New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech tonight was not your standard convention keynote address. He did not use his time to attack President Obama directly. Even more curiously, he did not mention the man he’s supporting for president — Mitt Romney — until the end of the speech. But he did put forward a vision of governance that could serve his party and the country well.
Christie is known for his YouTube clips where he takes down his liberal critics and earns kudos for his take no guff style. But his convention speech was not that of the angry guy who we saw on those videos. Rather, he was a thoughtful exponent of ideas about how the seemingly intractable problems facing the country can be solved given sufficient will on the part of its leaders. Christie said the difference between the two parties was that the Democrats believe Americans don’t want to hear the truth about out of control entitlements but that Republicans are willing to confront problems head on. In doing so, he threw down a challenge that showed his party is not going to evade Democrat class warfare tactics but is prepared to hazard the election on their being willing to listen to reformist arguments such as the ones he’s used in New Jersey.
Having decided they would not show more than three hours of the conventions, the networks have just begun their 10 pm broadcasts as follows. ABC ran a chyron as George Stephanopoulos spoke that read: “Breaking: Romney Unfavorable 51 Percent.” On CBS, Scott Pelley turned to a correspondent on the floor and said, “Mitt Romney is behind Barack Obama by 10 points among women.” NBC focused exclusively on the hurricane—when, during a dead TV week, it could easily have done a special report on the hurricane in the half hour before the convention coverage. Nice going, fellas.
Former Democratic congressman Artur Davis, who was an Obama co-chair in 2008, came on to play the now-standard role of rueful turncoat who knows better than anybody else how problematic his own party’s choice and conduct is. What came out was the first really fun speech of the convention, a lively and punchy sing-song that began by making fun of the Greek columns at the 2008 convention and ends with Obamacare as a betrayal of the bipartisan spirit of JFK and Bill Clinton. Of the convention next week in Charlotte, he said, “The theme song should be this year’s hit, ‘Now you’re just somebody that I used to know.’”
“This is no dark hour,” he said. “This is the dawn before we remember who we are.” Now that’s how you give a stemwinder.
I agree with Jonathan that the most important role Ann Romney will play tonight is helping to humanize Mitt, and tell the personal stories about him that he’s either been too modest or too uncomfortable onstage to talk about himself. From the excerpts released by the Romney campaign, it sounds like that’s exactly what Ann plans to do (h/t Playbook):
“Tonight I want to talk to you from my heart about our hearts. 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.”
Rick Santorum, the passionate conservative, just gave a heartfelt speech at the Republican Convention. Heartfelt—and very bad. It was bad because of its central metaphorical conceit—hands. Santorum informed America that he had “shaken the hand of the American dream,” and then went on to talk about shaking the hands of farmers and the hands of this guy and that woman and so on. Rhetorical conceits work when they are unnoticed, when they are introduced almost (forgive me) off-handedly and then begin to broaden and deepen as the speech itself does. The problem is that you can’t shake the hand of a dream—a dream is something abstract, hands are real, the metaphor simply doesn’t work, and you notice it the way you notice a hangnail. Then, every time it comes back, you’re reminded of the original bizarrerie and you feel uncomfortable and confused. Santorum pulled himself out of the ditch by bringing up the condition of his disabled daughter Bella, an undeniably touching story, and then tying that to his pro-life message. But before that, Santorum gave the world a master class in how not to give a convention speech.
We’re only a few hours into the Republican National Convention and journalists are already getting sick and tired of the party’s “We Built It” theme. The incessant use of the phrase and the drumbeat of reminders of President Obama’s gaffe may be wearing on some viewers too. No tag line has ever been beaten down harder at a national convention. But Democrats who assume that the Republicans are overdoing it are probably mistaken. The line works. Even more important, despite the arguments from liberals that it was taken out of context, the more the full sound clips are played, the more its clear that it represents a window into the president’s core philosophy.
The Obama campaign is happy with the idea of this election being a choice between competing visions rather than merely a referendum about the president’s conduct in office. They believe that means they can frame the presidential contest as being between what the president claims is his moderate agenda against an extreme Republican program. The Todd Akin fiasco was a huge boost for this strategy since it plays into the fake “war on women” line that will, no doubt, be the theme song of next week’s Democratic convention. But the “we built it” line is the way Republicans re-focus Americans on what they already dislike about the administration.
