There is, we now know, such a thing as too much humanization.
For the first half of his acceptance speech, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made a strong case that he should be Grandpa of the Year. He’s caring. Loves kids. Respects women. Loves that Paul Ryan loves kids and respects women. Henry V leading his men into the breach it wasn’t. All praise to the folks abed in England, tucking in their kids for the night. Gentle in tone, affirming hearth and home, at times tentative in his delivery, Romney gave a pretty fair impression of Mr. Rogers with state power.
The 20 minutes of ostentatious homebody-ness was the price Romney had to pay for heading a party that isn’t keen on women’s reproductive rights, that opposed President Obama’s proposal to make student loans more affordable, that tells kids who were brought here without documentation that they should deport themselves. It was the price he had to pay for heading an investment firm whose business model is to invest in companies by having them go into debt without putting up much money of its own. It’s one thing to say you’re not Ebenezer Scrooge, but there were moments when Romney seemed to be auditioning for the role of Tiny Tim.
This new incarnation of kinder and gentler Republicans also served to shift the blame to Obama for the divisiveness abroad in the land. “I wished President Obama had succeeded,” Romney said. Guess he didn’t get that message to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who at the very start of Obama’s presidency said that his main goal was to defeat the president. Guess he didn’t get it to Rush Limbaugh or the birthers. If Romney truly was rooting for Obama to succeed, he was one lonely Republican.
When Romney had humanized himself past the point of all endurance, he then turned to the election. Like Ryan last night, however, he must have been pressed for time, for there were virtually no specifics to his plan for economic revitalization, or anything else. He vowed to reduce the deficit, but how he can do that with tax cuts of the magnitude he’s proposed he neglected to spell out.
There was, also, a somewhat nostalgic and — I use this word advisedly — aged air to Romney’s speech and the evening’s proceedings. I’m not even sure it was successful nostalgia. Neil Armstrong was an admirable American, but his image (for better and worse) doesn’t resonate as strongly as Charles Lindbergh’s. I bow to no one in my admiration for Clint Eastwood, but he did Romney’s campaign no favor tonight. And in his own walk through the crowd to the podium, Romney displayed a gait and manner that was cautious and stiff. Not fatal flaws, to be sure, but there’s a danger that the public will come to view the Republican ticket as an old guy who picked a young guy to convince them that his administration will have the requisite energy.
If the 2012 convention is to be remembered at all, it will be for its divided tone. Half the time — with Ann Romney’s speech, tonight’s testimonials to Mitt, and the first half of Mitt’s speech — it reached out to women and voters who didn’t particularly hate Obama to assure them that Mitt was a caring and regular guy and that the party isn’t as Neanderthal as it may seem. The other half — Chris Christie’s keynote and the innumerable cheap and untrue shots at Obama’s alleged hostility to small business and his “apology tour” — was devoted to savaging Obama for undermining America, while passing the most hard-right platform in modern American history. Either the Republican Party is a house divided against itself or the humanizing stuff is simply cosmetic, a screen to mask the most backwards agenda an American political party has had in many decades. My money is on the second alternative.