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Breakfast in America: September 4, 2012

And we move boldly into September:

The Dumbest Thing I Heard This Week

This is a particularly difficult article to write. I feel as though I’ve profiled “dumb things” all week long. I thought it would be hard to top the decision to have a Vice-Presidential candidate that no one knows “Outside the Beltway” and introduce him to the country with a speech that will be described by every news outlet as “dishonest” and “misleading.”

Then the Republican National Convention opted to take part in a viral marketing campaign for Trouble With The Curve, a film in which Clint Eastwood plays a crazy, alcoholic baseball scout with no concern for other people.

But in the end it all comes down to the capacity of a campaign to publicly declare, “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Words uttered by Neil Newhouse, a Romney campaign official, at a panel event in Tampa discussing the campaign’s commitment to continue running ads asserting that Barack Obama has waived the requirement that welfare recipients work for their benefits – a waiver which Barack Obama has not issued.

Certainly I understand the sentiment. If I were planning to lie in order to prey upon the racist impulses lingering in the hearts of far too many Americans, I wouldn’t want fact-checkers over my shoulder either. The difference is that I’m not planning to lie and am idealistic to hope that all campaign discourse is constrained by facts. Even if those facts are challenged or creatively analyzed, they are still at least facts.

But how does a campaign go out there and just admit it? Why not say, “we don’t agree that those ads are not factual.” Or, “the real issue is that the waiver Barack Obama issued, whatever the intent, opens the door to dropping the work requirement.” Basically anything but saying, “yeah, we know it’s a lie but we don’t care for your precious ‘facts.’”

And then, later in the week, Romney officials doubled down on their claim. In a later panel, Ron Kaufman of the Romney campaign as well as audience members flatly deny that the ad is false, arguing instead that the media is “full of itself” for looking at the claim and reality and pointing out the disconnect.

I’ve had my share of disputes with FactCheck.org this cycle. But the difference between my complaint (which was based around FactCheck’s laziness in clearly not consulting a Securities lawyer – which I am – to explain Securities law) and this complaint is that I felt a fact-check organization had not done its job, not that it was somehow irrelevant to the process of deliberative democracy. My complaint grew out of my respect for the institution and my disappointment that FactCheck had not lived up to that standard. Meanwhile the Romney campaign thinks of fact-checkers as a nuisance perpetuated by the media.

If this is the way Romney intends to run his campaign, I will borrow from his speech and say that America deserves better.

Mitt Romney Says Everything That Comes Into His Head

It all led up to this: the Presidential Nomination Acceptance speech of Willard Mitt Romney. This is why we watched a string of speakers tell us that Mitt Romney was…you know…not so bad. This is why we watched Paul Ryan spout easily fact-checked lies with lizard-like ease. And it’s why we watched Clint Eastwood tell a chair to get off his lawn.

First, the good news for Republicans: this was the best speech Mitt Romney has delivered. His speaking style continued to show weaknesses – more on this later — but the wooden, stilted Romney mostly gave way to a smooth and confident demeanor. Rehearsals clearly paid off.

But I do not ascribe to the school of rhetoric that suggests that pretty delivery and a few cheap rhetorical flourishes make a smart speech. A speech of this gravity needs a theme, a connecting thread that can rally the average American to a cause. It needs a catchphrase for that vision, a bumper-sticker slogan that can serve as short-hand to trigger memories of the speech. Finally, in a nod to the modern era of politics, it needs about 4 segments of 15 seconds or less that are prime sound bite material that the campaign is comfortable with America watching ad nauseum for the next 72 hours.

In all these areas, Mitt Romney failed. I felt as though there were too many cooks – speechwriters and advisors tossed out ideas and they were all added without filter into the final product.

I could not discern a connecting theme. Personally I saw two possible approaches: (1) I’m the “Smartest Guy In the Room” – a serious technocrat who can succeed where Obama failed; or, (2) “You’re probably itching to vote against Obama and just looking for a good human being to vote for and trust me I won’t eat your babies.” So what happened?

Disorganized Opening

[caption id=”attachment_2197” align=”alignleft” width=”280”] George Romney’s company built the Nash Rambler. He also built the “rambler” in this speech[/caption]

Perhaps Clint Eastwood was meant to set the tone of the night after all, because Romney is plagued by an inability to stay on topic.

He opens, after pleasantries by setting the stage for the idea that Americans invested a great deal of hope in Barack Obama 4 years ago.

Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than what divides us.

When that hard fought election was over, when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have – optimistic and positive and confident in the future.

This is a decent set-up for the Romney campaign’s refrain (at least from several months ago) that Barack Obama is a nice guy who tried hard, but has unfortunately faltered.

Instead, Romney takes a 550+ word detour through shout outs to hatin’ on Castro and platitudes to the freedoms of the Bill of Rights, followed by a detailed explanation of what, in his estimation, Americans were specifically optimistic for in 2008. How long is that? At this point, this article is now 542 words long. All this before returning to close the loop and explain that Barack Obama has failed to fulfill his promises and “American Americans in America deserve better.” It was like watching a pin move ever closer to a balloon – you know where this story will end and you just need it to get there already.

At least at this point there is hope for a theme. I thought that Mitt Romney’s best approach to this speech would be to return to the “smartest guy in the room” technocratic skill persona that would flow nicely from casting Obama as empty hope and unfulfilled promises.

[Insert Screeching Halt]

Mitt Romney begins a biographical speech.

I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country, a classic baby boomer.  It was a time when Americans were returning from war and eager to work.

Let’s put aside my well-known disdain for the “Love me, I’m a Boomer” shtick – especially from Republicans who explain those years as something other than the ultimate expression of how strong government and aggressive social programs can build a powerful economy – but this line is COMPLETELY RIPPED OFF.  Hillary Clinton said in 2007 “I grew up in a middle-class family in the middle of America in the middle of the last century.”

[caption id=”attachment_2198” align=”alignright” width=”275”] Neil Armstong visiting another place Barack Obama might have been born[/caption]

Don’t get too comfortable with the biography because like a spastic child Romney is about to veer into Neil Armstrong’s eulogy for some reason. At least he’s not telling us the trees are the right height again.

[W]hen the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American.

Ah, that’s why Romney mentioned Neil Armstrong – to make a Birtherism reference without seeming off-puttingly obvious. Carry on.

Romney talks about his parents. Simple speech lesson – in a speech about yourself, if you explain how great someone else was, finish by saying you do the same thing. The story about the elder Romney leaving a rose for his wife every day left me waiting for the obvious follow-up “and I have followed my father’s example and do the same thing for Ann.”

By not concluding the sentence this way I was left thinking, “what a dick.”

Mitt continues his biography as a jumping off point to pander to women in the Republican Party after detailing his mother’s failed Senate run.

Remember That Earlier Framing Device

Oh good God! We’re back to the “Obama let you down” thing. Newsflash: It’s not a callback if you’ve been gone so long we’ve almost forgotten about it.

Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. 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.

This would have been effective if it had come in the first 2 minutes of the speech. You know, next to the setup. Also, don’t step into the obvious Obama counter-campaign: “What day gave you the best feeling about the Obama Presidency?” I’m guessing affirming gay marriage, signing Lilly Ledbetter (oh, right, Mitt Romney doesn’t know what that is), establishing a health care plan or busting a cap in bin Laden might be popular days too.

That is why every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: “you are better off today than you were four years ago.”

Except Jimmy Carter. And except this president.

What is his obsession with Carter? I understand the rhetorical appeal of this line, but I continue to think the Republicans are playing a dangerous game here given that, as bad as things are, they are objectively MUCH better than they were 4 years ago.

Policy…Kind Of…

Romney’s vision for the future is to create 12 million jobs. The CBO suggests that 12 million jobs will be created next term regardless of the President, but whatever. Romney has a 5 point plan. None of these create short-term jobs.

But at least we have an easily sound bitable passage with a list of policy concepts. If this had been placed in a “You believed in Obama…Now you don’t…Here’s what I’m going to do” structure, this could have worked. Though I still believe there is an opening for Romney to get hyper-technical and convince Americans “you may not understand what I’m saying here, but that’s because I’m the expert so just trust me.” An opening that we can probably now close. Romney will be running on vague promises and Obama will be running on vague promises and a record of turning an imploding economy into a slow recovery. Advantage: Obama.

There’s some shout outs to ending abortion and hating gays. Some explanation of how Cuba is somehow a worse threat than terror attacks on our troops in Afghanistan (a country never mentioned), some lies about Iran policy and a reminder that we need to go to war with the Soviets.

