A good speech that failed to move the needle

Here’s my reaction to Mitt Romney’s big speech last night (you remember Romney; he came a couple of speakers after Clint Eastwood’s extraordinary presentation of surrealistic performance art), in two parts:

First, I really appreciated his tone. We had heard he would take this opportunity to reach out to us swing voters, and he did, mainly by leaving out any hint of the crazy hate-Obama talk that has become so common among Republicans. Not that he would have talked that way anyway — without the condescension that Marco Rubio applied in saying the president is a “good man,” let me say that I see Mitt Romney as a nice man — but he could have thrown the crowd a little more red meat, and he didn’t. He reached out.

In fact, I think he made his case in as positive a way as anyone could. He mentioned “Hope and Change” without the usual sneering contempt with which Republicans imbue the words, and said too bad, it just didn’t work out. So let’s try something different.

I think that’s his case, put as positively as possible.

That’s part one of my reaction. Here’s part two: I don’t think he made the case — again, to us swing voters, not the faithful in the hall — that he necessarily has a better approach than Obama. In fact, when he tried to explain the difference between the Obama approach and the Romney/GOP approach, he had a tendency to fall back on the red meat stuff, the favorite stereotypes that Republicans spout with regard to Democrats. You know, like the one about how liberals hate success, which was probably one of his bigger applause lines. It went like this: “In America, we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for it.” It has the added bonus of implying, I don’t know how they do it in the country YOU come from, but in America

And the problem, for folk who are not Tea Partisans or birthers or Club for Growth types, is that we don’t hear much positive in what Romney would do instead that would be better. The clearest message about what he would do that is more or less understandable to all is repeal Obamacare. Which I certainly don’t want him or anybody else to do, especially when they don’t want to replace it with anything better.

And that brings us to the problem with Romney. The poor guy; he’s just a non-ideological businessman who wants this job, and he has to charm all these crazies in order to get to it. So you get some odd behavior. Someone on the radio noted this morning that in the video before his speech, there was not one mention of his one great accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts — the health care reform that helped inspire the national reform that he is obliged to attack.

So here’s what we’re left with: Romney is this nice, non-ideological  guy who makes the entirely credible case that what President Obama has done hasn’t worked, or hasn’t worked very well. So we are asked to trust him, as a proven, competent businessman, to run things better. Never mind the details (because when we get into details, it doesn’t help his case).

On the whole, I think it was a good speech. He didn’t hurt himself. But I’m not at all sure he moved the needle, in any way that will last through the polling bump that Democrats will likely get next week.

Speaking of that — some commenters on the radio this morning were saying that puts the Democrats in “a box” — they have to prove next week that what they have done has prevented things from being worse, and that better days are ahead with them in charge of the executive branch. That’s probably doable, if Democrats can rise above their own pander-to-the-base foibles and project pragmatic confidence. We’ll see.

But in the meantime, here are my Tweets and reTweets from last night, showing my real-time impressions of the proceedings from 10:05 p.m. on. All are by me, except where otherwise indicated:

