Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Victims Or Masters of Destiny

At the opening session of the 2012 Republican National Convention,
there were numerous speeches by various elected officials, candidates, small
businesspersons, et al, but most Americans were primarily interested in the
final two of the evening, one by Ann Romney, wife of the Republican nominee,
and the other by Chris Christie, GOP governor of New Jersey, the most
exciting political personality today (in either party) and the keynote speaker.

There were extraordinary expectations for Governor Christie’s speech, he is
a charismatic speaker and the speech was much heralded in the media. As for
Mrs. Romney’s speech, the expectations were less clear. She had emerged most
notably after she was was attacked earlier in the year by a Democratic/Obama
political operative, and had shown herself to be an attractive and likeable
figure with no small amount of grit as her story of raising a large family and
surviving serious illness became public.

Mrs. Romney’s speech came first, and was clearly intended to be a supportive
one for her husband who would make his own acceptance speech on Thursday.
But from the outset, Ann Romney’s words were a statement of her own
character and principles, an impassioned, plucky anthem to American women,
the mothers and grandmothers, wives and sisters, daughters and granddaughters.
As such, it was perhaps unexpected, and a very feminine celebration of the
phenomenon of love in our culture, not sentimental and only romantic, but
grown up and passionate and tough at the same time. It was in fact a stunning
performance, marred only by some Old Media commentators who tried to
demean it for their own purposes after it was delivered.

Governor Christie’s speech had a different purpose. Interestingly, he began his
speech with his debt to his mother who had instilled in him his most enduring
life principles. He even went so far to say that his father, still alive and in the
convention audience, was a fine father but only a passenger in the car of their
lives, a car in which the mother and wife was the driver. From these enduring
principles, however, Governor Christie embarked on his own journey of the
most important and vital American values, especially as they are applied to our
own time.

Some commentators have spent time comparing the two speeches, and trying
to evaluate them and their comparable success. I think this is not a very useful
exercise, primarily because they had such different purposes. Mrs. Romney’s
words intended to bring her husband to the American people in a human
light, a light that can only be seen by a woman and a wife. At the same time, she
was bringing herself to the public, something important because, if Mitt Romney
is elected president of the United States, she will will be the First Lady of the
nation, perhaps the most important unelected and least formally official post in
our country.

Governor Christie’s task, on the other hand, was to set down the defining contrast
between the incumbent president and his party, and Mitt Romney and his party,
the GOP of 2012. As he always does, Mr. Christie gave a spirited and charismatic
performance. But more importantly, he established the clear markers by which
voters could evaluate the two political visions being presented to them in 2012.
This was, as he had warned in advance, going to be a “tough” speech with “tough”
words about where we are as a nation, and the choices voters had about where the
nation would be going. In this respect, it was a lucid and impassioned statement of
conservative principles. while it was a restatement of the ideas and values which
had been thoroughly aired in the primary caucus campaign season just past.

It had some good “lines” as any good speech does, but the most memorable
moment for me came when Mr. Christie said:

“American has never been a victim of destiny. It has always been the master of its

With these words I think, Chris Christie verbalized most succinctly where we are
as a nation and as its citizens.

Beginning perhaps in Korea, and certainly in Viet Nam twenty years later,
Americans began to feel for the first time in more than a century that it was not
able to master its role in the world, although we continued to be the world’s
greatest economic and military power. Our democratic capitalist model was still
the most successful model in history. By the time September 11, 2001 came, and
we were attacked by a new and deadly force, world economic development and
political evolution had seemed to be increasingly problematic for us, and by the
time Barack Obama had been elected president, a new and unprecedented mood
had begun to affect America, a mood of withdrawal and appeasement to the
clatter of hostility and criticism that our role in the world had become. This was
complicated by a governing philosophy introduced by Mr. Obama and his
associates that expanded government intervention in all aspects of American
society and held up as an ideal the redistribution of wealth in an imitation of
the European social welfare model.

In spite of some debated ideological issues that were raised in the 2012 primary
and caucus campaigns, Mitt Romney represents a very different course for the
United States than that proposed by Mr, Obama and his party. It was Governor
Christie’s task in his keynote address to make this as clear as possible, and with
his statement of the contrast of the nation as either a victim of destiny or its
master, he did so probably as ably as could be done.

These were quite different opening night convention remarks by key figures who
have different roles. But taken together, one after the other, the American public
observed a remarkable occasion of national political discourse. Let both sides of
the quadrennnial contest that now follows maintain the high standard Mrs.
Romney and Mr. Christie set at their convention.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

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