OH, DID ANN ROMNEY DELIVER A SPEECH TONIGHT?
The press will tell you that Ann Romney did a great job in her speech tonight. The press decided that even before she spoke a word. In fact, she didn't do a particularly good job -- for most of it, she seemed like a grinning prom queen basking in the school body's adulation; she had a lousy speech to deliver, full of generic talk about ordinary life (yours and mine as well as the allegedly ordinary life of her family), but she grinned and waved at people at what were supposed to be poignant moments, and she never really made Mitt Romney seem like a flesh-and-blood person. What she said reminded me of the eulogy for one of my aunts, delivered in a church she hadn't attended in years by a priest who'd never met her. He was working from biographical data given to him by the family, and he pretended he knew her idiosyncrasies and virtues. That's how Ann sounded.
But the point of the speech was to "humanize" Mitt, and people tend not to dislike Ann -- I can't say I really dislike her -- so she's getting a passing grade from the press, as if she really did what she set out to do.
Of course, it doesn't matter what she said, because the yin of her speech was utterly dissipated by the speech of Mr. Yang himself, Chris Christie. You're not going to want to hear this, but I think he has serious political skills -- I'd say he did a hell of a job, although what he really did expertly was make a case for his own presidential candidacy four years from now. (I worry about that because I think he could win; however, I suspect he couldn't physically survive a two-year, seven-day-a-week, ten-hour-a-day presidential campaign.)
I was expecting Pat Buchanan redux, but Christie is shrewd -- he knows how to salt his speeches with (phony) appeals to reasonableness and bipartisanship. He knows how to slip into a (phony) I-don't-want-to-fight tone.
But his secret weapon was that he sounded as if he actually loves and cares about America, and is doing all this hectoring and denigrating because he'd like to restore America to greatness. I thought this crowd of right-wing rage junkies wouldn't respond to a message that sounded in any way positive -- but he interwove the paeans to the Greatest Generation and the nasty attacks on teachers' unions until it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. You almost think he believes a Koch-drenched, safety-net-deprived future will be the second coming of the New Deal; he gets you thinking he might really care about people, in his own deluded way. It's what Mitt Romney can never, ever convey.
(And speaking of Romney's humanity: the reaction shots while this stem-winder was unwinding showed Mitt looking almost as zombified as James Holmes in that Colorado courtroom.)
I'd be worried about Christie's speech, but I've seen really effective, impassioned speeches at Democratic conventions from people who weren't on the ticket -- Mario Cuomo in '84, Jesse Jackson in '88 -- and they did nothing for the candidates. So this was probably meaningless. Oh, except that Ann Romney's speech will never be remembered.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY: Oh, what the hell do I know? The Huffington Post says, "ANN STEALS THE SHOW," while Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times tells me that Ann Romney "was electric" and "is so gifted at politics, she may actually make her husband look a little bad." Well, jeez -- Rick Santorum is sufficiently gifted at politics that he's been known to make Romney look bad, so how low a bar is that?
This is a dutiful following of the script disguised as a sincere reaction to events. The media rhythm of all this is that Ann Romney's speech was designed to be celebrated this morning in media outlets that seek to appeal to women (the networks' morning news shows, the HuffPo), therefore it was a speech worth celebrating. Sorry, it wasn't. Also, the political press finds the "Ann will reintroduce/humanize Mitt" story line irresistible, because journalists are desperate to see this static race really shaken up. So they're declaring that what they hoped would happen (a new phase in the race) actually happened.
(And maybe I was also wrong about Christie -- the right consumes so much red meat that maybe this just seemed like more of the same, the way the crystal meth doesn't get you high after ten years the way it did the first time you tried it.)
AND: Chris Christie is being criticized for a speech that focused much more on himself than on Romney, but of last night's two prime-time speakers, which one made more people think, "Oh, I like you more than I like Mitt Romney"? It was probably the speech by his own wife. I realize that was the point of her speech, but I'm not sure it was a good idea to say, in effect, "Yeah, we know -- he really does like bad by comparison, doesn't he?"