August 28 2012

Ann Romney's Task Tonight

Charlotte Hays

Ann Romney steps into the spotlight tonight, scheduled to deliver what will be one of the two most important speeches of the Republican convention—the other, of course, being her husband’s acceptance speech Thursday night.

The Washington Times headline puts it this way: “’Mittigator’ to Make Case for Romney.” Mrs. Romney’s task tonight: re-introduce a candidate who has been the target of a relentless smear campaign by the Obama campaign.

In arguing that political conventions are still important, and not a meaningless tradition, Mona Charen shows what Mrs. Romney and other surrogates must accomplish this week:

As Jack Kemp was fond of saying, people want to know that you care before they care what you know. Voters are uncertain about Romney because they don't yet perceive him to care about their problems. Funny how that can happen when your opponent spends hundreds of millions of dollars presenting you as a villain -- a corporate raider, felon, tax cheat and murderer.

…Romney himself -- unlike the sort of candidates we've seen in the past several cycles, particularly Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- has a kind of old-fashioned reticence. He doesn't have a story about paternal abandonment as Obama (quite the opposite) or posthumous birth as Clinton. He comes from the kind of loving and supportive family that he now heads with Ann Romney. But even if he did have a hard luck story, one senses that he wouldn't be comfortable retailing it. Yes, he can tout his accomplishments as a businessman or governor or savior of the Olympics, but he cannot tell stories about his personal kindness and decency -- about how often he has dropped everything to help others.

Ann Romney can tell these stories. I am hoping that rather than trying to make her husband seem like a regular guy who loves pranks, she’ll concentrate on his kindness and decency. Charen cites a number of examples and then goes on to show how powerful such stories can be:

As a skeptical Andy Ferguson wrote in The Weekly Standard, his coolness toward the candidate evaporated after reading "The Real Romney" by two Boston Globe reporters. "My slowly softening opinion," Ferguson wrote, "went instantly to goo when 'The Real Romney' unfolded an account of his endless kindnesses -- unbidden, unsung, and utterly gratuitous."

A campaign is more than a personality contest of course. Romney's acceptance speech will be an important moment to present a roadmap for the nation's recovery. But that much could also be done through advertising and in the debates. The introduction of Romney the man, on the other hand -- lifting the curtain on the truth about his character and virtues -- can only be done by others and thus, requires the backdrop of the convention -- silly hats, programmed applause, staged tableaux and all. 

The “war on women” rhetoric appeals to a small sliver of women. The GOP has many different kinds of women. Kevin Williamson notes on National Review Online today that Ann Romney could turn out to be the foil for the brittle “war on women” cadre (as indeed she was to Hilary Rosen, who famously said that Mrs. Romney, mother of four boys, had “never worked a day in her life”):

She is also the perfect counterexample to Sandra Fluke and the tedious parade of feminists the Democrats will be inflicting on the American public at their convention: Rather than demanding public subsidies, she has spent her life investing in her own family and helping others, both through organized charitable work and in the course of living a life focused on family and community. Social conservatives can sometimes be scolds, but Ann Romney has taken St. Francis’s advice: Always be preaching — if necessary, use words.

One thing I hope she won’t do is go off on a tangent about how she shops at Costco, supposedly humanizing, as she did Sunday in the interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace. We already knew that rich people shop at Costco’s, and this sounded as if Mrs. Romney thinks shopping at Costco’s will make us realize that she is one of us.

On the other hand, it was a nice touch to mention that Mitt had ironed his shirt the morning of the interview—one instinctively feels that it’s the truth. In addition to his ironing, Mitt Romney until recently flew commercial and in economy class. This actually is revealing. Most of our political elites expect to be treated like royalty—Romney’s adventures in the friendly skies show him as a guy who could travel like a prince or a Pelosi but but prefers to spend his money on something other than riding in a private jet or the ephemeral pleasures of a seat in first class. It signals that, if elected president, he’ll be careful with our money.

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