Sunday, August 26, 2012

Urgently Needed: One Great Speech

This week, Mitt Romney will have one last chance to connect with the American public. To this point, his personality is a blank sheet to most voters. To those who have been paying attention, he is wooden and aloof. Friends say that he's really a great guy, but that's not how he comes across, and in politics, impressions are everything.

What's more, his opponent is one of the best orators the White House has ever seen, and he has in Jon Favreau a very talented speech-writer. You can count on Barack Obama lighting up the stage in Charlotte, oozing common sense and clipping his g's ("payin" rather than "paying" a little more in taxes) to sound like just plain folks. It is a given that Obama's acceptance speech will be dynamite. So this week, for Mitt Romney, is High Noon, and he is Gary Cooper.

I don't know who Mitt Romney's speech-writer is, or even if he has one. But the evidence to date is not good. If I were writing his speech - and I have written dozens of speeches - I would start by confessing that my opponent is a master of oratory, then segue into "but if oratory were the answer, we'd have millions of new jobs today." I would in short give the devil his due, acknowledging that he is a decent man and probably a great drinking buddy. For inspiration, I would reread the speech Shakespeare gave to Marc Antony in Julius Caesar: "for Brutus is an honorable man; so are they all, all honorable men."

There is no shortage of material for a barn-burning speech. The headlines are full of grim economic statistics, But they must be packaged artfully. Just reciting statistics will not energize viewers, but just put them to sleep.

If Mitt Romney blows it this week, the election is over. There will be other speeches to give, but no one will be listening.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan

In the presidential race, count me as still undecided. But Romney's choice of a running mate has moved the needle in his direction. Paul Ryan is a thoughtful congressman who is young enough to have a brilliant future in politics. Assuming that the Republicans lose this election, you will probably see him at the top of the ticket next time around. The pundits have weighed in on Ryan. The New York Times was predictably hysterical in opposition, but I thought the most intelligent appraisal of Ryan was in today's Financial Times, under the byline of Christopher Caldwell. I couldn't have said it better myself, so I will just quote his last paragraph.

"The dynamic of modern liberal democracies is to grow. It is hard to put a welfare state into reverse without ripping the whole gear-works apart. Mr. Ryan is right that the US system of benefits is unsustainable. He must now win that argument against Mr. Obama. If he does, the Republicans will deserve to win. If he doesn't, they won't. Either way, the US election has suddenly turned into exactly what it should be: a decision about which of the two parties that colluded to get Americans into such a fiscal mess can best be trusted to get them out."

To that excellent precis I will add only this: Paul Ryan will tell the American electorate that the time has come to take some castor oil. Many, maybe most Americans won't like that message, and the Republicans may lose the election. President Obama will have a cheerier message: Just raise taxes on "millionaires and billionaires" and everything will be all right. But one way or another, we are all going to swallow castor oil - no matter who is elected.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Republcans Choose a Weak Candidate - Again

The more I read about Mitt Romney, the less likely I am to vote for him. The latest piece is a profile of Dan Senor, his foreign-policy guru, who is another neocon in the mold of Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and the other neocons who orchestrated the Iraq invasion. Under Senor's influence, Romney is starting to channel Dick Cheney, appearing to favor pushing Israel and Iran to the point where war is the only option left. Doesn't he know that this country is tired of wars fought, not to defend our shores, but to flex our power?

Some candidates win because their opponents are weak. In 2008, Obama won because the Republicans chose a weak candidate, John McCain, who then doubled down by choosing a totally unqualified running mate. George H.W. Bush won because his opponent (Michael Dukakis) was weak. Mitt Romney won the governorship of Massachusetts, not because he was a born politician, but because his opponent was Shannon O'Brien. (Who?)

Romney could still save his candidacy by throwing a Hail Mary in his choice of running mate, but at this point his chances look bleak. Who would have been better? Not Gingrich or Trump, certainly. But Pawlenty or Daniels would have had broad appeal. (My top choice, for the past several elections, was Colin Powell, but his time has passed, alas.)

I still count myself in the 8 or 9 percent of voters who are undecided. Romney and his circle are too hawkish. Obama is too sympathetic to statist rather than free-market solutions. I did not vote for president in 2008, and I may wind up passing this time, too. (I will vote in the other races, though.)

The two-party system, which has served us well for so long, is starting to look very tired.