Ann Romney said, “Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.” Chris Christie, batting clean-up at the Republican Convention on Tuesday night, said, “Tonight, we choose respect over love.” It was a Beatles versus Rolling Stones kind of thing. You know: Love, love, love contrasted with I-can’t-get-no-satisfaction-with-Obama.
Ann Romney delivered an extremely effective speech to promote husband Mitt Romney. Christie, until last night considered a prime contender as a future Republican Presidential candidate, gave a rambling, autobiographical screed that took more than 15 minutes to get around to mentioning the candidate he’d come to praise and concluded with the demand that the crowd, “Stand up, stand up!” to guarantee himself a standing ovation.
Ann Romney didn’t need to insist the crowd applaud her. She did what the campaign so hoped she would do: She spoke many times directly to the women in the hall and watching on TV – “mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters” – and told them that women’s lives are difficult but that they’d improve under her husband’s leadership.
Wearing a red dress against a blue background, Romney made a point of saying she wasn’t going to talk about “politics, and not about Party,” yet skillfully did so anyway, lacing her autobiographical comments with remarks such as “what Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage” (code decoded: a man and a woman) and about a success that Romney had earned: “He built it.” This was the slogan of the night: The hall in Tampa was festooned with signs saying “We Built It,” the aggressive, willful misconstruing counter to President Obama’s assertion that it takes a country united, working together and supporting each other, to create a thriving national community.
Romney delivered her speech with charm and verve, with words that possessed a homely hominess: “He will take us to a better place, just as he took me safely home from that dance.” It may not have scanned grammatically, but the very awkwardness, combined with her enthusiastic, unadorned delivery, sold the speech in a way the keynote speaker could not sell his own.
Gov. Christie talked about how his parents “came from nothing,” and that his father bettered himself by working hard and taking advantage of the opportunity of the G.I. Bill – oops, just the sort of government program the guys he’s backing would not support. Christie spoke of listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. He could have been counted upon to go for the material that works for him as governor of New Jersey, crowing about how he broke the back of his state’s teacher’s union, and contrasting Democrats and Republicans: “They believe in teachers unions. We believe in teachers.”
I was surprised at how gassily empty so much of Christie’s assertions were. He usually can be counted upon to hammer home specifics, to give an air of speaking off the cuff yet with decisive content. This night, however, he made the sort of boasts that a candidate for mayor in any small town in the country could have made. “We have never been the victims of destiny; we have been the masters of our own.”
Romney and Christie made their speeches in the 10 p.m. EST hour, when ABC, CBS, and NBC joined cable news coverage of the convention. The post-game analysis by the Big Three’s commentators didn’t add anything, but it was good that the huge chunk of the country that doesn’t watch cable news got a chance to see Romney and Christie, to hear how Mitt Romney is being presented as a candidate to his supporters.
Ann Romney’s gentle words were also a stark contrast to the messages delivered by a variety of politicians that preceded her and Christie. Rick Santorum bellowed that “we must stop the assault on marriage and the family” that President Obama represents. He said, “I shook the hand of the American Dream and it has a firm grip,” and then launched into an extended metaphor about “shaking the hands” of so many people – waitresses, of people in mines, and mills and in oil fields, on and on – until I began to wonder just how much Purell this guy uses out on the hustings.