[caption id=”attachment_2199” align=”alignleft” width=”239”] The WWE is the right place for Call and Response. “Do you smell what Mitt Romney is cooking?”[/caption]

Oh no. A call and response:

Does the America we want borrow a trillion dollars from China? No.

Does it fail to find the jobs that are needed for 23 million people and for half the kids graduating from college? No.

Are its schools lagging behind the rest of the developed world? No.

Well that would seem wholly inappropriate for the tenor of the speech leading up to it, but, to borrow an old joke about the weather – if you don’t like the structure of this speech, just wait a minute.

Then he delivers the soon-to-be-infamous “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.” by dragging it out so long and letting the audience jeer at the idea of healing the planet that the optics of an otherwise sharp soundbite are lost. Imagine if this sentence was delivered in 8 seconds instead of 24.


Recap

Mitt Romney has 5 vague points about the long-term health of the economy and a general disdain for Cuba and Russia. Catchphrase? If anything it was “We Deserve Better.” But you see how that could be a problem…

Sound bites? The 5-point plan maybe? His other good stuff about Obama was dissected by flights of fancy about Neil Armstrong and his own biography.

The Romney folks worried that he would look and sound wooden. Well, he didn’t. He sounded hollow.

Honest Abe Has Some Words For Paul Ryan

There’s little point in posting my initial reactions to the Paul Ryan speech. I lack the fact checking department to respond rapidly to the string of falsehoods launched by Paul Ryan. Here’s a good rundown. I also like that article because it highlights the ridiculousness of “a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.” I mean, who the wrote this tripe? I refuse to believe that was from Matthew Scully because he can do better than this — Palin’s 2008 GOP Convention speech, for instance. And because vegans like Scully don’t usually deal with tripe.

But what I saw last night represented the fruition of a bold political gambit. On Tuesday, Romney campaign pollster Neil Newhouse declared, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Specifically, Newhouse meant that the Romney campaign would not back off the new “Obama is trying to remove the work requirements from welfare” ads that pretty much no one is willing to give any shred of credibility. Newhouse and other Romney campaign pollsters have noticed an uptick based on these ads and refuse to allow truth to rain on their parade.

This theme, more than any other, has prevailed throughout the Republican National Convention. The debt clocks display the mounting debt attributable to President Obama largely due to his assumption of two unfinanced wars from the last administration and his continued commitment to the Bush-era tax cuts. The persistent repetition of the phrase “We Built That,” referring to an Obama statement that was never made. The apotheosis of the GOP’s shallow lying nature was highlighted by Obama campaign Press Secretary Ben LaBolt when he tweeted, “Notable that Debt Clock is next to GOP’s We Built This sign.”

Last night’s speech from Paul Ryan was almost pathological in its repetition of lie after lie. I would believe that his continual “Harrumph” face after nearly every line may have been an unconscious acknowledgment of his discomfort with lying if his record didn’t suggest a prior profound lack of political conscience.

The GOP is gambling that Americans won’t care about the facts. The damage is done and people will not be swayed back just because the media has researched the charges. While I can see certain circumstances where this strategy might work, the GOP has botched this both in the timing and the tenor of their lies.

[caption id=”attachment_2193” align=”alignright” width=”192”] Seriously, how many times can Paul Ryan make this face?[/caption]

The most effective lie is that cannot be dispelled in a quick enough time frame – the “October Surprise” paradigm. The Republicans have unveiled their laundry list of half-truths a little more than two months before the election. For the next two months they will not only face fact-checkers and sharply-worded campaign retorts, but a growing number of Obama ads labeling the campaign as liars – the worst possible charge to face as a challenger hoping to win the trust of the American people. Indeed, the Obama campaign’s fixation on tax returns and Cayman Islands bank accounts stems from their role as proxies for distrust. Now the Romney campaign has handed over more direct fuel for that fire.

I’d wager that the Republicans have devised this strategy by learning the wrong lessons from the John Kerry “Swift Boat” ads. The Swift Boat attacks, roundly condemned as misleading or untrue, took place long before the election, yet still damaged John Kerry beyond repair.

But the Swift Boat ads traded in doubt, not in falsehood. The viewer wasn’t there with Kerry in Vietnam. The speakers in the ads ostensibly were. Kerry could not categorically disprove the claims of the ad and the viewer was left with doubt. Doubt is difficult to overcome.

