Great Republican National Convention Day One of Speechifying: Vatzian Notes

–Richard E. Vatz
     Okay, it is a little egocentric to put the author’s name in the title, but I am taking my cue from Chris Christie, who thought his speech should focus on himself.  But I thought it was a great speech regardless, and here are some notes taken contemporaneously during just a few of the major speeches that were given Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention:

I love Mia Love…what confidence; what excellence by the Utah congressional candidate…she was spellbinding.  She knows that President Obama’s now-signature line, “You didn’t build that!”,  is contrary to the ethos of the individualism that undergirds the greatness of America: “The America I know is grounded in the determination found in patriots and pioneers, in small business owners with big ideas, in the farmers who work in the beauty of our landscape, in our heroic military and Olympians. It’s in every child who looks at the seemingly impossible and says, ‘I can do that.’ That is the America I know!…Mr. President I am here to tell you we are not buying what you are selling in 2012.”

— Ann Romney’s paean to her husband stands in stark contrast to “The Kiss,” the last rhetorical effort to demonstrate that a major candidate was less stodgy than he appeared to be.  This effort, as Henry Kissinger might say, had the advantage of reflecting true feelings and perceptions. 
     Mrs. Romney pointed out with pride that she and Mitt have had real struggles with medical problems and other obstacles, but that rather than “A storybook marriage…[W]hat Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.
     Mrs. Romney also confronted, as did virtually all the speakers, the theme contradicting the President’s anti-individualism “You didn’t build that” with the pride of a spouse’s admiration for Mitt’s building his own success.  Mitt’s father, she pointed out, lacked the education that Mitt acquired, but became governor of Michigan, and she herself  is “the granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner who was determined that his kids get out of the mines.” 

     Mitt’s own work ethic is exemplary, and she is proud of his success.  She is astonished that he is attacked for his success, and to summarize his character, “He built it!”

  And he wants to use his success to help America:  Under Mitt, Massachusetts’s schools were the best in the nation. The best. He started the John and Abigail Adams scholarships, which give the top 25% of high school graduates a four-year tuition-free scholarship.
     A great scholarship, that one, based on meritocratic values.
     Just a great speech by a woman who loves her husband for his values and personality – he “makes her laugh” – still. Okay, not you or me, but let’s give a wife a little slack.
     And finally, It has been 47 years since that tall, kind of charming young man brought me home from our first dance. Not every day since has been easy…This is our country.  This is our future.  These are our children and grandchildren.  You can trust Mitt.  He loves America…He will take us to a better place, just as he took me home safely from that dance.”
     A great speech…not as great a follow-up kiss as the Gores’ “The Kiss,” but sometimes a kiss is just a kiss.
— Chris Christie’s wrap-up speech of the evening was a smidgeon too self-referential – whom are we nominating again? – but is was a rousing stem-winder, emphasizing the differences in philosophies between the President, and the Republican party and Mitt.  Gov. Christie emphasized that mature presidents don’t  do what is momentarily popular to the long-term detriment of the country.
     He argued that leadership requires telling Americans that we need to be adults and say “no” – recall President Ronald Reagan anyone?  Real leadership is not pandering and coddling to delay the consequences of extravagant, wrong-headed policies until further elections.
     Perhaps the best line of the speech was “You see, Mr. President – real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.  This combined the Democratic propensity to choose economic policies that make people feel good despite condemning future generations to pay the bill.
     He confronted the  need to be honest with the American People (hard to believe now, but at one time Democratic presidential aspirant Adlai Stevenson said “It’s time to talk sense to the American people”): “We believe in telling seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements.”  He referenced the terrible burden of the deficit and the debt and characterized the Democrats’ strategy as “Win elections and damn  the country:”  Their plan: whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel of power.”
     One of the key arguments is that the free ride sustained by more and more spending doesn’t mean that no one will eventually have to pay the bill: “What will our children and grandchildren say of us? Will they say we buried our heads in the sand, we assuaged ourselves with the creature comforts we’ve acquired, that our problems were too big and we were too small, that someone else should make a difference because we can’t?…I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children and grandchildren to have to read in a history book what it was like to live in an American Century.  I don’t want their only inheritance to be an enormous government that has overtaxed, overspent and over-borrowed a great people into second-class citizenship.”  Christie was on a roll.
     A great night of speech-making, focused on the two pre-eminent issues: who is better to lead our country, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and what is to be done about economic leadership.
     A good first night of speeches by the more responsible party vying for the presidency.

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Professor Vatz teaches Political Rhetoric at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)

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