Mitt Romney quoted Popeye Sunday on Fox News, saying, “I am what I am, and that’s all what I am.” (As hinted at by Scott Lehigh in today’s Globe, we don’t know if that’s Mitt 1.0, 2.0 or 5.0.) Ann Romney’s job at the convention was to make of him something more than what the public now sees. Polls consistently find that President Obama is between 14 points (CNN) and 22 points (NBC/Wall St. Journal) ahead of Mitt Romney in caring about the middle class and identifying with its needs and aspirations. They call it the “empathy gap.”
The public learned little new last night about Mitt. The speech was a direct play to the polls showing a significant gender gap between President Obama and Romney. Ann’s embrace of women bordered on pandering, especially when she built up to her outcry “I love you women!” Those at the convention loved it, but it was over the top, and I’m not sure it did much for the six percent of voters who are undecided, and others who are super soft supporters of Obama.
Ann Romney is warm and likable. Despite her position of privilege, she comes across as down to earth and, yes, caring, whereas Mitt is perceived as buttoned up, stiff, removed, ruthless in a corporate sort of way. Virtually everything is controlled. Look at his hair; it never moves. Ann Romney can be wind blown and seems natural and comfortable in any situation.
But she is hardly middle class. She talked about hard times in the early years of their marriage, when Mitt was a graduate student at Harvard. Hard times, she had said in earlier interviews, meant they had to sell of some stocks and bonds for living expenses. Women of all classes can relate to Ann as Mom, stuck inside on a rainy day with small children restless and bickering. And she hasn’t been completely insulated from life’s travails in her miscarriages, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, now in remission. But she is still the woman with multiple magnificent residences, two Cadillacs, an elevator for cars at her California home, and a super rich husband with money stashed away in the Grand Caymans and Swiss bank accounts.
Can she transfer her likability to him? Probably not. She has talked about the “good man” he is, and hard working. In the past, she has noted his acts of caring, for her, his family, members of his church, the daughter of a Bain partner. But will his capacity of caring for individuals translate into a philosophy of government and providing for thousands of faceless but needy people?
Ann Romney’s well delivered speech was, she said, “all about love.” Following her, keynoter New Jersey Governor Chris Christie undercut her, saying that, in a choice between being loved and respected, we “shouldn’t be paralyzed by our desire to be loved.” He preferred a leader who was competent and able to make the tough calls. Interestingly, Christie’s self-referential address, in conflict with Ann Romney’s message, didn’t mention the GOP nominee until 17 minutes in.
One comment Ann Romney made that rings particularly true: “We’re too smart to think there are easy answers but not so dumb to think there are no better answers.” That’s a message that should be heard by Republicans and Democrats alike.
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