Paul Ryan’s speech deviated from Swift Boating because he cited events that could be checked. The GM plant closure he blamed on Obama took place before Obama took office. This does not leave any doubt of Obama…it’s just AN HISTORICAL FACT. This might have worked on the Wednesday before the election, but it’s not going to pass muster two months before the election.

Paul Ryan, Newhouse and the GOP strategists pushing the “damn the fact checkers” approach should pause to reflect on the words attributed to the second national nominee of the GOP: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Condi Rice — From Failed Functionary To Candidate

During the weekly podcast, Nick predicted there would be one speaker during this convention that would leave conservative commentators grumbling that Mitt Romney made the wrong choice with Paul Ryan. It’s hard to imagine any speaker making a better case for their selection for the vice-presidential slot than Condi Rice did last night.

Rice stepped onstage as the Republican Party’s most experienced foreign policy voice. Crippling America’s foreign standing is, technically “experience,” I suppose. But even within the GOP, a foreign policy guru who served as one of the architects of two unpopular wars left her standing permanently in doubt. She was something of a tin pot Henry Kissinger.

By the time Rice left the stage, she had broadened her portfolio substantially. After initially focusing on foreign policy and attempting – valiantly – to put lipstick on the pig of Bush-era foreign affairs, Rice shifted toward the domestic and built credibility for herself as an all-around political figure.

To Chris Christie – This is how to deliver a speech that elevates your personal profile without droning on about yourself for 20 minutes.

The speech opens, as do many Republican foreign policy diatribes, by reminding us all that 9/11 happened. The imagery is grabbing without melodrama. Then, in the same paragraph she says:

Then in 2008 the global financial and economic crisis stunned us and still reverberates as unemployment, economic uncertainty and failed policies cast a pall over the American recovery so desperately needed at home and abroad.

It’s a testament to her speaking style that she does this in the first 30 seconds of the speech without making it obvious that she has provided the perfect bookends of the Bush presidency – a major security breach that remained unresolved 7 years later, followed by a massive economic meltdown.

Rice contends that the world does not know the answer to “Where does America stand?” This question is a convenient rhetorical device that can help her string together the next few paragraphs. For the rest of her remarks on foreign policy, the audience frames the speech through the lens that foreign policy used to be clear and now is muddled.

Substantively this is laughable, of course. The United States has an unambiguously clear policy that is remarkably similar to policy of the previous administration – except effective. For example, George W. Bush and Condi Rice believed Iran was bad, Obama and Clinton have boxed in Iran with more measures in one term than the previous administration mustered in 8 years. Bush and Rice believed terrorists were a threat so they went to war in Iraq, Obama and Clinton just went ahead and started killing terrorists.

But the lack of substantive value to Rice’s question is what renders it so effective. As opposed to outright lies about Obama’s foreign policy achievements, Rice casts doubt. It’s just as effective and won’t get her in as much trouble with the fact-checkers.

I know too that it has not always been easy – though it has been rewarding – to speak up for those who would otherwise be without a voice – the religious dissident in China; the democracy advocate in Venezuela; the political prisoner in Iran.

The woman beheaded for “witchcraft” by our “good friend” Saudi Arabia, the gay man executed by the state in Uganda…oh. Yeah Rice’s vision of foreign policy is not really based on speaking up for those without voices as much as it’s about cherry-picking dissidents in countries we have other geopolitical issues with.

Rice acknowledges Mitt Romney by name a mere couple of minutes into her speech. We’re looking at you Chris Christie.

China has apparently negotiated many more trade agreements over the last four years than the United States. Having the most developed trade network in the world leaves very little room for further expansion.

But trade marks the beginning of Rice’s subtle shift away from foreign policy and into domestic policy. Next up is energy policy and the need to tap domestic sources. And now it’s all about the economy.

Frankly this is what a Keynote Address should sound like – a wide-ranging review of the broad principles that the Republican Party aspires to translate into governance. The “answers” she supplies are vague and often at odds with the actual legislative priorities of the Republican Party, but that doesn’t matter in a Keynote Address.

Condi Rice explains that there is a crisis in K-12 education because she can look at a student’s zip code and tell whether or not the kid will do well in life. This is a stunning admission. It’s a testament to how well this speech is going that the hall didn’t boo her for suggesting that poor kids deserve good education. After all, this is the Party that believes in devolution of education spending to the individual school district – pretty hard to argue that poor neighborhoods deserve more in that model.

