About Those Speeches

The art of political oratory has become so degraded in America that Barack Obama was able to pass himself off as a silver-tongued speaker just four years ago, but we still enjoy hearing what passes for speechifying these days. What we heard on the radio Tuesday from the Republican National Convention was mostly pretty good, at least by contemporary standards, and likely to compare well with next week’s efforts by the Democrats.

We missed most of the address by Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, candidate for congress, and a rising star of the conservative movement, but saw that her address won plaudits from the right-wing commentators and by all accounts “electrified” the crowd. The portion we did hear was indeed rousing, stressing the traditional Republican values of self-reliance and personal responsibility with a convincingly personal touch, and we expect we’ll be hearing more from her in the comings months. Those watching the convention on MSNBC apparently missed all of the speech, as the left-wing network simply cut away from all of the black and Latino speakers lest their audience be confused about why a crowd full of racists were cheering so loudly for a black woman such as Love.

Former Pennsylvania senator and failed presidential contender Rick Santorum also spoke, and while he probably managed to get his many supporters enthused about the Romney candidacy we don’t expect the speech had much appeal beyond his fans. The speech was a strange extended metaphor about hands, starting with the gnarled but strong hands of his coal-mining father and running through the various sorts of hands he shook while campaigning, and although it had some kind words for traditional Judeo-Christian values it was light on the hellfire-and-brimstone stuff that scared the children and the secular reporters during the campaign.

Even the ABC reporters who kept interrupting the speakers on the radio were hard-pressed to find much fault with a rousing speech by the nominee’s wife, Ann Romney, who gave an endearingly personal account of her husband’s career. The main chore facing the Romney campaign, which has been besieged by the most extravagant sort of negative advertising, seems to be convincing the public that he’s not a top-hatted villain who ties damsels to railroad tracks for cackling laughs, and the speech was probably effective at countering that cartoonish image. By hearing it on the radio we missed out on the full effect of her classy good looks, but even so we found it very compelling and just the sort of thing that should have particular appeal to the kind of women who are susceptible to the Democrats’ most outrageous slanders.

Keynote speaker Chris Christie gave a good speech, but that was disappointing because we’d been expecting a great one. The famously burly governor of New Jersey has some heretical views typical of his region, especially on gun rights and radical Islamist jurists, but on the crucial issue of fiscal sanity he’s been heroic, and he’s achieved great things in a stubbornly liberal state by stating the cold, hard facts of life with his legendary bluntness, so it seemed certain that he’d lay it on with extra gusto in a prime time spot. Alas, although he talked about being blunt he failed to do so, and left us wanting more.

Perhaps we’ll get it when Romney and running mate Paul Ryan make their acceptance speeches. Both will probably attempt to be at their most likeable, but they’re genuinely likeable guys if you don’t happen to hate successful people, so the effort shouldn’t prevent them from laying out the difficult truths that Christie spoke of. We don’t anticipate anything along the lines of Patrick Henry’s “The War Inevitable” or Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, but it should be pretty good.

— Bud Norman

Score One for Mom and the GOP

The Democrats appear to have lost the latest battle in the culture war, and by a rout.

Hillary Rosen, a former recording industry lobbyist who until Thursday was always described as “Democratic strategist” during her frequent television appearances, fired the opening salvo in the media skirmish while chatting with newsman Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room.” Eager to press her party’s perceived advantage with its accusations of a Republican “war on women,” and hoping to counter the Romney campaign’s riposte with the candidate’s telegenic and personable wife, Rosen said that stay-at-home mom Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life.”

The response from the Romney campaign, and its friends in the conservative media, was quick and devastating. Ann Romney immediately “tweeted” her answer, making the obvious point that raising five children and running a home is indeed hard work. Mitt Romney expressed his understandable umbrage that the opposition had taken a swipe at his wife. Conservative commentators piled on, noting the blatant hypocrisy of a self-described feminist, supposedly a philosophy devoted to giving women a wider range of life choices, showing such disrespect for another woman’s choice. Even the liberal pundits were forced to admit that attacking stay-at-home motherhood was ill-advised, even if Rosen hadn’t added an insult to apple pie and the American flag.

By Thursday afternoon the Obama campaign was in full retreat. They first sought to distance themselves from Rosen, despite her role as an advisor to Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has been outspoken in claiming the Republicans are waging a “war on women,” then started issuing their own denunciations. Obama himself finally weighed in, saying that political wives should be entirely off-limits, thus washing his hands of the incident while also making a preemptive strike against any criticism of his own wife’s controversial statements. By the end of the day, even Rosen was offering an apology.

It’s all just another one of those media brouhahas that quickly fade from the public’s memory, of course, but the Democrats were shrewd to make their tactical retreat and re-group. The “war on women” theme had already had mixed results, with their contraceptive coverage ploy firing up their feminist base but angering the Catholics who were being bullied into acting against their long-held beliefs, and their attacks on Rush Limbaugh’s ill-advised “slut” remarks drawing attention to the even more vile language routinely employed by their advocates, and there was no way to defend a slur against such an iconic archetype as the stay-at-home mom.

The downside to stereotyping Republicans as old-fashioned fuddy-duddies is that it plays right into a stereotype of Democrats as the natural enemies of all the old-fashioned American virtues. Hillary Rosen should have known that, and we expect that she does now.

— Bud Norman