One of the purposes of conventions is to highlight impressive political talent displayed by state-level officials who may rise to the top in years to come—the ur-example of this being, of course, State Senator Barack Obama, whose 2004 speech at the Democratic convention was even more important to his eventual election in 2008 than his Senate victory later that year. Tonight, the Republican party unveiled two potent new personalities, Mia Love and Sher Valenzuela. Love, who is 36 years old and the child of Haitian immigrants, is the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah and a candidate for Congress. Valenzuela is the owner of a small business running for lieutenant governor of Delaware.
Love’s talk was an upbeat tribute to the United States, lively and biting and cheerful. Valenzuela’s was without question the first really dynamic speech of the convention—combining a story about starting her business with her husband to find the funds to pay for the education of their autistic child (now a college student) and then connecting that experience with the regulatory nightmare that besets those who want to start and maintain businesses. Delaware is an odd state for Republicans, but if Valenzuela can win her office and find a way to rise higher, she is exactly what the Republican party will need over the coming decades—an intelligent, well-spoken, resourceful politician who can speak with particular clarity to Hispanics and women.
As I write, Mitt Romney has just received a sufficient number of delegates and is now the formal nominee of the Republican Party. The process by which the delegates are counted is the state-by-state roll call. This is the last echo of the old pre-primary political system, when party leaders came together at conventions to choose a nominee—and often needed several ballots before the backroom deals finally came together and the party closed ranks around its standard bearer. Of course, without the drama, the convention is nothing more than a pageant.
But as this afternoon’s delightful goings-on revealed if you were watching them on C-SPAN, they’re a splendid pageant. High-spirited folks from around the country present 50-plus short tributes to their home states (“The 43rd star on the flag, and the first to sue over Obamacare,” said the representative of Idaho), often surprisingly witty, pointedly partisan, and full of good cheer, and offer a stark reminder that even in this increasingly homogenized nation, there are still profound differences of style, character, accent, and comportment. There’s something beautiful about it even in its meaninglessness.
I noted last week that a Rasmussen poll showing Republican Linda McMahon in the lead in the Connecticut Senate race and wondered how she could be doing so much better in 2012 than she did in 2010, when she lost another Senate race in a landslide. There was some reason at that time to think that poll was an outlier since the former pro wrestling mogul had polled badly all year in general election matchups prior to winning the GOP primary last month. But yet another poll has just been released, this time by the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University that again shows McMahon beating Rep. Chris Murphy by a 49-46 percent margin. At this point, even those like myself who have been skeptical about the idea that a deep blue state could possibly send a Republican to the Senate this year, let alone one with as dubious a background as McMahon, have to concede that she has an excellent chance of winning.
However, I’m still somewhat skeptical about the idea floated that the sole explanation for this is that in the past two years the brash businesswoman has been able to alter her image. It may well be that after three years in politics, voters in the state that calls itself the “land of steady habits” may be getting used to McMahon and no longer associating her primarily with the misogyny, drug use and violence of the WWE. But there’s another hint in both the Quinnipiac and Rasmussen polls. If, as they show, even the top of the ticket is losing ground in deep blue Connecticut, the Obama re-election campaign may be in bigger trouble than many of us thought.
As Jonathan mentioned, aside from the as-yet-unidentified “special guest” speaker at this week’s GOP convention, the most anticipated speech is probably tonight’s keynote from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie has certainly raised expectations, not just for the speech but for his gubernatorial tenure as well. Famous for his confrontational style and honesty, there is a certain degree of pressure on Christie to leave a legacy in New Jersey that matches the rhetoric.
But what those tempted to dismiss his tough talk as mere bluster don’t quite seem to understand is that, in many ways, the rhetoric has already fundamentally altered the state’s politics and the national conversation on important issues. As Jonathan Last wrote in a dispatch from the convention this morning:
Since 1954 the Garden State had had only two successful Republican governors. Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman were both impressive politicians, yet they were technocrats. They made the state government function by maneuvering within the existing political culture.
Christie is different; he’s remade New Jersey’s political landscape. “The political culture has changed,” says state senator Joe Kyrillos. “People aren’t afraid to talk about things that were once taboo.” Public-sector unions, deficits, spending—subjects that used to lurk in the shadowy mists of abstract policy discussion—are now the meat and potatoes of New Jersey politics. And that’s all because of Christie, who possesses the political version of Steve Jobs’s legendary reality-distortion field. “Through the sheer force of his personality he has reshaped the political culture of the state,” Kyrillos says. And Kyrillos isn’t just saying that. He’s testing the hypothesis by running against incumbent Democratic senator Bob Menendez.