Oh. Never mind. Rice explains that the problems facing these students are “lax standards and false praise.” Does she think poor schools are the only ones giving trophies for trying? Pretty sure the whole “massive defunding while building a society based upon de facto segregation” had something to do with it. She also mentions school choice – an empirically debunked program (though a new study is out defending the program, the data set doesn’t back the conclusions) that rests upon the foundation that “good” schools have limitless capacity to take on all the students from failing schools. I was pretty sure no one even mentioned this idea in polite company anymore.

After Day 1, where every speaker basically opened up with “here’s my personal story and why I’m not completely a detached rich guy,” Rice saves her personal story for the end. It marks the full-arc of the speech. Condi Rice has moved from a failed foreign policy relic of an administration that the Republicans have avoided mentioning as if it were the Voldemort administration, to being a domestic voice, to being a candidate with the bio of a real person.

Chris Christie — Small Politics From a Big Man

[caption id=”attachment_2183” align=”alignleft” width=”116”] Not Chris Christie. Also not anyone Chris Matthews has ever heard speak[/caption]

Immediately after this speech, Chris Matthews said, “pros will call this a barnburner with a touch of Churchill in it.”

No. No we will not.

Everything wrong with the Romney campaign can be found in the Keynote Address of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The stated theme of the speech is the importance of “choosing respect over love.” Did someone give him a copy of Ann’s speech? Because I’m pretty sure I just heard that the greatest virtue in the world is love.

Is someone running this convention? I understand that you cannot control every yahoo given a microphone throughout the day, but this is Day 1 primetime, folks! You don’t show THE ONLY TWO MARQUEE SPEECHES OF THE NIGHT and have them take contradictory positions on the same concept. I’ve said it before, but I really think Eric Fehrnstrom is a performance artist punking the Republican party because there isn’t a lick of effective leadership or vision here.

Putting this screw up aside, this is a Keynote Address, and like Ann Romney’s speech, it carries with it certain goals. The most popular knock on Christie’s address was the absence of Mitt Romney. Well, I’m not sure if that alone is a reason to knock the speech. A Keynote Address doesn’t need the nominee. But if it lacks a full-throated endorsement of the nominee, it better be a full-throated endorsement of the core values of the Party. Yeah, Christie isn’t going to deliver that either. Uh oh.

Christie begins by praising the G.I. Bill for sending his dad to college. Socialist. When the theme of the day is “you didn’t build that,” explaining that the government is responsible for your family’s success seems to run at cross purposes.

Oh no. Christie just praised the Jersey Shore. I’m assuming he means the location and not the show. That doesn’t actually help much.

Now Christie begins the segment of the speech he likes to call, “Who was that bitch talking before me?” by explaining that his mom was right when she taught him that “Love without respect is fleeting.” In other news, I’m pretty sure Christie’s mom was Niccolo Machiavelli.

Christie continues on this theme by explaining that respect is “more important to be popular.” I know this is a huge departure from the Ann Romney speech, but maybe it’s not a terrible move. Given that Ann utterly failed to humanize Mitt, maybe the right tack to take is to admit, “yeah our candidate is less likable than dick Cheney in a Nixon mask but likability is for the weak!”

[caption id=”attachment_2184” align=”alignright” width=”171”] “The nerve. I says to Ann, ‘how dare you talk about love.’”[/caption]

Is it just me, or is Christie trying to mimic a Springsteen song in his cadence? It would fit the Jersey theme. Right along with his catty disregard for anything Ann Romney said for the last half hour.

Over the weekend, I explained how Republicans use dissociation to vilify teachers. Chris Christie provides another example. “They believe in teachers unions we believe in teachers.” As though the union is more than a collection of teachers democratically electing their own to leadership positions. But so long as the audience sees them as distinct they can fuck teachers over without feeling like dicks.

As a follow-up that couldn’t have been more delicious if I’d planned it, Jeb Bush just tweeted that Christie is speaking the truth because he’ll put “student’s first.” Republicans, “Welcome to you’re doom

Literally after playing a dissociative semantic game, Christie explains that, “Ideas, not rhetoric attract people to this party.” Karl Rove and Frank Luntz would vociferously disagree, if they hadn’t written that line because it tested better.

“Our ideas are right for America and their ideas have failed America.”

Really? I was alive the whole period from 1980 until now.

Christie just decried the idea of “putting a bureaucrat between an American citizen and her doctor.” Really? I may have had too much to drink because that couldn’t have just happened.

