2012-09-14 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

The Eyes Have It
by Stuart W. Mirsky

So the two big conventions have come and gone and there were snafus in both. The Republicans had Clint Eastwood ad libbing in an especially embarrassing sort of way (rambling on to suggest an invisible President Obama’s use of offensive language) while the Democrats managed to create a kerfuffle of their own over the absence of the “God” word in this year’s party platform and their decision to drop previous language referring to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Initially Democratic Senator Dick Durban had gone on the offensive with Fox News reporter Brett Baier when questioned on it, seeming to deliberately pick a fight to distract from the issue.

But when a firestorm ensued, the Democratic leadership decided to rescind the omissions and re-insert both references via a voice vote on the convention floor.

But the vote went badly awry when convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, had to try three times to get the necessary twothirds majority to make the change.

Each time the vote was called, the nays seemed as loud as the yeas. But, having already decided on the outcome (the decision announcing the result was already up on the teleprompters!), Villaraigosa simply declared that, in his opinion, the yeas had it – sparking even louder protests and boos from the convention floor.

It wasn’t the Democrats’ finest moment since it showed both a significant, if not a majority, opinion among delegate rank and file to reject the references while revealing the Democratic leadership’s decision to flout democratic standards by jamming the change down angry delegates’ throats.

But Democrats recouped what the embarrassing floor wrangling had cost them with a series of strong speeches from Bill Clinton and, on the following night, Joe Biden and President Barack Obama himself, thus ending their convention on a powerful and emotional note that stirred hearts in the hall as much as the senses (thanks to the marvels of modern electronic technology and an avalanche of confetti that fell from the rafters as the convention closed).

The Republicans had had the more traditional balloons but the Democrats had to forgo these when they decided, too late, to bring the president’s acceptance speech indoors to the smaller convention hall, and so lost the lead time needed to arrange for their own balloons.

They had planned for more impressive fireworks instead, when the venue had been set for outdoors, but fear of inclement weather (or, as some commentators wryly suggested, of being unable to adequately fill the outdoor stadium), had forced their change of plans. But President Obama, following former President Bill Clinton who spoke the night before, delivered one of his typically powerful addresses. While commentators had earlier fallen all over themselves in response to the power of the Clinton speech, Obama still showed that for eloquence and the capacity to move an audience, no one’s got him beat in politics today.

This is especially true for his Republican rivals. Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, has been struggling for months, years even, to make headway with voters on a national level. A former governor of Massachussetts and one-time savior of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and a remarkably successful businessman who specialized in organizing corporate turnarounds, Romney is blessed with movie star good looks and is highly articulate.

But he lacks something that President Obama and Bill Clinton, have. Call it charisma, call it style, call it poise, they got it and Romney just doesn’t.

Speaking recently on a cable news show, former Fox News anchor and current political commentator Britt Hume seemed at a loss to explain it. He shook his head, stumbled over himself in a way quite atypical for him, and flailed about – but could offer no clear and concise explanation. After the two conventions it’s President Obama who got the bounce, based on polling data, no doubt reflecting the potency of his acceptance speech which, Hume reminded us, included nothing new and no specifics re: the badly listing economy and looming fiscal crisis facing this country under his stewardship.

It was exhortation and inspiration (contrary even to Clinton’s carefully crafted case delivered in his folksy manner like a clever defense attorney). And it apparently worked.

The bounce in the polls suggests that enough voters to make a difference simply don’t care about the policy issues in the face of bald faced eloquence and Romney has so far been unable to match his Democratic opposition in that department.

Not even the addition of the likeable, energetic and highly articulate Paul Ryan to his ticket, which did give Romney an early pre-convention bounce, has seemed to make a sustained difference.

There are speakers and there are speakers – and the Republican bench, strong as it’s become with an assortment of new faces and governors who have successfully implemented state reforms, simply has no one who can woo a crowd like the Democrats have.

The question, of course, is whether this Republican deficiency will cost them the election.

Do enough voters care more about emotive speechifying than about substantive policy proposals aimed at our out-of-control federal spending, growing national debt, and the sloppy economic recovery that’s hurting American pocket books and weakening our global standing because of diminished economic status and clout?

The speeches delivered by Clinton and Obama at the Democratic convention offered a narrative of government largess against a background of envy and anti-capitalist sentiment while, deeper down, the Democratic Party showed itself, especially during that faux vote on the questions of God and Jerusalem, to be the captive of a segment of society that’s turned its back on faith and old friends.

President Obama’s policies over the past four years appear to fit the same mold, from his decision to force the Catholic Church to pay for female employees’ contraception and abortions, despite the Church’s religious convictions, to his coolness toward Israel, shown most recently by the abrupt cancellation of joint American- Israeli military maneuvers as Iran continues its rush toward nuclear weapons.

His every policy move has pushed us further into the camp of those who favor the abandonment of previously established language from the current Democratic Party platform.

Can policy matter in the end when you’ve got speakers who can wow you? Can a merely super successful businessman like Mitt Romney, with a track record of accomplishment few can match, even compete in this environment? Do Americans want competence or star power in the White House?

Poor Britt Hume, usually so insightful and glib, was at a loss to explain what Romney’s lacking since he’s got the looks, the resume, the track record! The issues seem to be on his side, too, as we spiral down the fiscal drain under current policies.

Heck, Romney even speaks clearly on the stump – something previous candidates and presidents haven’t always been able to do.

But he’s up against something bigger. Some of us just want to be swept off our feet, not told to stand on them, and you can see Romney’s own realization of this in his eyes whenever he’s in front of an audience or responding to questions in an interview.

He just seems to look out at the camera beseechingly, unsure, showing how desperately he wants us to like him. But neediness isn’t an ingredient in charisma.

Until Romney realizes that, if he can, the razzle-dazzle of great speeches will defeat him.

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