The people "have a right, an indisputable, inalienable, indefensible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge — I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers." — President John Adams
The Republicans seemed to have dodged the storm, and their convention, formally gaveled to a start today, begins in earnest tomorrow. I have two things to say at the outset: one trivial, one more foundational.
The trivial: The Republicans have a debt clock that will begin ticking tomorrow and run throughout the convention to demonstrate the amount of national debt accumulating in just four days under the Obama administration. Clever. The Oak Ridge Boys will sing the national anthem when the convention convenes Tuesday. Not as clever.
More foundational: The central challenge of the convention is not to make the contrast with Obama but to make Mitt Romney likable and relatable.
So far, Mitt Romney has seemed at best an opaque figure; at worst, an unfeeling one. He clearly eschews introspection; no "lying on the couch" for him, as George W. Bush might put it. But, as Michael Beschloss put it, "... Every presidential candidate is especially reluctant to show weakness, but this is one of the most crucial ways we come to comprehend and bond with a possible president, and when voters don't have it, they wonder."
These character arcs are crucial to our ability to relate to any potential "hero." Joseph Campbell wrote of the "hero's journey" as a basic plot of myths. The hero begins in the ordinary world and hears a call to adventure; he temporarily refuses the call, afraid of the danger. He overcomes this fear, often with the help of a mentor, and crosses into an adventure world. He is tested to the point of death and has to prevail, not only over his external foes, but over his internal doubts and weaknesses.
If you look at the the four candidates on the ticket this year, three have clearly had some kind of hero's journey. Barack Obama wrote about his painful search for identity in "Dreams From My Father," a story of his descent into apathy, drugs and anger, and his emergence. Joe Biden lost his wife and infant daughter at age 29, months after his triumphant Senate win, and he later faced death from an aneurysm. Paul Ryan lost his dad as a teenager. If you look further back, you find Bill Clinton confronting his abusive stepfather as a young man and George W. Bush finding Jesus after climbing too far down into the bottle.
Mitt Romney's consultants know they have to push some kind of narrative for their candidate. This weekend the New York Times tried to give Romney a hero's story, writing about the medical issues of his beloved wife and Romney's own brush with death in a 1968 car accident. Romney was injured, but one of his passengers was killed. Romney, who was driving the car but wasn’t at fault, was in France at the time doing Mormon missionary work.
In interviews this weekend, however, Romney was having none of that hero stuff. "I am who I am, and that's all I am." he said over and over, quoting Popeye.
Maybe after all that hero's journey stuff that marks Obama, people are ready, as Ed argued this morning, for a technocrat as president, one who measures the metrics, and whose heart beats with the rhythm of the bottom line. Tampa will put that theory to the test.