Maybe I spoke too soon, Christie seems like he’s about to talk a little policy. Republicans are out there to tell America the “truth” about unsustainable federal spending. I was ready to hear it, but he didn’t chose to follow it up with “irresponsible Republicans have spent 32 years slashing government revenues for no economic gain while ballooning the budget in an effort to forcibly shut down Medicare and Social Security that would have remained sustainable for decades had it not been for us.” Maybe that’s an unfair characterization of conservative policy…except that it totally isn’t and even Reagan said so in 1980:

[Presidential candidate] John [Anderson] tells us that first we’ve got to reduce spending before we can reduce taxes. Well, if you’ve got a kid that’s extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker.

Christie says the Republican Party is about “finally” telling people the truth. If anything, the Republican Party has spent 32 years moving from telling the truth to hiding the ball.

[caption id=”attachment_2185” align=”alignleft” width=”259”] This man is unironically suggesting that people need to cut back[/caption]

Fittingly the tribute to the Greatest Generation follows soon after Christie reminds us of his Party’s firm commitment to dismantling every initiative the Greatest Generation created. “It’s our time to answer that call. What will our children and grandchildren say of us?” I can give you a preview. For those of us in the next generation, Chris, we know people like you have fucked us royally and left us with a crippled American system much more akin to the boom-bust cycle of the late 19th-Century than the venerable powerhouse of the latter-half of the 20th Century. We know that you placed your own well-being ahead of seniors and the subsequent generations and now you demand we coddle you again. If you hear the phone ringing, Chris…just leave it for voicemail please.

Maddow gets the first crack at the speech and points out that it took Christie 1800 words to even mention Mitt Romney. Mid-speech, David Axelrod asked the Twittersphere if Romney would ever come up.

But the counter-argument from conservatives was to claim that Barack Obama’s 2004 Keynote Address was more about Barack Obama than John Kerry.

This is, of course, factually untrue given that the 2004 Keynote talked a great deal more about John Kerry than the 2012 Keynote talked about Mitt Romney. But that’s actually beside the point. There are two possible goals to a Keynote Address.

One is to offer full-throated endorsement of the new nominee. This is traditionally the role of the Nominating speech, but with the decline in convention coverage (and the fact that Marco Rubio’s Nominating speech will be delivered two days after the nomination) many Keynotes echo this role.

The second, and more traditional role is to speak to the spirit of the party as a whole. The party is bigger than one person. The Keynote offers the unifying ethos of the party. Mario Cuomo delivered this in 1984, in one of the last great speeches before the Democratic Party sold out huge chunks of its principles for electability. And this is what large swaths of the 2004 Obama speech delivered. The “Red State-Blue State-United States” device from Obama’s speech touches on what the Democratic Party as a whole seeks to bring to America.

The problem for Chris Christie is that he actually punted on both of these goals. He barely mentioned Mitt Romney and he didn’t give a vision for the Republican Party. Indeed, his speech was largely antithetical to the ethos of the Republican Party. He talked about compromise. Bi-partisanship. Recognizing the limits of working in a “Blue State.” It didn’t rally the crowd to be Republicans.

All it really did is explain how Chris Christie is a success. This is what the conservative counter-argument is missing. Barack Obama ascended to prominence because of a speech about Democratic vision. Chris Christie provided a speech about Chris Christie’s vision.

Ann Romney — Love Means Never Having To Make A Point

Last night I flew across the country, watching the Republican National Convention on the 9 inch screen carefully placed into the back of the seat of the asshole in front of me who couldn’t figure out whether he wanted to sit up straight or recline all the way into my computer.

I’m armed with 6 Jack Daniels and a complimentary bag containing exactly 7 peanuts, so I’m in exactly the kind of surreal mood to watch these Republicans talk all night. For the record, I understand that he’s a racist douche but the guy who threw peanuts at an African-American camerawoman at the Convention last night while declaring that he was trying to “feed the animals” did provide a more agreeable portion of peanuts than Delta Airlines.

A number of low-wattage Republicans spoke earlier in the evening, but let’s skip ahead and begin with the much touted Ann Romney speech, which I sum up by invoking the amazing Patton Oswalt who described a certain kind of stand-up comedian as “yeah…you’re funny but who gives a shit?”

