Tonight, at last, Mitt Romney showed up. And he showed up before he even arrived on stage, ushered in on the words of an array of people from all corners of his life: his church, his business, his community, and a fantastically well-edited 10-minute video that intermingled stories of his success with endearing video clips from his days as a young husband.
Image: ZUMA Press | © Harry E. Walker
Each and every speech was pointed toward a single idea: making the case that Mitt’s business acumen and many successes, paired with his the man’s proven compassion for and drive to serve others, makes him singularly qualified to lead the country out of its economic turmoil and toward a brighter future.
If, after that video, Romney had walked on stage to receive the delirious applause he would have commanded so close to such a masterful presentation of himself, the Republicans might have made the case that would have urged the crucial percentage of voters to swing their way.
But instead, what came next was a strange (and slightly hostile) visitation from the ghost of Clint Eastwood, talking to an “Invisible Obama” supposedly seated in an empty chair placed next to the podium. (Proof that the appearance stumbled: The Romney camp issued a statement defending the bit: “Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn’t work. His ad libbing was a break from all the political speeches, and the crowd enjoyed it.”) He exhorted the crowd to go ahead and, “Make My Day!”
But it was back to basics with a no-holds-barred speech from GOP rising star Senator Mark Rubio in which he forcefully celebrated the unapologetic exceptionalism of America -- saying that Obama’s presidency has been about “[making] American more like the rest of the world instead of helping the world become more like America” – and the fundamental belief that “faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.” His speech drew standing ovations and constant refrains of “Amen!” from the crowd, who were passionately affirming Rubio's message that “We are special because we've been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We are bound together by common values. That family is the is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have. ”
But it was difficult to be in the crowd and not feel that if you did not share their rapture, their faith, their view on the sanctity of life -- their absolute certainty that their values are the right values, the only values -- that you were not being spoken to.
In the three days of the Convention, the GOP had done a fantastic job of showing the youth, diversity, and yes, the female strength in their party, but as Rubio whipped the crowd into a frenzy to receive their nominee, part of that sheen of presenting themselves as inclusive was lost.
When Romney took the stage, he did what he -- and every pollster, pundit and Republican advisor -- knew he had to do, and finally revealed the man that many have been waiting to see. He told touching stories about his family -- both about his parents’ and their loving marriage, and about his wife and children and the longing he and Ann still sometimes feel for “a pile of kids asleep in their room” – and choked up with visible emotion. And he finally delivered a successful punchline, making a joke about his decision not to invest his church’s pension funds, because he “figured it was bad enough that I might lost my investors money, but I didn’t want to go to hell, too.”
And he then went on to reach out to anyone who may have voted for Obama, those precious swing voters, giving them permission for having made that choice, describing the appeal of “change and hope” that had driven that last election, and he steadily -- but not stormily -- urged those voters to make a different choice in words that rang poignantly true: “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
Next, he came back to the theme of love that his wife had launched into the convention with her speech two days before, citing it as being more powerful than anything government can build: “Unconditional love is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren. All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers. If every child could drift to sleep feeling wrapped in the love of their family – and God’s love -- this world would be a far more gentle and better place.”
And then he got down to business about what, exactly, he plans to do as President, starting with the statement that he has a plan to create 12 million jobs for America and then quickly assembling his platform: energy independence by 2020, skills training for Americans for tomorrow’s careers, repeal Obamacare, school vouchers, reducing the deficit and reining in spending, supporting small businesses, which he called the “real growth engine of the American economy, not the government.”
Then he moved on to three lines that brought everyone in the Forum to their feet, cheering loudly:
“And let me make this very clear -- unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class. As president, I will protect the sanctity of life! I will honor the institution of marriage! And I will guarantee America's first liberty: the freedom of religion!”
No one else in the Forum seemed to hear the dissonance in those lines, the way that religion is at the very core of “the sanctity of life” and the “institution of marriage.” The way that being a party for "love" might mean allowing others to love as they wish. But this was not the moment for debate; that will come in October. The crowd was on its feet, offering its “Amen!”s and the final words of his speech were eclipsed by the deafening roar of the believers.
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