TAMPA — Giving a glimpse at Mitt the man was Ann Romney’s job Tuesday night, and she framed her story as one about love: hers for him and his for her, their family and his fellow man.
Defining the choice between the Romney Republicans and Barack Obama’s Democrats was Chris Christie’s job immediately afterward, and he framed his story as one about respect: the kind, as he said his mother taught him, a person sometimes has to seek instead of love. The kind that leads one to make tough decisions, to say “no” when it’s right, even if “yes” would be easier.
“Look into your hearts,” Ann Romney implored.
“I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved,” Christie intoned, not so many minutes later.
And any number of people watching the first full night of the 2012 Republican National Convention must have thought, Um, THAT’S awkward.
But the two messages were not as incongruent as they appeared at first blush. Christie explained why early in his speech: “love without respect [is] always fleeting,” but “respect [can] grow into real, lasting love.”
“I think,” he continued, “that advice applies to America today more than ever.” Certainly, he and Ann and the entire GOP hope it applies to Mitt Romney.
Unloved by much of his own party, Mitt Romney won its presidential nomination almost bloodlessly mechanically: with superior organization, discipline and resources. He was unloved, but he came to be respected. And to judge by a night when, for long stretches of time, the only full-throated cheers came when the speakers on the stage invoked his name, his party’s faithful have developed something like the respect-driven love Mama Christie told her son about.
Now the task is to repeat the trick with the broader electorate, against an opponent with whom voters fell into something more akin to infatuation four years ago.
It was to that end that Ann Romney spoke about respect as much as Christie did, and as deeply, if not explicitly, as she spoke about love.
There was the respect for parents — and especially for mothers, without whom, she said, “there would not be an America.”
“It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder to make everything right,” she said. (This dad knows that’s true.)
“We don’t want easy. But,” and here she distinguished between women’s usual burden and the heavier one they’ve felt during an administration that likes to talk about a War on Women, “these last few years have been harder than they needed to be.”
It’s not just “the little things that pile up,” like the cost of gas and groceries, but “the big things — the good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy, just get harder. Everything has become harder.”
Then this applause line, one of the night’s best: “We’re too smart to know there aren’t easy answers. But we’re not dumb enough to accept that there aren’t better answers.”
There was also the respect for individual success. Here, she made one of the best cases yet offered for respecting, not demonizing, her husband’s business career.
“It amazes me to see his history of success actually being attacked,” she said. “Are those really the values that made our country great? As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success? Do we send our children out in the world with the advice, ‘Try to do [just] OK?’ “
Then another kicker, again bringing it back to the decision at hand: “Let’s be honest. If the last four years had been more successful, do we really think there would be this attack on Mitt Romney’s success?”
Of course not, she — and any intellectually honest person watching her — said.
Mitt Romney and his partners created success for themselves, success “beyond their dreams,” she said. But it didn’t stop there. “The jobs that grew from the risks they took have become college educations, first homes. That success has helped fund scholarships, pensions, and retirement funds.
“This is the genius of America: dreams fulfilled help others launch new dreams.”
The many, many Americans who understand that truth may or may not love Mitt Romney now. But in the end, he’s not asking them to love him. Nor, really, is his wife.
– By Kyle Wingfield