The 2012 Republican convention had a unique problem to solve when its presidential candidate rose to the podium to give the closing speech to the conventioneers and the nation. What to do when your standard bearers, the articulate, impassioned, and committed spokesmen for the cause – have already spoken? Like a great ship on the ocean, the Republican Party has dramatically shifted course toward a different horizon, and the captains of that ship from this time forth are Ryan and Rubio. No two presentations before a national convention have ever put in place a more perfect bookend explanation as to what this political party believes and fights for, and the two will likely be the coming generational face of the party for the next 16 years. Both will be indispensable, and it is likely both will be President someday.
But someday is not 2012, and the party’s candidate is Mitt Romney, and from all appearances he took on the problem of the two shining stars that preceded him and laid out a case that in executive positions, it is not flash, but competency that matters. Challenging in prose and delivery the two previously mentioned superstars would have been risky, and frankly I don’t believe is in Romney’s DNA. His speech (and the speechwriters who framed Romney’s thoughts) went with a beeline to the residual pool of disaffected Obama voters who hoped for more production from the President to match his soaring rhetoric of 2008. Romney made the speech about competency, and since this is after all a contest between he and Obama, who would be the better competent in chief.
He made the argument rather well, but without the symphonic tones of the Cicero lectoring before him, Marco Rubio. Recognizing President Obama’s residual likability advantage in polls, Romney did not try to paint the President as uncaring or disconnected, but simply not up to the task of management of a enterprise as complex as America. Echoing Clint Eastwood’s quirky tome on Obama earlier in which Eastwood said, “And when somebody doesn’t do the job, we got to let them go.” Romney stated it in terms of the disillusionment he believes is out there:
If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
Romney pointed towards President Obama’s tendency to put the position of American President in a different kind of metaphysical calling, as a global arbiter of morality and fairness, not the elected representative speaking for, and standing up for, the American people. This dissonance from the American purpose was perfectly framed in Romney’s best line in the speech:
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.
Romney spent the greater part of the speech outlining the relative ordinariness of his upbringing and personhood, ordinary in the extraordinary way that seems to be a recurrent theme in American success stories – immigrant routes, one generation sacrificing so that the next generation may prosper, the importance of family, the willingness to try and fail ultimately to succeed – all endearing elements of the Romney story that perhaps may have provided some softened nuance to the media so determined to paint him as some kind of uncaring capitalist hedge fund manager. To my ears, however this section seemed somewhat disjointed and overly long, and lacking in connectivity to Romney’s argument of competence.
Conclusively, however, Romney eventually restored managerial competency to the forefront and laid out an evidence and results based tone to a Romney administration, a stark contrast to Obama’s cork in the ocean journey of no budgeting, no adjustments, and no practical plan for the looming crises:
And unlike the President, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs. It has 5 steps.
First, by 2020, North America will be energy independent by taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables.
Second, we will give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow. When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.
Third, we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements. And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.
Fourth, to assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget.
And fifth, we will champion SMALL businesses, America’s engine of job growth. That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small business the most. And it means that we must rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare by repealing and replacing Obamacare…
The speech as a summation of all the collected voices of this convention was a success in reminding all what American exceptionalism is all about. That it is not enough to field a team of stars, strivers, and dreamers, but humbly direct them with competent management , is the foundation on which Mitt Romney is staking his claim to the American Presidency. It may not be enough to get Romney eventually on Mt Rushmore, but it may be the perfect recipe to restore balance and adult standards to a shaky America that is concerned that our leaders are playing loose with our destiny.