Democrats must be hoping nobody was watching last week. For years, they and their liberal allies have carefully nurtured their favorite illusion – that Republicans are evil. They are racist, anti-immigrant mysogynists, angry old white men salivating at the prospect of seizing the reins of power so they can rip money from the hands of widows and orphans and hand it over to their megarich friends. And their leader, Mitt Romney, is a cold-blooded capitalist out-sourcer in chief. What was on display in Tampa last week could not be further from that image.
Racist? (Was there ever a smear with less evidentiary support?) This is the party of Michael Steele, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice. Powell could have won the nomination himself in a walk had he chosen to pursue it. Herman Cain made a good run of it this spring. Yet, for liberals, this notion is critical to their understanding of Republican antipathy to President Obama. But when Condi Rice described her journey from Jim Crow Alabama, where she could not eat a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, to Secretary of State, the thunderous applause that erupted could have been heard in the White House, had anybody been listening.
Anti-immigrant? I submit to you Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico, and Senator Marco Rubio. These were not tokens, paraded before the cameras to earn diversity points. All four are proudly Republican public servants, elected not in niche districts but in statewide contests. And each of them tossed out a phrase in Spanish during their speeches at which the crowd of supposedly anti-Hispanic whiteys howled with delight.
At war with women? From Ann Romney to Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney himself, womankind was elevated to a loftier pedestal than Reagan himself. There were nearly as many females as males among prime time speakers, and among the delegates. This phony Democratic invention is simply code for raising the abortion issue, which wisely this crowd touched only obliquely. Real women care about a lot more than the right to abort, and this was evident last week.
Party of the rich? One of the things that struck me most was that without exception, at least as far as I could count, every one of the prime time speakers was at most a generation or two removed from very humble circumstances. Ann Romney’s grandfather was a Welsh coal miner; Mitt Romney’s father had only a high school education; the two of them started out so poor they used an ironing board for a dinner table. All of the speakers paid tribute to the support and sacrifice of their parents. Marco Rubio perhaps said it most eloquently: “My father stood behind the bar at the back of the hall so I could stand behind the podium at the front of the hall.”
By their very stories, they put paid to the Democrats’ conceit that this is the party of the privileged. Rather, this is the party that cherishes the kind of opportunity that is only available in America – the ability to rise from the bottom rung in only a generation or two to the highest levels of accomplishment.
The Obama administration would have it that those stories are no longer possible. The economy is rigged, they tell their followers, and the hand of government is needed to balance the scales so everybody has a decent chance. This is a dark and depressed vision that the Republicans reject out of hand. The election will turn, among other things, on whether the broad public is as pessimistic about this country as the President is.
The party of old people? Paul Ryan did have a few laughs at Romney’s expense concerning the elevator music on Romney’s iPod playlists. But the reality is that the current crop of Republican governors is young, vital, and accomplished: Chris Christie, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, as well as Martinez, Sandoval, and Fortuno. All of them have proven that reforms of intractable financial problems are possible without the liberal knee-jerk response of raising taxes. Would that we had such a governor in my own Illinois – my real estate taxes have risen by 75% in the last ten or twelve years.
And Romney? The testimonials from his co-workers, acquaintances and fellow church members attesting to his generosity, not just in terms of money, but time and compassion, were moving tributes to the true side of Romney that is little known. It is a shame that their remarks had to be made before the network broadcasts began, because it is a certain bet that they will not find their way into later telecasts. That’s a side to Romney that many journalists would rather leave unexplored.
So what is the response of the other side to this window into the real heart of the Republican Party? The refuge of anybody who has no answer – say it is all a pack of lies.
Editorial writer Maureen Dowd of the New York Times had a classic example on Sunday. So fundamental is the belief in Republican perfidy to her worldview that she doesn’t bother to substantiate it – she merely points to the contradiction with the Convention as evidence of a conspiracy of dissembling. It reminds me of the old Chico Marx line: “Who you gonna believe, me or your own two eyes?”
The Republican strategy comes down to this: Obama was elected with 52% of the vote; he is now polling 45%. That’s 7% of the voting public that has soured on the President, and that’s who the Republicans want. What they need to do is to draw them gently toward the right by a) acknowledging that a vote for Obama in ’08 was a justifiable exercise in, well, hope, and that disappointment in his performance (a commonly expressed emotion in Tampa last week) is an entirely reasonable position to take; and b) that Mitt Romney is a worthy alternative, a good man with proven skills suited to the times, and ideas about making this country great again.
This week, my bet is that the Democrats’ pitch will be: we haven’t done a great job, but the other guys would be so much worse. That’s not a terribly uplifting spiel. We’ll see what the voters think.