Contrast Romney’s approach with Bob Dole’s in 1996, when Dole also faced a young Democrat (Bill Clinton) who had overreached in his first two years and lost control of Congress. Dole’s speech was remarkably tough and uncompromising — and it still reads that way 16 years later.
“It is demeaning to the nation that within the Clinton administration a corps of the elite who never grew up, never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered and never learned, should have the power to fund with your earnings their dubious and self-serving schemes,” Dole thundered. “Somewhere, a grandmother couldn’t afford to call her granddaughter, or a child went without a book, or a family couldn’t afford that first home, because there was just not enough money to make that call, buy the book or pay the mortgage or, for that matter, to do many other things that one has the right and often the obligation to do. Why? Because some genius in the Clinton administration took the money to fund yet another theory, yet another program and yet another bureaucracy.”
Dole mocked then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for her best-selling book, “It Takes a Village,” and even attacked the Clintons for where they sent their daughter to school. And he had this to say to teachers unions: “If education were a war, you would be losing it. If it were a business, you would be driving it into bankruptcy. If it were a patient, it would be dying. And to the teachers unions I say, when I am president, I will disregard your political power, for the sake of the parents, the children, the schools and the nation.”
Romney’s speech had none of that angry, dismissive tone. In fact, his speech in many ways was a carbon copy of the acceptance speech by the last Massachusetts politician nominated to run for president — John Kerry. Both began with an earnest effort to tell a gauzy version of their life story. Both, more in sorrow than in anger, recounted the failings of the incumbent president. And both sketched their policy prescriptions with rosy assumptions. They even both had a five-part plan to improve the economy.
Ultimately, convention speeches are about making the argument for your team. We should fully expect politicians to make their case using facts and figures that either tilt positive about their accomplishment — or negative about their opponents. As the fact-checking business has blossomed in the news media, it has been increasingly hard for politicians to get away with such truth-shading without someone noticing.
Both political parties will stretch the truth if they believe it will advance their political interests. It’s been a rough campaign so far, but the GOP convention that just ended was strictly in the mainstream for such party celebrations.
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