Bret Stephens’ stellar column in the Wall Street Journal today succinctly summarizes President Obama’s record of foreign failures:
His failed personal effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. His failed personal effort to negotiate a climate-change deal at Copenhagen in 2009. His failed efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that year and this year. His failed effort to improve America’s public standing in the Muslim world with the now-forgotten Cairo speech. His failed reset with Russia. His failed effort to strong-arm Israel into a permanent settlement freeze. His failed (if half-hearted) effort to maintain a residual U.S. military force in Iraq. His failed efforts to cut deals with the Taliban and reach out to North Korea. His failed effort to win over China and Russia for even a symbolic U.N. condemnation of Syria’s Bashar Assad. His failed efforts to intercede in Europe’s economic crisis.
Stephens credits Obama with success in Libya (although the kinetic military operation was conducted in “a reluctant, last-minute, half-embarrassed fashion”), eliminating Osama bin Laden and expanding drone strikes (although the “tawdry efforts to publicize them for political gain will forever diminish the achievement”).
Most political observers are eagerly anticipating New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s speech tonight at the Republican Convention and speculating on how it will stack up against other famous keynotes, be they hits like Barack Obama in 2004 or flops like Bill Clinton’s in 1988. The bet here is that Christie will hit it out of the park as the crowd laps up his confrontational style as he tears into the Democrats and President Obama. But his won’t be the most important talk from the RNC podium. Ann Romney’s speech, moved from its original Monday night slot will be a lot more important in terms of the convention’s goal of re-introducing her husband to the American public.
Romney’s biggest problem is the perception of him as a remote plutocrat. That means the usual effort to talk about Romney’s family and personal life is more important than it would normally be for a presidential candidate. Just as crucial is the fact that Ann Romney is probably her husband’s best surrogate. While it is doubtful that too many votes will affected by the question of who will be First Lady next January, Ann Romney’s discussion of who her husband really is can play an important part in not just humanizing him but in making him more likeable. Anything she does that takes down the liberal media’s portrait of the former Massachusetts governor as a heartless bean counter who tied a dog on the roof of his car will give his campaign more material aid than anything Christie says.
Have the Huffington Post and the Obama campaign spin doctors finally become indistinguishable? Today the site is breathlessly reporting on a statement made by Mitt Romney’s VP pick Paul Ryan that they believe should remove him from the ticket. The Huffington Post claims that Ryan “referred to rape as a ‘method of conception’” and that this should force him to resign. What did Ryan actually say? “The method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.” This statement is consistent with his pro-life stance barring abortion in all cases and is far from newsworthy. After Ryan’s extensive vetting, Romney and his team are most certainly aware of his well documented position on abortion and chose Ryan anyway.
The Huffington Post’s sensational headline “Paul Ryan Said Something That Should Force Him Off the Ticket, But You Probably Didn’t Hear About It” is purely an effort to sensationalize this Ryan interview in an attempt to keep rape and abortion in the headlines. The liberal media is playing along, predictably, trying to rebrand the Republican party as the Party of Rape, a party full of Todd Akins.
The New York Times’ Thom Shanker cites a new Congressional Research Service report to make the startling claim that “weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high” of $66.3 billion, an “extraordinary increase” from 2010’s total of $21.4 billion and one that represents “three-quarters of the global arms market.” The full report, by Richard Grimmett and Paul Kerr, is available here. While the dollar figures that Shanker cites are accurate, the context he provides is not.
First, the CRS report is based on calendar year data, whereas most U.S. figures are based on the Federal Year. The difference this makes in calculating percentage changes is astonishing, because the data are dominated by a few large sales, especially a $29 billion deal with the Saudis. Thus, if measured from FY 2010 to FY 2011, the increase is about nine percent, not three hundred percent.
There hasn’t much foreign policy discussion this election season, either in the Republican primaries or in the general election campaign. Certainly, there has been some lip service paid to Iran, but it is like pulling teeth to get either candidate to talk about Afghanistan, let alone any other country.
If there are two lessons policymakers across the aisle should learn from the pre-9/11 era, it is that problems ignored do not go away, and that no matter how remote a security vacuum is, it can still pose a threat to American national security.
