A few words about the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida are required.
First I want to emphasize my love affair with the political conventions. I enjoy the spectacle and speeches every bit (if not more) than I enjoy the Olympic Games. Honestly, I would probably rather watch a convention than the Super Bowl. As a kid I feigned illness so I could lie in front of the television watching every moment during the 1988 RNC. The point is, I am not normal.
Secondly, I have thus far avoided commentary, analysis, and reaction from the professional pundits.
In my opinion the opening night of the 2012 RNC was a resounding triumph, and it was the best executed theme night I have ever seen. The theme was “we built that,” a pointed rejoinder to Obama’s statement about small businesses owners.
The first night was not data driven. This surprised me a little because the data points like unemployment, take home pay, job created and so forth, lethally favor the Republican arguments. There will be time for data, and the looming electronic debt clock in the convention hall suggests it is coming, but it was not last night.
The first night was also not angry. That is no mean feat. After four years of turmoil and division, anger would be expected. For RNC planners to keep that emotion is check is commendable. It was the absence of anger that allowed the opening night to be so successful. Though it seems odd for the party in power to express anger, I expect rage will be a component of the Democrat Convention next week.
Without data or anger what remained was a powerful combination of determination and protectiveness. Again, this fit the theme extraordinarily well.
Without delving into an examination of individual speakers, we can view the oratory as a whole. Over and over again, the night’s speakers made clear their fidelity to the American dream of determined individualism and national industriousness. Hard work, sacrifice, and the rewards of a life well lived, were part of every story. From Haitian immigrant Mia Love to the scrappy Governor of New Jersey, the story was the same: dogged determination making dreams come true.
The other side was a strong protectionist impulse. More subtle than Palin’s “mama grizzlies” of 2008, the 2012 RNC spoke of their vision for America and the desire to protect that America for their children and grandchildren. It was the language of a people who feel beset and threatened, but know victory is certain – even if they know not how it will be achieved. The Republicans believe that the components of American Exceptionalism are worth protecting, and must be protected for the sake of posterity.
The audience reaction to the determination and protectionism of the speakers was evidenced in the prolonged standing ovation Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker received. To the Republican faithful, Walker symbolizes a man who stood his ground. In the face of attacks, slanders, and everything else, Walker did what he believed was right, and stood to face the consequences. The crowd rewarded him with adoration.
I watch conventions. I have been to three, two Republican and on Democrat. Undoubtedly I favor the Republicans. The feeling I get from watching or attending a Republican convention is always the same. I invariably feel like an individual, one person in a crowd of many like-minded friends. Within the RNC, I get to be me, a person with my views and beliefs, treated as a sovereign individual, and treated with respect even though differences and arguments may persist.
The sense I get from the Democrat events is that I need to pick a label. The Democrat events are starkly compartmentalized with carved out places for urban folks, minorities, union members, or whatever. At a Democrat event I feel not the sovereign individual, but a constituent of a particular group. Maybe some folks find that comforting. I do not, I feel it diminishing.
The first night of RNC 2012 was such a success because it articulated and demonstrated – with determination and protectiveness – the primacy of the individual in a community of other individuals. Without malice, and with respect, the stories of the night were appreciated by all.
If the Romney camp can maintain and communicate its sensibility as well as it did last night, the November election will be a Republican romp.