Maybe it’s the policy junkie in me, but I found much of last night’s Republican convention to be vapid and devoid of substance. There wasn’t a lot of discussion of specific conservative principles and how they contrast boldly to Obama’s policies. There wasn’t a lot of red meat missiles aimed at Obama either, even though his presidency has offered a plethora of opportunities.
I’m not complaining about a lack of wonkish details on Social Security and dissertations on free market Medicare reform. That’s obviously not appropriate for a high-optics convention. It just seems that aside for some overarching themes of mature leadership, hard work, and budget austerity, voters who are unfamiliar with conservative free market principles were not exposed to a thematic lesson on how those principles are not only responsible and mature, but will also make their lives better. It would have been even better had those principles been juxtaposed to specific Obama failures with red meat one-liners.
Some of this is my fault for staying glued to CSPAN beginning early in the afternoon. There were many speakers earlier in the evening who were very insipid and the crowd was not exactly warmed up. I understand what they were trying to do by parading around the governors and having them speak about the successes of their states. But few of them spoke passionately about Obama’s destruction, or even mentioned him by name. By far, the best of the governors was Nikki Haley. She actually connected the dots and showed how Obama is killing jobs. She was the only one to directly and unabashedly mention Obama’s lawsuit against state immigration bills and explicitly called for the GOP to support similar laws.
Ted Cruz gave a very statesmanlike speech. It actually contained little red meat rhetoric, but his family story was juxtaposed very well to the theme of dependency vs. rugged individualism. He also showed the naysayers in the party that Tea Partiers are not just a bunch of bomb throwers.
Rick Santorum’s address seemed like a lost opportunity. On the plus side, he was the only one who mentioned social issues, in a convention that is unfortunately completely devoid of them. As always, he effectively weaved them into fiscal issues by showing how the breakdown of the family is directly correlated with poverty. Unfortunately, he centered the narrative around his personal story to such a degree that the message was lost. It was also too somber and filled with awkward metaphors. The job of the runner-up primary candidate is usually to either bolster the nominee or to attack the opponent. He certainly didn’t mention Romney much, and although he was the only one to hit Obama for rule by administrative fiat, he lacked the fire and zeal that is needed of the runner-up in the attack-dog role.
Chris Christie was the keynote speaker, and in my view, failed to live up to expectations. Again, it was centered too much on his personal narrative. Also, amazingly, for a keynote address it lacked the traditional acerbic attacks on the opponent. It would have been ok had it been a positive presentation of specific conservative principles. Unfortunately, it was filled with platitudes about leadership and vague references to budget austerity without any message that will help voters connect the dots on the fundamental policy differences between the parties and how they affect the prosperity of the average voter. On the other hand, it was good to hear him mention a "second American century," a theme that should be developed and expanded throughout the campaign.
Ann Romney was truly the bright spot of the night. The job of the candidate’s wife is never to be an attack dog or a serious purveyor of policy and principle. It is to evince a classy image of the future president and first family in a way that is becoming of the job and in a manner that connects with voters. Boy did she connect.
Washington pundits might not realize it, but it played very well with swing voters across the living rooms of American households. She certainly didn’t sound like someone who is proud of her country for the first time; nor did she give off the image of someone who would pal around with the most licentious characters of the Hollywood gutter. She came across as regal, sincere, and an all-American-women.
Surprisingly, there actually were good attack lines in her speech, and they were delivered obliquely – the most effective way of sticking it to an opponent.
Let’s face it, as conservatives, we are not happy with Romney’s political career and policy positions. It is particularly jarring how he won’t disavow Romneycare or even utter a word about American social values. However, it must be said that he has lived the life of a social conservative. He’s worked extremely hard, raised a model family of 5 children and 18 grandchildren, and has served as a beacon of capitalism. It is impressive how all his children are married to their first wives, have children, and live the lives of conservatives. And despite the fact that he was born into rich and well-connected parents, he worked hard, earned every penny on his own merit, and worked for years on charitable and religious causes for his church.
With that said, Obama’s personal attacks on Romney and his career are libelous and scandalous. Ann Romney’s job was to disarm those attacks, and even project them back on Obama. She accomplished this magnificently:
You know what, it actually amazes me to see his history of success being attacked. Are those really the values that made our country great? [...]
And let’s be honest. If the last four years had been more successful, do we really think there would be this attack on Mitt Romney’s success? [...]
It’s given us the deep satisfaction of being able to help others in ways that we could never have imagined. This is important. I want you to hear what I am going to say. Mitt does not like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.
That last line was clearly aimed at Obama’s braggadocios disposition and his penchant for attacking Romney’s character, even though Romney never speaks of his own charitable work.
And although like most of these speeches it didn’t contain policy substance, she tossed out a very poignant comment that should be used by subsequent speakers who speak about policy:
We’re too smart and know that there are no easy answers, but we’re not dumb enough to accept that there are not better answers.
This cuts to the core of limited government, free-market values. We recognize that we will never create a utopia; rather the best system for the most people to prosper. This is a stark contrast to our opponents who think that government can create a utopia, but in pursuit of that utopia, they create a living hell.
This is the view of a conservative political junkie, but for most people who merely watched the last hour of the convention, they were probably impressed because they only saw Ann Romney and possibly Nikki Haley. Some might have even liked Christie’s sincerity and straight talk. However, it would be nice to see more substance, bold contrasts, and a complete indictment of the Obama presidency and his insidious politics of division and envy. Hence, it is Paul Ryan’s time to shine.
Cross-posted from The Madison Project