”Immortal” might be stretching it a bit. Big steppers? Isn’t there an English phrase for that?
Mitt Romney won the Wisconsin, D.C., and Maryland primaries Tuesday, further stretching an already-comfortable lead for the Republican nomination.
And then he took the microphone afterwards and reminded us why it had taken him so long.
How to describe his speech? How to describe any Romney speech? It was as though he set a trap for all the clichés that appear in the course of a Rousing American Speech. American dream! Don’t apologize for America! Can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs!
Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but they really don’t like businesses very much. But the economy is simply the product of all the nation’s businesses added together. So it’s like saying you love omelets but don’t like eggs... We have always been the country where dreamers build dreams and where one dream helps launch another. And if those dreamers are rewarded with prosperity, we view that as a reason others would be encouraged to dream big as well.
Eggs! Omelets! Dreams! Building dreams! Launching dreams! Encouraging further dreams!
Romney is not an inspiring speaker. He’s barely a motivational speaker. He couldn’t sell you a juicer with a speech like that. You would worry that something was seriously wrong with the juicer. “Talk normally! Smile normally!” Overthought, it’s impossible. Focus-group the quirks out of a speech and that becomes a whole different kind of quirk.
The only people in the world with less of a grasp on What To Say To Assembled Groups Of Humans than Mitt Romney seem to be Mitt Romney’s speechwriters. It’s like someone on the campaign is setting up a peculiar drinking game — see how many times we can get the word “egg” in there, Jeff! — without regard to the consequences. It would sound bad enough if he were being asked to deliver a standard speech like the one Rick Santorum meandered through in the course of this evening. Instead of that, well, what was this? It was neither flesh nor fowl. But it was foul.
And in the course of the speec, as James Hohmann of Politico points out, he might accidentally have called LBJ a great president.
But that possible gaffe is the least of his worries. Everywhere he goes, Romney makes the least interesting possible case for himself in the least memorable possible words. Once, for a blissful few moments, in a single debate, he didn’t do that, and then they fired that coach. In general, I have had better speeches delivered to me by people who were actually asleep at the time.
Romney has the tendency to alight on a single semi-memorable phrase — Barack Obama: Nice Guy But Out Of His Depth! Barack Obama: Nice Guy But Doesn’t Understand How The Economy Works! — and then flog it along, like a horse lugging guns in the Great War, until it dies of overwork. Newt Gingrich at least rotates his small crop of facts periodically. Whenever Romney exhausts an image, he has to grope about for a new one, and the results are more often disastrous than not. You get things like Big Steppers. He’s used this line before, in Appleton!
Romney always has the mien of a middle-school teacher trying to prove to you that Algebra is Fun. But this didn’t even have so much flair. This was as if a computer tried to write a love sonnet. Each individual phrase, as it reels into view on the teleprompting screen, seemed vaguely coherent. Romney reads merrily along with the conviction that, when all is said and done, it will make sense. But lay the phrases end to end and they ceased to mean anything all. It contained all the things that a Stirring Speech ought to contain except a stirring speech.
President Obama has his flaws as a speechmaker, and for him to call Romney stilted or out-of-touch starts slowly bleeding into Hello-Pot-Hi-There-Kettle territory. But at least his speeches don’t sound as though something rolled in them, chewed them up, and spat them out, leaving only unrecognizable clumps of damp platitudes.
If it’s true that “You say it best when you say nothing at all,” then Mitt Romney said it best Tuesday.