Mitt Romney accepted the nomination of his party for president with a speech that showed he can rise to an occasion, and let us see a side of him that was compelling and heartbreaking.
Much of the unveiling of the real Romney was done by speakers from his church, his longtime business partner Bob White and CEO’s of companies Bain had rescued. An elderly couple, the Oparowskis, told the story of Romney’s visit with their dying son, even helping him to “settle his affairs.” It was a human moment of deep emotion. Likewise ,when a another member of his church Pam Finlyason told the story of his comfort for her premature daughter, the room was transfixed. “We can talk about love thy neighbor or you can live it. Mitt Romney lives it.” And when the daughter died in her 20’s a year ago the Romney’s as they were considering a presidential political campaign, she said, they reached out to her. These two people did more than anything we’ve seen (or are likely to see) in revealing the true Romney. Then came the tale of Bain (and his decision to shut down the company for several days to find a partner’s lost daughter). And then the CEO of Staples, Tom Stemberg, gave a rousing account of Romney’s efforts to build a company that now employs 90,000 people. He also explained how Bain stuck by Bright Horizons through 5 years of unprofitability. With a chorus of “They just don’t get it!” Stemberg roused the crowd and railed against Obama, arguing that the administration is clueless about how to build and operate business.
Next came his former lieutenant governor and his cabinet sectary for workforce who sung his praises in serving the state and hiring women to senior positions. And lastly they had the parade of Olympians. These speakers were arguably the most important of the campaign. An elderly couple, a bereft mother, some CEO’s and two women state pols undid $150 million in negative ads from the Obama camp. It was a feat of self-discipline, a canny bit of sucker punching. Unfortunately, a somewhat incoherent Clint Eastwood, not these speakers, was in the 10 p.m. network news coverage hour doing a comedy routine with an empty chair. Yes, that was surreal. But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) restored sanity and poetry in an uplifting paen to the American dream.
When Romney arrived, dramatically walking through the hall, it was a reminder how determined some in the party had been not to like him. No more. He didn’t need to toot his own horn.
He certainly looked the presidential part. In confident and calm tones, he described the Obama presidency more in sorrow than in anger.
Every family in America wanted this to be a time when they could get ahead a little more, put aside a little more for college, do more for their elderly mom who’s living alone now or give a little more to their church or charity. Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team...This is when our nation was supposed to start paying down the national debt and rolling back those massive deficits. This was the hope and change America voted for.
And the oceans were supposed to recede, as well. He later cracked, in the speech’s most memorable line: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise...is to help you and your family.”
Romney painted an optimistic picture for the future, describing the election as the chance to recapture the American dream. “Now is the moment when we can stand up and say, ‘I’m an American. I make my destiny. And we deserve better! My children deserve better! My family deserves better. My country deserves better!’” That drew an ovation. He returned throughout the speech to the theme of disappointment: “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.”
He candidly acknowledged, “To make that choice, you need to know more about me and about where I will lead our country.” In tracing his biography he stressed that the real blessing he received was nonmaterial. (“My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all – the gift of unconditional love.”) He related a touching story that the secret to their 64-year marriage was that his father bought his mother a rose every day; she found out he had died because there was no rose. And he wove in frequent tributes to women, including his wife who raised 5 boys.
Regarding his church, he talked about his community of faith in terms that could resonate with people of very different faiths and economic circumstances. “We had remarkably vibrant and diverse congregations of all walks of life and many who were new to America,” he said. “We prayed together, our kids played together and we always stood ready to help each other out in different ways.” The modesty of his remarks contrasted with the heroic stories related by others.
And in discussing Bain he gave an accounting more vivid and detailed than he had previously given, telling how shaky the business was in the early days. He even joked that he never invested church funds because it world be bad enough if lost his investors’ money, but “he didn’t want to go to hell.”
In recapping the businesses he started, he noted he wasn’t always successful. But drawing on that experience, he accused Obama of not understanding how risk and profit works. “Americans have been patient. . . but today has time to turn the page,” he announced. “Now is the time to restore the promise of America.” To do that, he argued, we have to change presidents: “To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.”
He then laid out his “plan to create 12 million new jobs”: domestic energy development to reach energy independence; training and education; free trade; cut the deficit and put us on track to a balanced budget; and aid small business (“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.”)He promised a “jobs tour and not an apology tour.”
He did not omit foreign policy. He knocked the president on Iran, saying it was closer to getting a nuclear bomb, and said Obama had “thrown Israel under the bus.”He chided Obama for relaxing sanctions on Cuba, abandoning Poland and promising more “flexibility” to the Russians. Under his administration, he promised that the Russians would see “less flexibility and more backbone.” But he also acknowledged the accomplishment of killing Osama bin Laden. He wrapped up with a call for unity. He ended to rousing applause.
The speech was succinct and clear, providing a contrast to the president, about whom Romney said had no real plan to revive the economy. It was a mirror image of the speaker: well organized, sentimental, reasoned and optimistic. The irony is the Mitt Romney we’ve seen on the trail is not complicated or “weird” or lacking warmth or even out of touch. He is, like many men of his generation, somewhat reserved and in a cultural time warp. Tonight, he also showed some mettle and spine.
After nearly four years of high-flying rhetoric, “coolness” and a failure by the chief executive to execute, Romney is hoping that the convention, followed by the debates, will be sufficient to reassure voters who have had it with Obama. Tonight he took a step in the right direction.