TAMPA — The enduring image from the 2012 GOP convention may well be an empty chair, the prop Clint Eastwood used to represent Barack Obama’s presidency during a prime-time performance that was at turns bizarre and bitingly effective.
That empty chair — an apt symbol for a president known during his legislating days for voting “present” and during his White House tenure for being MIA on the country’s most pressing economic and fiscal issues — is already a social-media icon. It’s already spawned a meme of people photographing themselves talking to unoccupied furniture: “Eastwooding.” Plus, at least two new snarky Twitter accounts: @InvisibleObama and @ClintsChair.
But if that’s the only visual people take away from this past week, it will be a shame. The picture burned in my mind is of a yellow legal pad.
That’s because the week’s emotional peak came a couple of hours before Dirty Harry interrogated the air. It came from a retired firefighter and his wife as they spoke about the teenage son they lost to lymphoma three decades ago, and the efforts of a young executive named Mitt Romney to bring him some joy and peace.
“You cannot measure a man’s character based on words he utters before adoring crowds during times that are happy,” Ted Oparowski said Thursday night. “The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble. The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters — this is the time to make that assessment.”
His wife, Pat, described Romney’s many visits to their son David in his Boston hospital room. Once, he brought fireworks to shoot off (elsewhere, of course) to David’s delight. Then, as she continued, came the legal pad.
“On another visit, David, knowing Mitt had gone to law school at Harvard, asked Mitt if he would help him write a will. He had some prized possessions he wanted to make sure were given to his closest friends and family.
“The next time Mitt went to the hospital, he was equipped with his yellow legal pad and pen. Together, they made David’s will. That is a task that no child should ever have to do. But it gave David peace of mind.
“So, after David’s death, we were able to give his skate board, his model rockets, and his fishing gear to his best friends. He also made it clear that his brother, Peter, should get his Ruger 22 rifle.”
By then, dry eyes were getting hard to come by in the convention hall. Once Mrs. Oparowski recounted Romney’s giving the eulogy as David was buried in his Boy Scout uniform, there were even fewer.
The Oparowskis were members of the Mormon church where Romney served as a lay pastor. For most of this campaign, for most of Romney’s political career, his faith has sparked much discussion but little revelation.
Here, Thursday, was the image of Romney as pastor, as Paul described in his letter to the Ephesians: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” It is a pastor in the sense of the one who cares for a flock, not the one who preaches to them (Romney typically let others do that, another speaker recalled).
Romney is well-known as a businessman and caricatured as a real-life Gordon Gekko. Thursday, we were offered a different image: of a caregiver who acts rather than a sermonizer who just speaks. Of a yellow legal pad, not an empty chair.
– By Kyle Wingfield