On the biggest night of his political life, Mitt Romney delivered.
His address accepting the Republican nomination won’t be long-remembered. It was a workmanlike speech. It didn’t soar, and wasn’t intended to.
After the savaging he’s taken from President Obama’s re-election campaign, and with the public impression of him still foggy, Romney set out to deliver a simple message: “I’m okay. You can trust me. I can do a job, and I want to put America back to work.”
The speech mostly lacked ideology. If you missed the opening bit where he hailed Paul Ryan, you might not have guessed that he had selected the House budget committee chairman as his running-mate in a choice emphasizing deep philosophical and policy differences with the president.
Instead, the speech ran on biography and can-do optimism. It pleased the crowd in the arena, but was pitched to the TV audience beyond its walls, and especially to voters disappointed with President Obama but not outraged by him.
Much of the first part of the speech was spent explaining Romney’s family background, often affectingly. He was clearly moved when he explained how his dad used to leave a rose for his mom on her bedside table, and how she found out something had happened to him the day he died when there was no rose. Romney obviously felt it deeply, too, when he described raising his five boys. He said he and Ann would give anything “to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room.”
It would take a heart of stone, or an implacable opposition to Romney, not to be impressed by his sincere devotion to his family.
In another passage, he talked of his work at Bain Capital, casting it as risky endeavor, shot through with uncertainty at the beginning. He mentioned sympathetic companies like Staples and a successful steel concern as its fruits. And he leavened it all with some humor, saying he didn’t get the Mormon church to invest with Bain at the outset, worried he might lose its money and “go to hell.”
It was the best defense of Bain of the campaign. This discussion gave way to a familiar attack on President Obama for denigrating success. But Romney always spoke of the president’s failures more in sorrow than in anger.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” Romney said. He credited him with good intentions: “The President hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to.” He invoked the thrill of the president’s election and the subsequent letdown: “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.”
He deflated the president rather than excoriated him. In one of the signature lines of the night, he quoted a famous bit of Obama overpromising to sustained laughter: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.” Then, he pointedly contrasted that with his more down-to-Earth goal: “My promise…is to help you and your family.”
Romney criticized Obama’s policies from the right, but set out a pragmatic mission in very prosaic terms: “What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.”
His policy agenda was presented only in a sketchy outline. The main thrust of his argument was more thematic: to take the change, hope, and unity that Obama evoked so powerfully in 2008, and leverage them to the end of reversing an Obama agenda that has only brought economic stagnation and political division.
At the end of the night, Romney had done the job he set out to do. After this speech, you might not fervently believe in him, but you might hire him. And that’s enough.
Rich Lowry is editor of The National Review and a Fox News contributor.
Rich Lowry is editor of The National Review and a Fox News contributor. He is author of the new book “Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream–and How We Can Do It Again” Broadside Books (June 11, 2013).