  • I’m Clint Eastwood, and I don’t have to comb my damn’ hair if I don’t feel like it, punk.
  • Larry Sabato ‏@LarrySabato George H.W. Bush briefly entertained the idea of making Clint Eastwood his1988 VP ticketmate. It’s true.
  • I wish Clint weren’t struggling like this…
  • Scott English ‏@scott_english Clint Eastwood is doing a one man show at the #RNC entitled “This what happens when you cut Medicare.”
  • Wesley Donehue‏@wesleydonehue Watching Gamecocks, but according to twitter Clint Eastwood is either sucking or killing it.
  • Kinda both. It’s weird…
  • Roger Ebert ‏@ebertchicago Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic. He didn’t need to do this to himself. It’s unworthy of him.
  • OK, what’s up? Rubio’s wearing that same weird flag pin with the superimposed star that Ryan was wearing last night. Is it a cult thing?
  • Oops, I was wrong. It’s not a star; it’s an “R”…
  • Todd Kincannon‏@ToddKincannon I think the Eastwood speech is absolutely brilliant. He’s not a politician and he doesn’t sound like one.
  • No. “Gran Torino” — now THAT was brilliant.
  • Wesley Donehue ‏@wesleydonehue Gotta get Phil back on twitter so that he quits suggesting tweets to me all night. He may become my ghost tweet writer.
  • Is he trying to get you to post something about a “Mormon Jesus“?
  • I’ve never watched Rubio before. Good speaker. But I’m struck that Eastwood is followed by someone you’d expect him to call a “punk”…
  • Wow, they’ve got Mitt doing a “Bill Clinton” through the crowd. Are they desperate to humanize him or what?
  • Well, the suspense is over — he accepts…
  • Mitt just said “iPod.” Wow, he must be cool…That hepcat!
  • Bruce Haynes‏@BrucePurple 10:34pm EST. Working people parties want to appeal to really want to be in bed now. And probably are. When will convention planners get it?
  • Yeah. And all the really cool voters live in EDT…
  • At this point, I’d like to see Clint come back out and pretend Mitt is an empty chair: “No, Mitt! I can’t do that to myself!”
  • Ed O’Keefe‏@edatpost The Clint Eastwood transcript:http://wapo.st/UfbT12 #gop2012
  • You mean that was WRITTEN DOWN???
  • Greg Reibman ‏@Greg_Reibman I’m still chuckling over the story of Mitt’s mom discovering her husband died. Nice to see the real Mitt.
  • You mean like, “Where’s my flower?” That was … odd.
  • Todd Kincannon ‏@ToddKincannon We may have a new Reagan.
  • Maybe they should have invited him to the convention… 🙂
  • Rick Stilwell ‏@RickCaffeinated Somebody please explain the “attack on success” to me. Haven’t seen it, want to know where that’s coming from. #learn #notjudging
  • Dunno, but @KarenFloyd just quoted it without irony. It’s something Republicans are convinced Democrats believe…
  • I liked that he cited “Hope and Change” without sneering. OK, that shouldn’t be a biggie, but the civility bar is really low these days…
  • He’s playing his role. He showed up for work, and he’s doing the job. Not inspiring, not exciting. But solid, workmanlike…
  • “Unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class.” OK, remind me again where “middle class” starts and ends…
  • “I want to help you and your family.” Is this the Democratic convention? I mean, is that what I want a POTUS for?
  • TeresaKopec ‏@TeresaKopec There sure are a lot of countries with CIA installed dictators that would disagree with Romney on that “America takes out dictators” line.
  • On that one, he was right. Moral relativism (“Oh, America is just as bad as anybody”) is dead end, politically & geopolitically
  • TeresaKopec ‏@TeresaKopec Obama has never said that. (At least the Obama who is visible to the human eye & not the invisible one Clint was talking to.)
  • No, he hasn’t. But some of my Democratic friends DO talk that way, as though this country were a net evil in the world.
  • Where he was WRONG is that in the aggregate, Obama has projected US power more aggressively than any predecessor.
  • Jack Kuenzie ‏@JKuenzie Ah, the K-Tel version of “Living in America.” #GOP2012
  • And if you act now, you get The Fifth Dimension performing “Up, Up and Away”…
  • Bonus question: Compare and contrast this balloon drop to others throughout history…
  • Amy Derjue ‏@derjue Joe Biden is gonna SCHOOL Clint Eastwood on how to ramble incoherently in Charlotte. See ya next week, nerds! #gop2012 #dnc
  • Scott English ‏@scott_english Sometimes I wish it was the Party of “Hell No.” RT @tdkelly: Mitt leads crowd in reaffirmation of “party of no.’
  • No, that would be the Tea Party…

Note that there were a couple of errors, only one of which I correct here (changing “Wow, he must me cool” to “Wow, he must be cool”). Romney did not exactly say, “I want to help you and your family.” He said, “MY promise… is to help you and your family.” That was my best effort to reproduce it on the fly; I messed up.

38 thoughts on “A good speech that failed to move the needle

  1. Mark Stewart

    So it’s an “R” blighting the lapel pin US flag? For the Rubio, Ryan, Romney show?

    Interesting that Ann was excluded.

    Actually, if the pin thing was a little insider thing, how does being left out of the in-crowd go over with the other convention speakers?

    This is such a small, stupid thing; but something keeps telling me there is an epic failure of good sense behind this symbolism (of what it was meant to mean I still don’t know).

  2. bud

    So here’s what we’re left with: Romney is this nice, non-ideological guy who makes the entirely credible case that what President Obama has done hasn’t worked, or hasn’t worked very well.

    I know you really, really, really believe in the notion that the best governance is done without any sort of ideological slant. And that’s fine. But in this case you bend over backwards to award Mitt Romney extra credit simply for avoiding overt partisanship. I don’t think he deserves that credit.

    Romney has pandered endlessly to the tea-partiers/right wing ideologues throughout the entire campaign and that has merely served to confuse people about what his governing philosophy will be. He should be savaged in the press for running away from his healthcare law to the point of not mentionig it in this speech.

  3. Mark Stewart

    And Romney’s pin showed what?

    So do we have here multiple errors in judgment, or still a single related mess?

  4. Juan Caruso

    “I don’t think he made the case — again, to us swing voters,…” Brad W.

    Brad, are you honestly referring to yourself this week as a “swing voter” when just last week you your told readers you “want Obama to win”?

