Just as the clouds lifted and sunlight finally broke through onto the Republican convention, Ann Romney appeared on stage –– like a dandelion in the crack of a sidewalk.
Ann’s speech on the opening night of the convention was heralded as the beginning of a deeper, more personal look into the personality of Mitt Romney. On the stump, he’s the stilted one and she’s the warm, engaging partner who can connect with the crowd. If people don’t necessary like Mitt Romney, they love Ann. So the Romney campaign decided Ann should share the love.
“Tonight I want to talk to you from my heart about our hearts,” she opened. “I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family. I want to talk to you tonight about that one great thing that unites us, that one thing that brings us our greatest joy when times are good, and the deepest solace in our dark hours. Tonight I want to talk to you about love.”
And it was all downhill from there. She was bright, she was perky, and she was hopelessly out of sync with the words she was given to say. If her speech had only been about her love for Mitt, even her love and respect, she might have gotten away with it. But nothing goes unscripted in the Romney campaign, so by the time her speechwriters got done with the text, Ann was also charged with talking about working women, single dads, aging parents, high gas prices and, oh yeah, how Mitt guided Massachusetts to unemployment of just under 4.7 percent in his one term as governor.
It was the kind of speech that takes the long way around from how I met my husband – at a high school dance – to why I still love him: “This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can’t be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair.” But the speechwriters get her there by putting words in her mouth she has no business saying, and can’t actually say with a straight face.
She began plainly enough. “I want to talk to you about that love so deep only a mother can fathom it — the love we have for our children and our children’s children.” She should have stopped there. But she went to extend that love to “our brothers and sisters, who are going through difficult times, whose days are never easy, nights are always long, and whose work never seems done . . . The parents who lie awake at night side by side, wondering how they’ll be able to pay the mortgage or make the rent; the single dad who’s working extra hours tonight, so that his kids can buy some new clothes to go back to school, can take a school trip or play a sport, so his kids can feel… like the other kids. And the working moms who love their jobs but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids, but that’s just out of the question with this economy. Or that couple who would like to have another child, but wonder how will they afford it.”
Now that may all be true, but that’s not who Ann Romney is. And when it came time to deliver the next line, she showed it.
On the teleprompter, the speechwriters wrote, “I’ve been all across this country for the past year and a half and heard these stories of how hard it is to get ahead now. I’ve heard your voices: ‘I’m running in place,’ ‘we just can’t get ahead.’”
But on the podium, awash in the adulation of the crowd, she said: “I’ve been all across the country for the past year and a half . . . and I know a lot of you guys.”
She said it so buoyantly, almost giggling, the desperate mood she was supposed evoke evaporated. And when she got to her next line about how “It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder,” she couldn’t resist another shout out: “I LOVE YOU WOMEN.”
I watched her speech from a seat next to the podium that gave me a dual view of her on stage and the teleprompter she was reading from. The more she talked, the more she would ad-lib; and the prompter text paused or lurched forward in response.
In copies of the speech handed out to reporters, there’s a rhythm and flow to the words that is pretty moving. But they really didn’t resonate coming out of Ann Romney’s mouth. At one point she talked about the little things that bother her: “that price at the pump you just can’t believe, the grocery bills that just get bigger; all those things that used to be free, like school sports, are now one more bill to pay.” And the big things: “the good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy.”
But that’s not what the life of Ann Romney is about, not when you own Cadillacs on both coasts, multimillion dollar homes in California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and trust fund accounts worth $250 million.
Ann Romney did much better in the portions of the speech where she just stuck to her knitting. The parts where she talked about marrying Mitt in college, walking to class together, eating a lot of pasta and tuna off an ironing board that served as a dining room table have the kind of details that this speech should have been full of. They were, unfortunately, few and far between.
Instead, she offered a sugar-coated version of Romney’s starting Bain Capital (without mentioning it by name), crediting the success of “that small company” (today it manages $65 billion in assets) with giving her children a chance at a good education (in private schools) and allowing the Romneys to contribute generously to help their neighbors, churches and communities (through a Mormon tithe).
“I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’” She said in another strong moment. “Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or Breast Cancer.” Nor does she care to give any chapter more than one sentence.
There are more testaments to Romney’s loyalty to family, faith and love of his fellow man, but they somehow lead into talking point rebuttals for criticism of his business career. The story of Ann and Mitt, as Ann tells it, is a muddy path where personal triumphs are the stepping stones for political point making. After 47 years together, Ann Romney has come to the end of that path making these conclusions:
“This man will not fail.”
“This man will not let us down. “
“This man will lift up America.”
“ You can trust Mitt.”
“He loves America.”
And my favorite:
“He will take us to a better place, just as he took me home safely from that dance.”
Why am I not inspired?