After Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the 2012 Republican convention,
I noticed many conservatives and other Republicans, as well as pundits and
political operatives, attempting to rate his remarks with a grade, an adjective
or a judicious noun. I suppose it is a natural response, but I think it misses a
true evaluation of what he said and how he said it.
Romney, most agree, is no orator, but the implication that he cannot speak
well is wrong. In fact, he is a better speaker than most presidents have been.
He is also a better debater than most give him credit for because he is, above
all, cool under fire, knows what he’s talking about, and because he is naturally
competitive and assertive. That does not make him a Newt Gingrich, a Bill
Clinton, a Chris Christie, a Ronald Reagan or a John F. Kennedy for he is
not like any of these men, nor as naturally communicative as they are or were.
There were innumerable speeches at the Republican convention, as there will
be at the Democratic convention. Most of them are ordinary, several are
openly boring, and a few are unexpectedly good, elevating their speakers to
an early and temporary prominence. Some will show intelligence, some will
show wit, and many will show a missed opportunity.
A few speeches at a national convention are clearly important. The keynote
speaker, the vice presidential nominee, the wife of the presidential nominee,
and the person who introduces the presidential nominee are surely in that
category. They don’t always go well. (A case in point was the man who
introduced Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis to the 1988 convention in
Atlanta. I was there in the convention hall. It was an abject failure, making
the speaker a national laughing stock. When he said “In conclusion.....,”
the delegates cheered loudly, glad the long-winded ordeal was about to be over..
The perpetrator of this disaster, however, was a gifted speaker, who had gone
on much too long, and he was able eventually to recover from his mistake.
His name? Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas.)
This year, all four of these convention speakers did well, some a bit better than
others, but their performances succeeded. Only one of them really counted, of
course, and that was Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.
I could tick off his speech’s strengths and weaknesses. I could give it a grade from
A to F. I could relate how it pleased my expectations or failed them. I could also
compare Romney’s speech to Reagan’s “The Speech” in which the late president
set down his core principles again and again. Those are reasonably legitimate
ways to comment about Romney’s speech, but as I said at the outset, I think
doing so in that manner would miss the main point.
The choice in 1980 was also about a fundamental direction for the nation, but
in 2012, it is also about informed action and uninformed repose. Jimmy Carter
was an experienced manager, albeit a poor one. Barack Obama has not only had
virtually no experience as a manager, he has no talent for it now that he is in
charge. Mitt Romney’s convention speech was more about communicating that
he is the person who at this moment in American history who should be the nation’s
chief executive and begin to solve the national economic crisis than about
communicating ideological principles.
I have been writing about presidential elections for a long time, since the 1972
election in fact, and I have seen incumbents of both parties run for re-election,
and new figures from both parties run against them, or against one another, to
win the most important executive job in the nation.
I recall attending a memorable speech in 1992 in New Orleans given by the
then presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, an interesting new figure in
national politics I had been following even before he announced for the
presidency (when he was just a an upcoming politician). Up to that occasion in
New Orleans, he had been a self-confident and charming speaker and skillful
campaigner, but still only a hopeful candidate. At that 1992 speech to the
Democratic Leadership Council convention, however, Bill Clinton seemed
different than I heard him on previous occasions. His voice was the same as
always, but his manner and his tone had a different quality. It was the quality
of a man taking charge. I knew then, even before his party’s convention, that he
was likely to become president.
The Mitt Romney I heard in Tampa was a man taking charge. That does not
guarantee he will win in November, although I think he will, but it does mean
that, after all previous jobs and responsibilities, the years of campaigning,
the ambition and the preparation, Mitt Romney knows he is ready to take up
the toughest job anyone in public life is ever going to have.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.