Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grading the big speeches

Ann Romney: A

She wasn’t perfect, she sometimes sped up to match the teleprompter, rushed over an important word or two, and stumbled with a sentence, but my how she sped, rushed, and stumbled.

As artists and the critics who regulate them have noted throughout history, her imperfections only made her performance more perfect, and she made cynical partisans even smaller, and gave the best character witness since St. Peter, or less dramatically, Paul Ryan for P90X's Tony Horton.

Her speech was only political in that it promised Mitt Romney was the man for the job. There, she was fantastic.

“No one will work harder. No one will care more. No one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live.”

Then there was this:

“I can only stand here tonight, as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and make you this solemn commitment: This man will not fail.”

And for a moment, it seemed she might have broken open a margin of error race.

The buzz from the speech will probably give Mitt a bounce, and it might have softened his sharp angles, but emotional moments are nearly always ephemeral, and while some political moments have a calcifying animation behind them, it’s impossible to tell whether this is one.

Remember, Michelle Obama is going to give a speech, and it’s going to be a good one.

But Tuesday night was still clearly Ann’s, and it only confirmed the idea that she should have been the one introducing Romney on Thursday; not Marco Rubio.

Rubio is a stud, but he and Romney didn’t have five kids together, and it’s hard to imagine Marco striding to the stage and saying “Tonight, I want to talk to you about love.”

Ann should’ve introduced Mitt on Thursday night. That’s all there is to it. She wouldn’t have upstaged him, she would have handed him a much softened stage with a much softer glow – like a presidential commercial for cotton.

But, give her your due and all your adjectives – she earned them.

Now… before moving on, let me switch both gears and prose slightly and take care of one thing.

Can we please stop collectively saying “Wow, the wrong Romney is running!” and marvel at just how much better Ann is than her husband at this?! True, she is. But he has a part of a presidential resume that she doesn't have, and that sort of counts.

Ann Romney and Michelle Obama wouldn't become president if only they made a few phone calls. Just wouldn't happen.

Give a Super PAC two weeks, pulverizing Ann and Michelle, and suddenly they’d start looking very human. Would their essences have changed? No. But the world’s filters would start looking different. Remember Elizabeth Dole? Everyone was declaring her president after her 1996 convention speech, and look how that turned out when she actually took up everyone on their promises.

None of this is to diminish what Ann said or how she said it. She was marvelous.

But it shows just how disingenuous it is to lavish political promises on non-political figures.

Chris Christie: C

Wait, let’s change that to a “D”, because a “C” indicates a passing grade, and he didn’t pass.

He was cuddly and nervous when he should have been tough and resolute, and he was loud and abrasive when he should have been tough and resolute. In other words, he wasn’t tough and resolute, and that’s exactly what Romney needed.

Mitt needed Christie to speak in short, declarative sentences, with plenty of periods that, together, formed an exclamation mark that stared down all the parentheses and asterisks surrounding Obama’s record.

Instead, Romney got a much more philosophical Christie, one who found nuance and a mountaintop. Great, right? No, that’s not the type of politician he is – however mandatory he might think it is for becoming president . If Christie does get to the mountaintop, it won’t be through floating or soaring, it will be in a tank that’s got a bit of mud on the American flag flying from it.

Then there was the fact that Christie only made the case for Romney through implicit links. If anyone could have prosecuted a contrast, it was Christie, but instead of doing it in the direct way a jury understands, he played to some historic sense of what the moment demanded, and not what Romney needed.

It’s hard to think of another politician more impressive than Christie, so that only makes his failure more complete. It’s like going to hear Vladimir Horowitz play Tchaikovsky, and getting a merry rendition of chopsticks, instead. Chopsticks is great in a living room, just not in Carnegie Hall.

So did the speech actually hurt Romney? Kind of, but only in the fact it took away from precious moments that could have been spent building the GOP nominee up. In reality, it hurt Christie more than anyone, and for perhaps the first night in his storied career, he wasn’t the headline coming out of it.