Saturday, September 1, 2012

The RNC’s Lost Opportunity: Empty Chairs and Empty Suits

Political conventions are merely media events and infomercials.  With nothing left to chance, they are supposed to be choreographed events that communicate various messages and themes to diverse constituencies and groups with they aim to eventually sell their product and brand to the American public.  The same was supposed to be true with the RNC that recently concluded, yet for all the millions of dollars and planning and preparation that went into it, the RNC was largely a squandered opportunity.  The RNC was an empty suit.

The RNC had to accomplish one major task–rebrand or reintroduce Mitt Romney to the American  public.  This was the Etch-a-Sketch task of humanizing their candidate so that he would connect with the American public.  As it is well known, Americans just do not like Romney as a person.  They do not feel that they kind warm up to him or identify with him and conversely they feel that he does not understand them and their life.  We want to connect and bond with our presidents and Romney mostly fails here.  He is Richie Rich, the out of touch white millionaire.   He is like the first George Bush who was amazed by scantrons at grocery stores, who could not describe how he was personally affected by the recession, and who looked at his watch in the middle of a presidential debate.  Romney is not the second Bush who Americans wanted to have a beer of cup of coffee with. 

Yes Romney is rich and successful.  But he is the guy who bests us $10,000 and bemoans his wife has only two Cadillacs.  He wears pressed and creased blue jeans.  He is robotic and all business and believes corporations are people.   He reminds women of their first husband and workers of the guy from HR who laid them off.   This is why the Bain Capital attack is so devastating. While a majority of the American public does not like the economic direction or policies of Obama, a majority like him and when push comes to shove, the presidential race comes down to personality versus economy-likeability or unlikeability and the former generally wins.  Romney has a personality problem and the RNC was supposed to warm him up or humanize him.

Network television recognizes that the conventions are simply media events–free informercials.  The networks lose money covering them and thus, they gave the RNC (and the DNC next week) one hour of prime time to message.  The GOP squandered their time.  Night one was the appeal to women and  begin to introduce Mitt.  Ann Romney spoke with the effort to get women to like Mitt. She needed to appeal to the suburban women of Eden Prairie , Edina, and Minnetonka, Minnesota and get their to like her husband.  Ms. Romney told us she liked women and  that her husband was a business success but otherwise no insights into why she loved him or why others should.  She needed to be personal, to tell a story about her husband’s human side, but she never did.  Viewers knew no more about Mitt’s personal side after her speech then before.  The speech failed.  Moreover, as I watched Mitt watch his wife speak he looked passionless, reinforcing the robotic image.  Even when the two sat together watching Governor Christie speak seemed detached from the events and one another.

Governor Christie was the other speaker on night one.  He was supposed to rouse the conservative base, made the case against Obama, and make the case for Romney.  He was all New Jersey that night replete with Springsteen references but the speech was not about Romney.  Romney came late  in the speech.  Christie speech was a dog and pony for him.

Night two’s theme again was women, working class, and the case against Obama.  Condoleezza Rice spoke, but she came on five minutes before prime time and part of mer message was muted.  She spoke platitudes of patriotism and the American dream–themes common in the entire convention, but she was also a token to try to show that the mostly aging angry white delegates were diversified.  She tried to paint herself as the American dream and one of us, not of course mentioning she was one of the architects of the Bush wars or that she was a newly minted member of Augusta.

Paul Ryan’s speech was impeccably delivered.  But it too showed this was not Romney’s convention  or party.  Ryan spoke of generational divides and AC/DC v Musak.  He well criticized Obama (an  easy thing to do) but did a poor job in articulating his vision for America. Moreover, his speech failed the truth test on so many counts.  The factory in Janesville closed before Obama was president.  Obama did not go on a apology tour.  Bush started the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it was Bush who added more to the national debt than any other president.  Ryan was wrong with the facts.  Moreover, he also did little to highlight Romney, again preparing himself for the party mantle in 2016.

The final night was bizarre.  The Clint Eastwood opening eclipsed Romney.  Rubio spoke well but long and again only got to Mitt late even though the purpose of the Florida senator’s speech was to introduce the candidate.  Mitt finally got on at 10:35 EDT, giving him little prime time to sell himself.

Mitt gave his best speech to date.  He needed to humanize himself, articulate his vision for his presidency and the world, and criticize Obama.   Romney was at his best with the critique of Obama and the sense of disappointment many felt.  This was a good but easy task.  Romney’s did finally give some vision of his presidency with his five-point vision, but it was largely devoid on specifics on how he would generate 12 million jobs.  Finally, Mitt gave hints of humanizing himself but about all that really came though was that he is the embodiment of the American dream and that he is an economic success.  Yes some statements about people filling up their gas tanks were poignant but not enough.

Beyond what was seen at the convention there was what was not seen.  John McCain was left out of prime time.  Tim Pawlenty’s miserable and unfunny speech was nasty and badly delivered and showed why his presidential candidacy was for naught and why he never had a chance at VP.  Bachmann and Palin were hidden.  No seen also was the GOP platform banning all abortions or restricting immigration.  It was convention long on nasty and anger and short of what they would do.  It appealed to patriotism, nationalism, and flag waving, but demonstrated little in terms of diversity or tolerance for difference in opinion.  Why, I wondered, is this affluent so angered and threatened by the changing world around them?  It was a crowd composed mostly of the Silent Generation ready to die off and of Gen X Ayn Rand accolades.  Perhaps they seen the generational and demographic clock ticking against them and worry correctly they soon their world will end.

In the end, the metaphor for the RNC was not the empty chair that Eastwood spoke to.  It was the empty suits that the GOP message presented.  It was an opportunity squandered.

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