[caption id=”attachment_2177” align=”alignleft” width=”151”] Governor Nikki Haley has an interesting interpretation of “victory”[/caption]

First, we’re treated to an introductory speech from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. The theme of the night is to attack the “you didn’t build that” line that was taken entirely out of context, but has become one of the central premises of the Republican argument for the presidency. There is something deeply significant in that fact.

Haley, who unlike most of the speakers tonight actually read the program, repeats the “didn’t build that” line while informing us that South Carolina makes more tires than anyone else. The sad part is that this is a fact that I will never forget. It will be forever lodged in my brain, pushing out important stuff like the quadratic equation or who Dylan McKay married in 90210.

Mercifully, Haley is wrapping up after proclaiming “victory” in the Boeing dispute that was only a victory if you call, “Boeing giving the other side everything they wanted” a victory. Haley asks America to “Send [Obama] home…back to Chicago.” I’m impressed she didn’t say “Kenya,” ‘cause you know she wanted to.

Rachel Maddow is just running through the speech and explaining what the dog whistle racist code words were. The terrifying moment for America should be Maddow’s matter-of-fact tone. Hurling covert racism (as opposed to peanuts – which is “overt” racism) is so expected in these speeches that there’s not even a point in feigning shock.

Here comes the First Lady of Dressage herself, Ann Romney. She did not ride out on Rafalca while wearing the “Bird shirt” like I’d prayed. It’s for the best because I don’t think the other passengers on this plane would have appreciated my convulsive laughter.

Much has been made of Ann Romney’s speaking skill. Yeah…I guess. I mean, she’s a much better speaker than her husband, and after Mitt gets beat down in November, we should start the clock on the Romneys moving full-time to New Hampshire or Connecticut because those are Senate seats she could potentially win.

But this speech elevates trite to a whole new level. I could write this on the back of a napkin and I don’t mean in that “Gettysburg Address” sort of way. A speech has to be measured in the context of its goals. The two goals of putting Ann Romney on stage are (1) outreach to suburban white women that Mitt Romney needs to win, and (2) prove that Mitt Romney was not sent back to this moment to kill John Conner. On both counts she failed.

The overarching theme of the speech is “Love,” which is actually a decent theme for accomplishing both goals. It allows Ann to cast the GOP as focused on the positive (the non-we hate gays) aspects of family that test well with women and specifically sets up the Mitt and Ann love story which would at least demonstrate some humanity – kind of a “The Man From Hope” if Hope was an elite gated community.

But rather than talking about the deep respect for the struggles of women with families, Ann Romney talks about her deep identification with those women. There’s a difference there. Ann explains that her life is no “storybook” because she had kids in the house screaming at her (that said, how bad is this when they’re screaming from another wing of the house) and sadly suffered from medical ailments. You know what? No one has “storybook” lives, and telling us that your life isn’t perfect isn’t endearing, it’s “join the fucking club.”

[caption id=”attachment_2179” align=”alignright” width=”232”] Ann Romney: Let them eat…school sports without parental fees. Seriously, this was Ann’s big pitch to REPUBLICANS — that she’s mad that parents have to pay for school sports instead of taxpayers[/caption]

There’s nothing here about the struggles of suburban women only an apology for how we should assume she speaks for the struggles of suburban women. This speech should have followed the hackneyed but effective, “I’ve Met” model. “On my campaign trips, I’ve met _________ who told me…” Express some empathy or at least sympathy before bludgeoning the audience with the idea that the Romney household struggles are “pretty much the struggles of America.” God this is a very pretty disaster of a speech.

Now let’s hear about Mitt. She explains that he was “a little nervous” and that “girls like that.” Great. It’s not like the campaign is suffering from the perception that Mitt is a wavering wuss or anything.

The George Romney story reminds me of the Seinfeld episode the The Yada Yada. “He became a carpenter. Worked hard became the head of the car company and governor of Michigan.” I think Ann missed a few steps. Like the whole “hooking up with the daughter of a Republican party bigwig in order to get a plum assignment working for a Senator that blossomed into a career as a lobbyist and eventual role as a PR spokesman for the auto industry.” This whole “he was a carpenter” story from Mitt is so disingenuous. By the time Mitt Romney was born, George was already the number 2 at the company that would become AMC. When Ann Romney explains that Mitt grew up with privilege but he still earned his success, she is trying to dupe the American public into thinking Mitt lived and struggled and strived as a carpenter’s son for decades before George Romney hit the big time. Not so much.

“Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he’s helped others because he sees it as a privilege not a political talking point.” Occam’s Razor suggests there’s another reason he doesn’t talk much about helping people…

But seriously – “not a political talking point?” Pretty sure I’ve seen this ad about a thousand times over TWO different election cycles.

If there were ANY other good stories of Mitt’s generosity, we’d be hearing them. And now Ann is going to tell us what Mitt’s too modest to tell us! Oh, she’s not really going to talk about it either.

Remember there are staffers helping write this speech who presumably probed Ann Romney for weeks trying to see if there was any endearing quality or compassionate story to put in this speech. The lack of ANYTHING we haven’t heard before is a deafening silence. Well, that’s not totally fair — I guess as Governor of Massachusetts he spent a bunch of money on scholarships. That’s something.

She does get the audience going with a little call and response on the subject of “success.”

“Would we be attacking success if the last 4 years were successful?” Well, no, but mostly because if the last 4 years were more successful Obama wouldn’t even be in a campaign as much as a coronation.

Well we’re talking about success so what does that tell us about Mitt? “This man will not fail.” Well stacking the deck in every deal you ever take on helps. Seriously, Mitt Romney has rigged the Kobayashi Maru test at every critical juncture of his life and like Captain Kirk he’s missed out on the character building lesson.

Well, that was it. Mitt comes out. Waving. Suburban women condescended to. Mitt Romney life story left exactly as threadbare as before. Ann, this man may not fail, but you certainly did.

Breakfast in America: August 29, 2012

So here’s how this is going to go down. I’m going to provide my reviews of the big speeches of the night yesterday. But they will take a little while to go live because I’m currently on the West Coast and my usual publishing schedule is therefore off. But as a teaser here’s one observation of each big ticket speaker:

1) Ann Romney reminds me of a Patton Oswalt routine where he described a certain kind of stand-up comedian as “yeah…you’re funny but who gives a shit?”

2) People who are saying of Chris Christie’s speech, “well Barack Obama’s 2004 speech didn’t talk about John Kerry, either!” are missing the point entirely.

3) Rick Santorum gave the best speech of the night. His being crazy sometimes makes people forget that he’s a talented politician.

Weekly Podcast: Wild Speculation About The GOP Convention

Joe and Nick take a long look at the GOP National Convention and the arcane Rules Committee fight that is brewing as we speak. A discussion of 3 straight days of Republicans talking uninterrupted, like any discussion based upon staring into a frightening abyss, takes its toll and the podcast devotes 6 or 7 minutes to purely loony speculation. At one point Joe asks whether or not Romney will be the nominee by Thursday night!?! He’s OK now though and would like to reaffirm his sincere belief that the Romney-Ryan ticket will be intact by the end of the week…probably.

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VP Consolation Prize? Be the President!

Well sort of. Mitt Romney has tapped the man who was the Republican Veepstakes front-runner — until he wasn’t — Ohio Senator Rob Portman, as his sparring partner to prepare for the debates this Fall.

Given that the primary knock on Rob Portman is that he displays the charisma of a dish towel, it’s a little confusing that Mitt Romney would select the Ohio Senator to portray the most charismatic President since Ronald Reagan. As an aside, no, I will not count Clinton as a charismatic President. Bill Clinton was an effective speaker because of his empathy and command of wonk-level detail — not because he was warm, fun, or engaging. Remember speeches like this?

CNN explains that Mitt Romney may have selected Portman because he has experience portraying Barack Obama in debates because he played then-Senator Obama during John McCain’s debate prep sessions in 2008. Yeah, that worked out well for the GOP, didn’t it?

Personally, I’ve never understood the impulse to use an established politician as a debate sparring opponent. Politicians by their nature develop and constantly hone their own styles. A high-level staffer or consultant is much better prepared to cast off their own persona and immerse themselves in the role. There’s a fixation with the idea that “he/she got elected…they must have been good in their debates” when in reality becoming an elected official only proves that they were not so bad at their debates that they lost their election. That’s hardly the training regime a candidate should encourage. It’s like planning to play in a Major League Baseball game having only ever faced pitches in pre-game batting practice.

At least we don’t have to watch the faux debate between campaign stand-ins: John Kerry playing Mitt Romney and Rob Portman playing Barack Obama. There’s a spectacle that would make a Terrance Malick movie seem fast-paced and interesting.