Politics & Media
Aug 31, 2012, 04:12AM

Mitt Romney At His Best

He was still pretty bad.

Mitt Romney was supposed to defend his business career last night, but he didn't much. What airtime he gave to the topic recalled his thoughts from the Republican debates. Staples, Sports Authority. Jobs. Some businesses sail, others sink—the marketplace. “That's what this President doesn't seem to understand.” And so on, but not for all that long. Romney did bring up one new angle, I think. He said the Episcopal Church invested start-up money in Bain Capital. How did they do long-term? You imagine a whole religion wondering what's up with its dividends, and meanwhile Bain's top guys are channeling the money into their pockets.

Key takeaway from the Republican nominee's acceptance speech: Romney's voice has a strained, wispy top when he tries to do earnest emotion. He sounds not just like he's pleading, but like he's pleading with a child and the child may have the upper hand. These moments pass, thank God, but then they come back. His head begins jerking like the top wanted to get behind his shoulders. His white teeth wink at you, a tidy little arc, popping into sight, disappearing. All this is because he's putting more emotion into it. He won't entirely stop until the whole batch of assigned words has been discharged: “loving hearts and arms… mothers and fathers… every child… love of their family... God's love… gentle and better… grew up in Detroit in love with cars… every mom and dad.”

When he talks about his father's last day, he sounds like he's going to tell a neat-o story: “because every day Dad gave Mom a rose… That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died.” There was no rose. Or no rose. Or there was no rose. His voice does these odd things. When talking about Bain Capital (“a company that was in the business of helping other businesses” and doing it good and hard), Romney sounds a touch plaintive. Not about the outfit's alleged social crimes, just its tough early days. This should be a routine touch of emotion, but his abilities are swamped. “We were young and had never done this before and we almost didn't get off the ground.” Had never done this. Had never done this. Had never done this.

This speech is probably the best public speaking I've ever seen Romney do. For most of it he barreled forward in a resonant tenor similar to that used by the first George Bush when projecting manliness. Syllables and eye movements were lined up and articulated in a crisp manner that seemed mostly lifelike. At the speech's peroration, Romney chugged toward his summit with a full throat of air pumping out the words. Adequacy was very much in evidence during Romney's speech. But so was inadequacy and, as noted, those moments are real killers. The paper tears and you want to look away. That's the Romney experience and it's never going to change.

Between the intro address and when Romney spoke, he emerged from the audience and walked up toward the stage. He did so along a receiving line of smiling Republicans, all trying to grab his hand, and then along another receiving line devoted to the same activity. It's like we were supposed to see as many people as possible all showing a desire to be near Mitt Romney rather than some place far away from him. One is reminded of the Democrats' 2000 convention and how Al Gore tongue-kissed his wife.

Lies! “The centerpiece of the president's entire re-election campaign is attacking success.” What the…? Aw, screw it. I'm still thinking about those teeth. Forty minutes of Romney making a travesty of my social cues (“to harness the extraordinary creativity and talent and industry”) and then I'm supposed to fact check. He said the thing about the apology tour again. People chanted “U.S.A.” The chant came and went, sometimes a ghost far off, sometimes an intruder muscling in when Mitt wanted to get on with his remarks. The people got very loud when Romney talked about what Americans “deserved” (no economic bad times) and when he talked about “taking full advantage of our oil and coal and gas and nuclear and renewables.” That last was a mini-sequel to the “Drill, baby, drill” sensation of the 2008 convention.

Then there's women. Romney is for them—women making big-world decisions (“Gov. Mary Fallin, Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Susana Martinez, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice”) and women being moms (“her job as a mom was a lot more important than mine,” so fuck you, Hilary Rosen). On Obama, Romney seems back to slanting the president as a likable chump, leaving Paul Ryan to lean in on administration power grabs and so on. “I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed,” Romney said, just a swing voter who somehow became a presidential nominee.

Finally the balloons came down. Paul Ryan came out to join Romney, and then the families did, and Ryan's little boys played with the balloons. The kids seemed great: well-behaved but full of life. Romney clanked and waved, storing up syllables for emission (“reducing taxes on business, not raising them”) during the three long months we have to spend with him before November. Good night, and God bless Neil Armstrong.


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