It’s not that Michelle Obama said anything about Mitt Romney. She didn’t even mention his name. Not once. But in one section of her lively and well-delivered primetime speech to the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night, line after line was weighted with biting implications about Romney’s character – and his suitability to serve as president.
She argued that presidents makes hard calls by referring to their values, and Barack Obama has the ones you want. They also happen to be values that Romney isn’t widely reputed to hold, particularly among the Democratic activists who cheered knowingly at the first lady’s every turn of phrase.
President Obama “began his career by turning down high-paying jobs.” Romney began his career by seeking out high-paying jobs.
President Obama knows that “the truth matters.” Romney’s running mate gave a dishonest speech at the Republican National Convention last week.
President Obama knows that “success isn’t about how much money you make.” Romney amassed a large fortune, and he’s proud of it.
President Obama knows that in life “you don’t take short-cuts.” Romney has a Swiss bank account, presumably to avoid paying taxes.
Michelle Obama wasn’t just saying that her husband is like you. She was implying that Romney is not like you.
Though this was just one section of a much larger address, the politics of this rhetorical ballet make some sense – polls show that one of the president’s greatest assets is that Americans like him personally, and that one of Romney’s greatest weaknesses is that Americans don’t like him so much. And Mrs. Obama’s reverence for those who pursue service instead of wealth is unassailable. Barack Obama’s choice to pack up his Ivy League degree and move into a poor community was admirable.
But the first lady’s speech, at times inspiring, also echoed an uglier Democratic critique of Romney’s character and record. It followed an evening of comparatively inartul, direct attacks on Romney, punctuated by Harry Reid’s return to chiding the GOP nominee over unreleased tax returns and a savage address from former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who very reasonably stated, “If Mitt Romney was Santa Claus, he would fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.”
Mind-numbing populism is as intellectually unattractive as it is distracting. Last week’s Republican National Convention was about personalizing Mitt Romney, to the exclusion of more important matters. Here’s hoping the Democrats are done depersonalizing Romney in their convention, and that they get on with more serious criticisms of the Republican nominee – and an explanation of what President Obama would do with a second term.