    Apparently, you have a cheat sheet somewhere that clarifies your sincere preferences versus some of your pro forma statements.

    If such is the case, would you mind going into at least one of your “details”:

    “Never mind the details (because when we get into details, it doesn’t help his case).” – Brad W.

  5. Brad

    Oh, absolutely I’m a swing voter. You seem to be confused about what a swing voter is. It’s not someone who doesn’t make up his mind. It’s a person who can be persuaded either way, and will vote for both Democrats and Republicans (and, in the very rare cases when a credible independent gets on the ballot, for independents). Which perfectly describes me.

    I’ve made no secret that this year — indeed, ever since the triumph of extremism in 2010 — the Republicans have been working hard to push me away from them. I happily endorse John McCain in 2008, but something started happening to Republicans right after that defeat — people like Jim DeMint convinced them that their problem in 2008 is that they weren’t extreme enough.

    That gave us a gubernatorial race in 2010 in which the most extreme Republican was able to sweep past the kinds of Republicans who had worked hard for McCain — and you even had the ugly spectacle of some of those people (such as McMaster) pandering to the hate-Obama crowd.

    Then this year, we found ourselves in the uncomfortable position in which GOP electorate bounced from one extremist to another before settling, reluctantly, on Romney — after more acceptable people such as Huntsman had dropped out.

    All of that said, when did I write that I “want Obama to win”? I’m not arguing the point; I just don’t remember having arrived at the point of saying that…

  6. bud

    Seriously you think the triumph of extremism began in 2010??????? John McCain’s choice for his VP was the poster child for extremism. And throughout the 2008 campaign John McCain pandered endlessly to the right. Seriously Brad this man crush you have on John McCain grew tiresome many years ago.

  7. Brad

    Bud, you’re misremembering.

    No one knew what a whack job Sarah Palin was when McCain picked her. No one knew much of anything about her, which was what was irresponsible about his picking her.

    I always felt like he did it in a fit of pique that they wouldn’t let him pick Joe Lieberman. I think he essentially said, OK, you want somebody who talks in right-wing bumper stickers, here’s one. But it could not have been predicted that she would become the sort of reality-TV nightmare that she became.

    The lack of data on her at the time was appalling. I remember perusing the Alaska media to learn about her and finding nothing to warn us about her. That was inexcusable. If McCain had been crazy enough to pick Mark Sanford, there would have been AMPLE red flags to find in the SC media; I made sure of that. The folks in Alaska didn’t do their job.

    Of course, they didn’t have any warning that she would suddenly be elevated way over her head. But that’s no excuse; they should have been doing their job all along.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    I think Juan drew a fair inference that you want Obama to win, if only to save “Obamacare.”

  9. Brad

    Oh, I think it’s a fair inference from the direction of my writing this year. I was just assuming he meant that I used those words, since he put them in quotes. And I didn’t remember that.

    Of course, I accidentally misquoted Romney in the heat of Tweeting last night, as I noted above. So it happens.

  10. Brad

    And how ABOUT that Romney line: “MY promise… is to help you and your family.”

    And how about all those Republicans applauding it?

    That line came straight from the populist part of the Democratic Party playbook. Had a Democrat said it, they all would have hollered, “We don’t NEED the government to ‘help’ us!”

    I mean, I’m not one of these libertarians or Tea Partiers, but even I reacted negatively to it. Is that what I want a POTUS for? No, it isn’t.

  11. Brad

    Y’all know me. I want a POTUS to wage war on anybody who looks at us slantwise… 🙂

    I thought I’d say that before one of y’all did…

  12. bud

    No one knew what a whack job Sarah Palin was when McCain picked her.

    Given that she proved to be a whack job early on that didn’t give you pause to re-assess John McCain’s judgement? I guess those man crushes run deep.

  13. Brad

    Bud, again you’re misremembering. Go back and look. I was one of the first to raise questions about Sarah Palin, and I was always clear that I’d wished he had picked Lieberman.

    What you can’t get over is that that would not cause me to throw out all the reasons I had for supporting McCain. Which to me makes no sense.

    If you have evidence that at ANY time in my life (I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1972) I have decided how to vote based on the veep pick, please present it. Of course, you can’t, because I never have…

  14. Rose

    “And how ABOUT that Romney line: “MY promise… is to help you and your family.”

    And how about all those Republicans applauding it?”

    Maybe they thought he was just talking about the people in that room and not the rest of us.

  15. Ralph Hightower

    Yesterday, I read in Florida Today’s space section that Romney’s plan for NASA is the same as Obama’s current plan.

    “One thing Gov. Romney has not done is go to any particular place and pander to people there,” Beeson told me. “He’s running for president of the United States, not president of Florida.”

