It was actually a stirring speech. Well, no, stirring is not quite the word. But it was a thoughtful address that made points about persistent inequality, touched on Romney’s experience as governor of Massachusetts working with varied constituencies, was generally well-received, especially when you remember that the person making it was named Willard.
“If our goal is jobs, we have to stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we take in every year,” Romney said, to a smattering of applause. “And so to do that I’m going to eliminate every non-essential expensive program I can find. That includes Obamacare. And I’m going to work to reform and save--”
Cue fifteen seconds of boos. Romney stood there. Then he lifted a finger.
“You know, there was a survey,” he said, “there was a survey of the Chamber of Commerce — they carried out a survey of their members, about 1,500 surveyed, and uh they asked them what effect Obamacare would have on their plans, and three-quarters of them said it made them less likely to hire people. So I say again, if our priority is jobs, and that's my priority, that's something I'd change and I’d replace with something that provides to people something that they need in healthcare, which is lower cost, good quality, a capacity to deal with people who have pre-existing conditions, and I’ll put that in place.”
As responses to booing go, this went.
You can tell a lot about the type of crowd Romney is used to addressing from the fact that his response to booing was to offer them statistics from the Chamber of Commerce. Some people go off-script and start raving ponderously about their personal preoccupations, expressing strong negative opinions about the crowd’s parentage, or making lame jokes. If this had happened to Chris Christie — I shudder to imagine what might have transpired.
Not Mitt Romney. I have a clear vision of young Tagg crying late at night and Romney rushing to his crib with printouts of actuarial reports and labor statistics. “Shh,” I hear him murmuring, “it’s all right, American welders’ productivity has increased by more than .39 percent over the last fiscal year.”
If Romney ever did comedy and one of his jokes bombed (“There’s no place like chrome for the Hollandaise,” anyone?) he wouldn’t heckle the crowd back. He’d start reading them interesting studies from the Brookings Institute.
“Why are they booing?” Romney seemed to say. “Maybe they are upset by the lack of statistics in the speech thus far. Statistics! That’s the thing! Here are some statistics!”
But hey, everyone has his own approach to booing. And it’s definitely better than the time Romney yelled, “Corporations are people, my friend!” at a heckler.
All in all, I was impressed by the speech. Then again I am not sure if I am the speech’s intended target. These days it is hard to tell.
It used to be, if you were at a podium reading an address to a group of people assembled to listen to you, you could be pretty sure that they were the speech’s intended audience. Now, with the ravening maw of 24/7 media and Twitter, if you are at a podium addressing a group of people assembled to listen to you, you can be fairly certain whom your speech is intended for — someone else.
This week it’s especially bad. There is so little news that the fact that Chumbawumba retired is a headline. Everything gets shot ‘round the world so quickly that the audience is almost an afterthought.
Almost. But this was one case where the audience was half the story. Especially when they made noise.