It is time both the Obama administration and Romney’s foreign policy team take Africa seriously. Over the past four years, security has declined significantly across a continent too often forgotten in Washington’s policy debate.
The Algemeiner reports on a terrible assault against a Jewish college student in East Lansing, Michigan. At a weekend party, a group of men allegedly asked Zachary Tennen whether he was Jewish before giving the Nazi salute and viciously assaulting him, according to his family:
Tennen, a sophomore at Michigan State University, was approached by the men at a party early on Sunday and asked if he was Jewish, his mother said. The men proceeded to raise their right arms in a Nazi salute and said “Heil Hitler”, before beating Tennen unconscious. According to Tennen’s mother, 20 people watched while her son had his mouth stapled by the two suspects.
“It’s an awful hate crime, and what he’s gone through emotionally and physically, it’s scary to put it into words,” Tina Tennen told the Indianapolis Star. “Hopefully the worst is behind us. It’s going to be hopefully not too rough.”
One reason the Democrats keep hammering the GOP over the planned Ron Paul tribute video may be because they’re concerned about the major pro-Israel presence at the Florida convention this week. Republicans have reportedly been chipping away at Obama’s Jewish support in Florida, and they took advantage of the convention location to ramp up their Jewish outreach this week.
The Republican Jewish Coalition hosted a kick-off event at the home of Ambassador Mel Sembler on Sunday, with a surprise drop-in from pro-Israel actor Jon Voight. Other attendees included Reince Priebus, Karl Rove and Connie Mack. The group will also be hosting a “Salute for Pro-Israel Elected Officials” event, headlined by Eric Cantor. Thursday the group has a briefing with the Romney campaign, with Ambassador John Bolton, Jim Talent, and pollster Neil Newhouse, moderated by Ari Fleischer.
Yesterday I wrote that the inevitable analogies that will be drawn by the liberal media between Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina are a gift to the Democrats. Just how much the public will make of these specious comparisons has yet to be determined, but one must give those members of President Obama’s cheerleading squad who write the editorials at the New York Times credit for trying. The paper’s lead editorial today was exactly along the lines that I predicted. It pompously claimed the storm “is a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago” and then piled on to the mythology behind that clause by also asserting that the storm also spotlights “the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”
Suffice it to say that seven years later attempts to blame the Katrina disaster solely on President Bush and his party is absurd, since we now know that most of the problems stemmed from the incompetence, if not the moral turpitude, displayed by local and state authorities. The argument that GOP demands that other savings offset more FEMA expenditures is somehow an invitation to catastrophe is just as dishonest. But as much as liberals are chortling at the Republicans’ bad luck with the weather, they need to be careful not to overplay their hand. While the GOP needs to be aware that a potential storm disaster is more important than their gathering, President Obama must be mindful that any actions of his own this week that can be interpreted as trying to make political hay out of a tragedy will backfire.
On The Corner, Andrew Stuttaford flays a Chronicle of Higher Education essay by Alan Wolfe for displaying all the “arid, stifling conformist atmosphere of the ivory tower.” Both Stuttaford’s flaying and Wolfe’s essay on Ayn Rand are worth a read. Though I like the sound of Wolfe’s course on “Liberalism and Conservatism”–less so if he places Edmund Burke, a Whig, firmly on the side of the conservatives–Stuttaford’s contempt for the way Wolfe dismisses Rand as a “nonperson” is well-expressed.
But Wolfe’s piece isn’t just about the atmosphere. It illustrates William F. Buckley’s argument that academic freedom, conventionally understood, is a superstition. Buckley contended that, because judgments about professional competence must be made–professors of English teach poetry, not pushpin–there is always an academic orthodoxy. What Buckley wanted was for that orthodoxy to be his, not someone else’s. By Wolfe’s huffy way of thinking–“American academic life still has standards”–Rand belongs outside the realms of worthwhile orthodoxy.
Both Romney and Obama are moving ahead with their scheduled campaign plans for the week, despite the storm set to hit the Gulf Coast early tomorrow morning, CNS News reports:
The White House announced on Monday that President Barack Obama plans to campaign in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday–the day the National Hurricane Center predicts Hurricane Isaac will hit the Gulf Coast.
Wednesday, Aug. 29, is also the seventh anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in 2005.