    I think that politicians should wake up and understand that NASA is America’s space program; it is not a jobs program for Florida or Texas.

  16. bud

    “MY promise …..” Given this was an acceptance speech for POTUS it would automatically follow that he’s suggesting the government does the helping. But all they’ve ever talked about is taking away stuff that would help folks of modest means. I guess those tax cuts for billionares is considered help. But only if the “you and your family” part refers to rich people.

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    Given McCain’s health and age, the Veep pick was far more critical than ever before. That is unforgiveable.

  18. Brad

    To me, it was a Fighter Jock thing. It was another instance in his life when he said, “Screw it; I’m not gonna die.”

    The other time he did that that I can point to was when the North Vietnamese fired that SAM at his plane. He got the warning on his threat receiver, but did not take evasive action, continuing to bore in on his target. Screw it; I’m not gonna die.

    That time it cost us a multi-million-dollar airplane, and cost him several years of his life and a lifelong serious disability.

    This time, he did the same thing — calculated that since he couldn’t have who he wanted, it didn’t matter who the veep was — HE wasn’t going to die.

    Personally, I’d rather pay for another airplane than suffer through another Sarah Palin.

  19. Kathryn Fenner

    I don’t want someone like that in the cockpit or with his finger on the button. Delusional risk taking is the province of teenagers.

  20. Brad

    And one thing you can say for Romney is that I can’t imagine him EVER doing anything that reckless.

    If a missile’s coming at HIM, he’s gonna break left, break right, any which way he has to break to complete his mission safely, with minimal risk.

  21. Steven Davis II

    Brad didn’t you lose your job under the Obama reign?

    Republican speeches… Democrats will say they sucked. Democrat speeches, Republican will say they sucked. Does it really matter? I seriously doubt there’s a voter who walks into the booth not knowing who he’ll vote for.

    @Kathryn – Seriously? Biden would be great in a crisis? The old joke of when Bush Sr. was in office is if something happened to him the Secret Service was ordered to shoot Quayle. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Obama having a similar policy.

  22. Steven Davis II

    Brad, that was jet #3 for McCain to lose. Most pilots would have been grounded after lawn darting the first one.

  23. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – “Delusional risk taking is the province of teenagers.”

    Most military pilots are just a few years older than what you fear.

  24. Steven Davis II

    “He said, “MY promise… is to help you and your family.””

    A promise is more than what Obama has delivered the last four years.

  25. Steven Davis II

    @Kathryn – Brad’s wanted Obama to win ever since he took office, even though he lost his job while Obama was in office. But I guess that’s Bush’s fault too.

  26. Steven Davis II

    I didn’t say you didn’t vote for Obama, I said you’ve been a backer of his since he took office. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who you’re voting for this time. How did the newspaper business do under the Obama reign? That’s “change” for you, and you’re signing up for more of the same.

  27. Brad

    Oh, and Yeager lost at least two aircraft I can think of offhand — possibly more. One was during the war; the other was the NF-104 in which he tried to break the altitude record.

  28. Kathryn Fenner

    Yes, Joe Biden would be awesome in a crisis. Unlike some here, I think experience in foreign affairs counts for a lot, and he has it in spades.
    He also impressed several RepublicanRotarians when he spoke to them, so he must have a lot on the ball. Making gaffes doesn’t negate ones value. President Ford was, by all accounts, very capable and intelligent, and athletic even!

  29. Steven Davis II

    Yeah but Kathryn, you’re a diehard Democrat. You’d vote Communist before you voted Republican.

  30. Kathryn Fenner

    For the most part, true, but I have voted Republican twice, once for John McCainmin the 2008 primary, and once for Leighton Lord for AG.

  31. Brad

    It’s interesting that you passed up the chance to vote in the Democratic primary in 08. I wonder if it’s for one of the reasons I did.

    I hated the fact that those primaries were a week apart. It led to a slightly (but only slightly) awkward incident for me. I always take one of those “I voted” stickers and wear it the rest of the day. It’s a nice little bit of civic piety — see, I did my duty — that tells no one how you voted, which makes it OK for a journalist.

    So I went in to the office, and decided to go downstairs and wander through the newsroom to see how things were going. John Monk came up and said, “I see you voted Republican.”

    So I’m like, “Doh!” and I immediately mentioned my most neutral motive for doing so: That by that time, the winner of the Democratic Primary here looked like a foregone conclusion, but McCain’s victory was still very much in doubt. Since we had endorsed him, of course I cast my vote to help him out.

    In a just world, I would have been able to vote for BOTH of my preferred candidates in their respective primaries, McCain and Obama. But the parties, in their never-ending bid to banish thought and force everyone into their simplistic boxes, won’t allow that.

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