Mitt Romney’s big convention night careened from the sweet to the surreal. Heart-warming testimonials about his past good works and business successes gave way to an strangely riveting monologue between Clint Eastwood and an empty chair.
In a half-grumbled and apparently entirely ad-libbed performance, Eastwood criticized President Barack Obama, declaring it was time “for someone else to come along and solve the problem.” Not all of Hollywood is “left of Lenin,” said Eastwood, who recalled the night Barack Obama was elected president:
“Everybody is crying, Oprah was crying. I was even crying. And then finally—and I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there is 23 million unemployed people in this country. Now that is something to cry for because that is a disgrace, a national disgrace, and we haven’t done enough, obviously – this administration hasn’t done enough to cure that.”
The speech drew loud laughter in the convention hall and launched a new meme on the Internet (see #eastwooding) but it was was also a jarring distraction from Romney’s best opportunity to introduce himself to the country.
The otherwise precisely choreographed evening was full of testimonials from people whose lives Romney had touched through his leadership within the Mormon church. One mother in his congregation described how the Romney’s family cared for her son while she stayed with her premature baby at the hospital. One couple spoke of Romney’s personal involvement with their 14-year-old son who was dying of cancer, even honouring his request to help him write his will:
So, after David’s death, we were able to give his skateboard, his model rockets, and his fishing gear to his best friends. He also made it clear that his brother, Peter, should get his Ruger 22 rifle. How many men do you know would take the time out of their busy lives to visit a terminally ill 14 year old and help him settle his affairs? David also helped us plan his funeral. He wanted to be buried in his Boy Scout uniform. He wanted Mitt to pronounce his eulogy. Mitt was there to honor that request. We will be ever grateful to Mitt for his love and concern.
Later, a parade of Olympians testified to Romney’s management skills at the Salt Lake City Games, and businessmen talked about his success.
When Romney took to the stage, he spoke touchingly about his parents, wife, and kids.
Mom and Dad were married 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table. That’s how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose.
The speech was light on policy, sketching out Romney’s agenda in only the broadest terms. Aiming for the votes of independent and undecided voters, the tone of his critique of Obama was one of measured disappointment rather than the rancor that marked some other speeches in Tampa:
Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
One memorable line of the speech was this one, delivered in a mocking tone:
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.
But the moment in his speech where Romney seemed to come to life, almost bursting to get the words out, came when he defended his business record from Democratic attacks:
In America, we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for it. We weren’t always successful at Bain. But no one ever is in the real world of business. That’s what this President doesn’t seem to understand. Business and growing jobs is about taking risk, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving. It is about dreams. Usually, it doesn’t work out exactly as you might have imagined. Steve Jobs was fired at Apple. He came back and changed the world.
Romney may not have delivered history’s most eloquent or passionate speech, but he did manage to define and explain himself on his own terms – and to break out from the defensive position where the Obama campaign has kept him most of the summer. As he and his running mate hit the campaign trail in Florida and Ohio on Friday, they must be hoping that voters who tuned in Thursday night to get a sense of the man will remember more from Tampa than Clint Eastwood and the empty chair.