Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Romney's Cotton Candy Acceptance Speech

Reading through Romney's acceptance speech again, a few days later, it's cotton candy.  It's soft, sugary, fluffy, and full of air.  There's absolutely no substance.  When you try to sink your teeth into it, it simply evaporates.

It has the signs of being designed by the marketing department - based on focus group feedback about what words and phrases push people's emotional buttons and then written to push them.  Neither reality nor honesty is a factor.  Tell them what they want to hear.  But since there are almost no facts, it's safe from the fact checkers.   It's the same stuff as glossy magazine ads - empty promises that Americans, individually and collective, can be an impossibly and perfectly beautiful people.

It's guys in the back room poring through the data and coming up with a formula to grab the audience.   But unfortunately for Romney, it's based on data, not on a caring or even intuitive sense of the people behind the data.

Note:  When I got to the end of this post, without having covered that much of Romney's acceptance speech, I asked myself why I was doing this?  Who cares?  Does it matter?

It only matters if people think this is more than just marketing, if people actually believe that there is something here.  So for that reason alone, it makes sense to go through the speech.  My approach is to try to pull out of it the key parts and to try to get at what the speech is about.   And to show there isn't any meat.  It's basically empty words.

Going through the speech, these are the themes that I see.  They aren't necessarily in order in the speech, but rather are scattered about and sometimes they overlap:  
  • Trying to show different constituencies that the Romney's presidency would care about them.
  • To outline what Romney believes the USA is all about.
  • To outline why Obama should be replaced by Romney. (And why people who had hoped that Obama would do great things, should now abandon him for Romney.)
  • To show that Romney has both the personal and professional skills necessary to fix the problems Obama hasn't fixed.

In this post I'm just going to focus on the first theme, showing the different constituencies Romney tries to touch.  Or more realistically, those marketing guys in the back room saying, "We need to get various demographics."

Romney's a product and this is an attempt to interest consumers into buying the product.  [Mind you I don't expect much different at the Democratic convention, but I suspect the marketing team will do a better job of connecting with the prospective consumers.]

My quotes come from NPR's transcript of the speech.

The Independent Voters and maybe some Democrats:
"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. . .
But today, four years from the excitement of the last election, for the first time, the majority of Americans now doubt that our children will have a better future.
It is not what we were promised."
Parents, Small Business Owners, Students:
"Every family in America wanted this to be a time when they could get ahead a little more, put aside a little more for college, do more for their elderly mom who's living alone now or give a little more to their church or charity.
Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team.
Every new college graduate thought they'd have a good job by now, a place of their own, and that they could start paying back some of their loans and build for the future."
Norman Rockwell miniatures of the perfect America.

And those struggling to get by:
"You deserved it because during these years, you worked harder than ever before. You deserved it because when it cost more to fill up your car, you cut out movie nights and put in longer hours. Or when you lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits, you took two jobs at 9 bucks an hour and fewer benefits. You did it because your family depended on you. You did it because you're an American and you don't quit. You did it because it was what you had to do.
But driving home late from that second job, or standing there watching the gas pump hit 50 dollars and still going, when the realtor told you that to sell your house you'd have to take a big loss, in those moments you knew that this just wasn't right."
"When every new wave of immigrants looked up and saw the Statue of Liberty, or knelt down and kissed the shores of freedom just ninety miles from Castro's tyranny, these new Americans surely had many questions. But none doubted that here in America they could build a better life, that in America their children would be more blessed than they."
Well, at least the white European immigrants coming through Ellis Island and those escaping communism in Cuba.  Those coming from non-communist Central or South America or from Asia aren't as directly recognized.

Even astronauts:
"God bless Neil Armstrong."
Will this blessing be backed with cuts to NASA's budget?  Maybe a fire sale of NASA assets to private companies?

And women.  Oh yes, he didn't forget women:
"Those days were toughest on Ann, of course. She was heroic. . . I knew that her job as a mom was harder than mine. And I knew without question, that her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine. . . Ann would have succeeded at anything she wanted to.  . .
When my mom ran for the Senate [she lost by a huge margin], my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still hear her saying in her beautiful voice, "Why should women have any less say than men, about the great decisions facing our nation?"

I wish she could have been here at the convention and heard leaders like Governor Mary Fallin, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Susana Martinez, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
As Governor of Massachusetts, I chose a woman Lt. Governor, a woman chief of staff, half of my cabinet and senior officials were women, and in business, I mentored and supported great women leaders who went on to run great companies.  [But he didn't choose a woman as his running mate.]
Of course, the PR guys writing this don't seem to realize that this next quote could just wipe out all their other attempts to win women voters:
"He [Dad, George Romney] convinced my mom, a beautiful young actress, to give up Hollywood to marry him. He moved to Detroit, led a great automobile company and became Governor of the Great State of Michigan."
 Maybe the guys will be impressed that Papa Romney got a beautiful young actress, but women aren't going to be excited about him talking her out of her Hollywood career to move to, yeah, Detroit.

And, of course, a coded wink to the religious conservatives:
"As president, I will protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America's first liberty: the freedom of religion."
Even though he didn't say it explicitly, they knew he meant - fight abortions, fight gay marriage, and support such evangelical goals as getting prayer back into public spaces.

How much time should I actually spend going through this speech?  Did anyone actually expect him to say anything?  It's really a pretty cynical speech.  To me, these mentions of the various constituencies are just that - mentions.  They don't reflect a deep understanding of who these constituencies are.  They don't hone in on the issues that might resonate with them - except the religious conservatives.  Rather they are a marketer's attempt to convert focus group data into some votes.

More telling is that there is no substance.  It's simply various ways of saying "Obama failed, but I'll deliver" with nothing that offers how he's going to do it.  Well, yes, his 5 point plan is going to create 12 million new jobs by cutting regulations and taxes and giving parents school choice, and cutting the deficit.  How he's going to cut taxes and the deficit without pretty much shutting down the government he didn't explain.

It's a speech that needed to cover certain things, and I guess it did, but without grace or wit or, as I've said already, substance.


  1. I couldn't watch it and your great coverage confirmed my decision. His smile is so "Don't hit me," and one of such fake sincerity it makes me shudder.

    I just watched Michelle Obama's speech and it was pitch perfect, had heart-felt substance and love and no cynicism. Made me full of joy. That Obama is still only 1 point ahead of a joyless, cyborg, puppet who would do anything -- anything -- to win and show his father how it's done makes me shake my head in disbelief that so many, many Americans can be so manipulated.

    I guess I like my manipulation progressive not regressive.

  2. Thanks, Barbara. I'm afraid I'm missing the Democratic convention because of other events in the evenings this week and not being able to see clips online. But now my internet is working again. But we have another event tonight.


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