For a Democrat with a sense of humor, Tuesday evening's Republican convention made it A Night to Remember even if, like me, you could only stand to listen to a couple of speeches.
I was told the evening's purpose was to humanize Mitt Romney, a man who, for reasons I can wholly understand, the great American public has failed to warm up to in the dozen years he's been campaigning for president.
So I was determined to watch the person I was told could do it best, his beautiful, accomplished (how else to describe a gold medalist in dressage) wife and the mother of his five children. Ms. Romney gave me two surprises. The first was I had read a lot about her reluctance at campaigning and mistakenly expected a shrinking violet. She was, of course, anything but that. Totally poised, she delivered a lovely, polished speech.
But although she said all kinds of nice things about her husband, she didn't tell me anything that made him seem more human to me, no little stories or other hints that revealed him as a person. She did, however, deliver me Surprise Number Two, a big one: She said he made her laugh. Twice she said that. She said he made her laugh when they were courting; and later that "he still makes me laugh."
Mitt Romney making someone laugh? How weird is that? We all recall the last time he tried to make a joke. That was last Friday when he told a crowd in Detroit that "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate," putting him in the company of Donald Trump and the tiny minority of birther lunatics, revisiting an issue everyone else wants to go away.
That was far from the only time Mitt's efforts at humor have fallen flat. "I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks" he joshed last winter to rain-soaked NASCAR fans in Florida who'd put on cheap plastic ponchos to keep out even more wet. They didn't think that was funny either. Nor did the audience of jobless folks he addressed last year when the candidate worth $250 million told them: "I'm also unemployed."
Ann's speech may not have humanized Mitt. But it sure was an advertisement for marriage to a spouse who appreciates your sense of humor. Even if no one else does.
Chris Christie's keynote speech, in contrast, was an advertisement for himself. And maybe for a presidential candidacy four or eight years hence. Christie talked for half an hour, but didn't bother to mention Mitt Romney till 16 minutes into his address. The Daily News, a New York tabloid famous for its headlines, summed it up this way: "Chris Christie: I'm great... Mitt's OK." Christie told us about the superb job he's done as governor of New Jersey, but failed to mention that his state's 9.8% unemployment rate is among the nation's highest, a point-and-a-half above the national rate. If this election is about jobs, is Christie really to be taken seriously?
Or anything he says. Christie boasted of bringing about real teacher tenure reform "for the first time in 100 years." But one Jersey school district superintendent calls the governor's new reform law no real change, and the municipal bond markets are so unimpressed with all his efforts that the state and its localities are being forced to pay significantly more to borrow than before he took office.
On national issues, he says the Democrats won't tell the truth about the country's fiscal realities. But he wouldn't tell the truth Tuesday night about the necessity to raise taxes as well as cut spending if those fiscal problems are to be solved. He says this nation and its present leaders are paralyzed by a desire to be loved, and won't take on tough issues. He seems to have forgotten President Obama's lonely, successful decision to kill Osama Bin Laden or decimate al Qaeda's leadership with drone strikes, things his Republican predecessor failed abysmally to do.
Christie tries giving himself an out on matters like these for which his party can be blamed. "It doesn't matter how we got here. There is enough blame to go around," he said. But the only people he blames are Democrats. And he says Mitt Romney will fix it all. With real leadership. Sure. Like Romney's shown by flip-flopping on every conceivable issue.
The only thing that moved me about Christie's speech was his invocation of the memory of his poor, dead, Sicilian mother. He describes her as the family's "driver" and "enforcer. She made sure we all knew who set the rules... She was tough as nails and didn't suffer fools at all. The truth was she couldn't afford to. She spoke the truth - bluntly, directly and without much varnish."
Sounds like she might have made one hell of a presidential candidate, a lot better than the one Christie took so long to mention and had so little to say about Tuesday night.
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