by Joe Shea
Harmony Crossing, Ga.
August 29, 2011
SPEECHES WE DIDN'T HEAR AT THE RNC
HARMONY CROSSING, Ga., Aug. 29, 2012 -- You could've knocked me over with a feather late last night when a Fox News hostess went to Chris Wallace, host of the network's flagship show, Fox News Sunday, and asked him what he thought of the evening's speeches by Ann Romney, wife of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom many had wanted to run for president himself and who was a perennial favorite of conservatives as a potential vice-presidential pick for the Romney ticket.
Lifting both hands and displaying his thumbs, Wallace responded, "Two speeches: One 'thumbs up,' one 'thumbs down.'" I almost fell off the sofa. A Fox News anchor critical of a major convention speech? Was he down on Ann Romney? Or, impossibly, Chris Christie? I presumed it would be Mrs. Romney, whom I thought was pretty good but missed a lot of opportunities.
"I want to talk about love," Mrs. Romney began, and while she did talk about it in general terms, and assured us she did love him - but never said he loved her - the speech was devoid of those telling personal anecdotes that can make so much difference.
Did he bring her roses every day when she was hospitalized with breast cancer? Did he make some remark about her battle with multiple sclerosis that encouraged and uplifted her? Besides strapping his dog to the roof of the family car for a vacation trip, did he ever do anything unusually funny, or unusually poignant? If so, we may never know.
She talked about love but she didn't illustrate it, so it was a little like a child's first reading book, the Jack and Jill-went-up-the-hill elementary readers, with no pictures. He took her to the high school dance and delivered her safely home, and once married, moved them into a basement apartment. Did he trip while carrying the laundry? Did he try to bake a cake that fell flat? Did he give her something special and memorable for their first anniversary? Love, for her, is apparently not a personal thing; it doesn't involve deeds and memories and exchanges of gifts and endearing words that one can share with the world.
Her speech was not really the stuff of afternoon soap operas, except for "long, rainy afternoons with five boys all screaming at once," which made me wonder why they were all screaming, being such well-behaved boys? Where was Dad? Nonetheless, there was a lot assurance and beauty in her speech, and she is truly an impressive-looking, beautiful woman - the first Republican beauty since Sarah Palin, for my money. Even if her speech wasn't all that personal, it did accomplish her goal of presenting Mitt Romney as a loving and faithful husband with no apparent flaws in his character.
Wallace didn't say any of this, obviously, but we soon found out the "thumbs down" was for Gov. Christie. Wallace's chief criticism seemed to be that the New Jersey governor didn't mention Mitt Romney until "20 minutes into his speech." When Christie said, "I know Mitt Romney," he never gave any indication of how they met, what they did together or anything else that would have lent insight into his knowledge of the former Massachusetts governor.
It seemed to me more like 40 minutes before the Romney mention, and it went by so quickly you wouldn't havecalled it a ringing endorsement. Juan William and Charles Krauthammer both disagreed with Wallace, which was unusual, but the Fox News Sunday host made some fair and balanced points.
Wallace said Christie's speech didn't include any long list of things the Obama Administration had done wrong or failed to do, and instead that was "subtle" and "intellectual" and "more about him" than about Romney. While a keynote speaker can't steal thunder from a nominee, as Barack Obama sort of did in Boston before Sen. John Kerry's nomination in 2004 (I was there and didn't think so highly of that speech), he does have an obligation to set up the nominee with some soft pitches that the would-be future president can knock out of the park. In a manner of speaking, that's probably what Christie's brief criticisms of the Obama Administration were about.
Christie did seem to make one promise, though, in looking ahead to a Romney administration: Americans will be in for some hard times and "sacrifice." Christie spoke a lot about "telling the truth" and the "hard truths" we aren't hearing, but unless it was that the national debt is rising, he didn't enumerate any hard truths we don't hear every day. He also told us that it was a lot more important, according to his Sicilian grandmother, to be respected than to be loved, which is not something Ann Romney would have said. It was not his garrulous, friendly Irish father his life is modeled upon, Christie said, but his hard-nosed Sicilian-bred mother.
Christie may be better known for his tough, gangster-like Jersey tone of voice than for the things he says that are tough to say. For instance, if he had chosen to be fiercely critical of Mr. Obama and his perceived failures, he might have said that the U.S. has to declare that it is 100 percent behind Israel in any strike on Iran it wants to mount; he might have said it is time for the U.S. to stop being a bystander and to go to the aid of Syrian rebels and the massacred civilians of the Assad regime. He obviously couldn't say that it's time for the leaders of the "too big to fail" banks to go on trial and go to jail for their crimes and misdemeanors; that could taint Romney, of course.
If he really wanted to be tough and daring and different (and to upstage the nominee) he could have called for the convention to adjourn then and there and for the delegates to get in their cars and head to Louisiana to help the people who are losing their homes and are in danger of drowning in Baton Rouge. We haven't yet seen a politician who is that much of a leader, that daring and that different.
I once gave a speech in the legislative chamber of the New York State Assembly to several hundred high school kids like myself who had gathered for the YMCA's Hi-Y Youth-in-Government weekend-long mock legislature; I had been elected Youth Governor, and gave the main speech. According to the Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record reporter that covered it for the Dow Jones-Ottaway chain, the standing ovation lasted six minutes. It did seem to go one forever.
I don't recall that happening last night; when I ran for mayor of Los Angeles many years later, I gave a heartfelt speech at Washington Preparatory High School in South Central Los Angeles during which the audience started screaming hysterically as I talked about how many things change but that "the day of the poor man" never seems to come. A PBS crew from Boston was covering the event, but the show got pre-empted by the events of 9/11. when it was supposed to run. Nothing like that happened Tuesday night, either, although Rep. Ron Paul's ideas got them going at another venue on Sunday night.
Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power spoke about how great speeches and speakers can galvanize a crowd, a political party and a whole nation. They can also start riots, insurrections and wars. One doesn't expect that at the Republican National Convention, but for being as angry as they say they are at President Obama, we haven't heard it, either.
Few will ever match Edward Kennedy's convention speech in 1968, Ronald Reagan's 1976 "Shining city on the hill" concession address, or even George McGovern's "Come Home, America" peroration at the height of the Vietnam War. But it just seems that if they were going to keep me up until 11pm watching speeches, they should have given me more - more leadership with substance, more ideas that matter, more love - for who we really are.