted down and mellowed out considerably. I felt they must have strolled out the doors rather than charging through them to take up the fight for their candidate. They came expecting a fire-breathing rally and got a PowerPoint executive presentation in its stead.

Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin loved Romney’s self-introduction, saying he showed “a side of him that was compelling and heartbreaking.” Her peers were less impressed. Matt Miller conceded it was a “successful, energetic acceptance speech” but found it weak on policy ideas. Jonathan Bernstein dismissed it as, “A generic Republican speech [from a] generic Republican candidate.” Harold Meyerson thought it rose to the ridiculous. “There is, we now know, such a thing as too much humanization . . . Romney gave a pretty fair impression of Mr. Rogers with state power . . . It’s one thing to say you’re not Ebenezer Scrooge but there were moments when Romney seemed to be auditioning for the role of Tiny Tim.”

Romney’s continuing disconnect with his base remains the biggest millstone around his candidacy. Much like John McCain four years ago, he needed to assure his immediate hard-right Republican audience, “I’m one of you” while sending a reassuring message to Independents and moderates that “I’m not one of them.” Small wonder so many across the political spectrum find him unknowable and inauthentic.

Romney entered the hall below the podium. He walked down the aisles toward it, shaking hands with member of the crowd as he proceeded, much like a President during a State of the Union Address. He smiled, laughed, talked and joked with each person he passed. He looked confident, handsome, and strong. Yet he moved strangely – not clumsy but stiff and mechanical. He looked like a man trying to walk inside a heavy suit of armor. Then it struck me that it must be grueling trying to move, let alone run for President of the United States, when your Party will not let you feel comfortable inside your own skin.

To that end, it may have been pointless for Romney to try and show us his true face when it was not him but possibly Eastwood that was the true face of the contemporary Republican Party – not a millionaire businessman but a crotchety old man, disillusioned by changes he sees as lessening the America he remembers and determined to restore it to idealized glory; a face of the Party that deals with President Obama not as an opponent or even a person but as an imagined, invisible caricature – an empty suit in an empty chair.

The official theme for the convention’s final night was “We Believe in America.” A more appropriate slogan was provided by Eastwood. In the middle of his make-believe conversation with the President, the actor suddenly turned to the crowd. “I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen. Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we . . . we own this country.”

He meant, of course, that government should serve the People and not vice versa. However, for those who view the Tea Party as more pathetic than patriotic, it carried a sense of regret over lost power and influence – a fear real that it has become more accurate for them to sigh, “We owned this country.”

The Republicans in Tampa put out a compelling enough narrative for change (or perhaps more accurately for undoing change) but an insufficiently honest one to guarantee survival after refutation by Obama and the Democrats. Even more than Obama in 2008, they will need a continued insipid economic recovery to finish the job for them. They may ultimately defeat the President but they will not be able to say they built it themselves.

Grades –
     Eastwood – Absent
     Rubio – B
     Romney – B-
     RNC Night Three – B-

     RNC Overall – B


Anonymous said...

NPR covered the RNC live.I look forward to their live coverage of the DNC.


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