1. Reagan was pretty reticent personally but I think this selection from his 1980 debate with Carter works very well:
I don’t know what the differences might be, because I don’t know what Mr. Carter’s policies are. I do know what he has said about mine. And I’m only here to tell you that I believe with all my heart that our first priority must be world peace, and that use of force is always and only a last resort, when everything else has failed, and then only with regard to our national security. Now, I believe, also, that this meeting this mission, this responsibility for preserving the peace, which I believe is a responsibility peculiar to our country, and that we cannot shirk our responsibility as a leader of the free world because we’re the only ones that can do it. Therefore, the burden of maintaining the peace falls on us. And to maintain that peace requires strength. America has never gotten in a war because we were too strong. We can get into a war by letting events get out of hand, as they have in the last three and a half years under the foreign policies of this Administration of Mr. Carter’s, until we’re faced each time with a crisis. And good management in preserving the peace requires that we control the events and try to intercept before they become a crisis. I have seen four wars in my lifetime. I’m a father of sons; I have a grandson. I don’t ever want to see another generation of young Americans bleed their lives into sandy beachheads in the Pacific, or rice paddies and jungles in the in Asia or the muddy battlefields of Europe.
People were afraid that Reagan might be reckless with the military as president. Regan’s use of personal experience indicated that he had a sense of the costs and risks of war and that he a policy of firmness would also be one of reasonableness. It humanized him in the sense of showing he wasn’t a warmonger, but instead a father and grandfather who had lived in a century of mass conscription and war.
2. This is Paul Ryan talking about his mother and grandmother and Medicare:
In Congress, when they take out the heavy books and wall charts about Medicare, my thoughts go back to a house on Garfield Street in Janesville. My wonderful grandma, Janet, had Alzheimer’s and moved in with Mom and me. Though she felt lost at times, we did all the little things that made her feel loved.
We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it’s there for my Mom today. Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.
I don’t think I need to explain how this humanizes Ryan’s approach to Medicare.
3. Ann Romney on her husband:
But let me say this to every American who is thinking about who should be our next president: No one will work harder. No one will care more. No one will move heaven and earth like Mitt Romney to make this country a better place to live! It’s true that Mitt has been successful at each new challenge he has taken on. It amazes me to see his history of success actually being attacked. Are those really the values that made our country great? As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success? Do we send our children out in the world with the advice, “Try to do… okay?” And let’s be honest. If the last four years had been more successful, do we really think there would be this attack on Mitt Romney’s success? Of course not. Mitt will be the first to tell you that he is the most fortunate man in the world. He had two loving parents who gave him strong values and taught him the value of work. He had the chance to get the education his father never had. But as his partner on this amazing journey, I can tell you Mitt Romney was not handed success. He built it…
He stayed in Massachusetts after graduate school and got a job. I saw the long hours that started with that first job. I was there when he and a small group of friends talked about starting a new company. I was there when they struggled and wondered if the whole idea just wasn’t going to work. Mitt’s reaction was to work harder and press on. Today that company has become another great American success story. Has it made those who started the company successful beyond their dreams? Yes, it has. It allowed us to give our sons the chance at good educations and made all those long hours of book reports and homework worth every minute. It’s given us the deep satisfaction of being able to help others in ways that we could never have imagined. Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point. And we’re no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches and their communities. They don’t do it so that others will think more of them. They do it because there IS no greater joy. “Give and it shall be given unto you.” But because this is America, that small company which grew has helped so many others lead better lives. The jobs that grew from the risks they took have become college educations, first homes. That success has helped fund scholarships, pensions, and retirement funds. This is the genius of America: dreams fulfilled help others launch new dreams. At every turn in his life, this man I met at a high school dance, has helped lift up others. He did it with the Olympics, when many wanted to give up…
This is the man who will wake up every day with the determination to solve the problems that others say can’t be solved, to fix what others say is beyond repair. This is the man who will work harder than anyone so that we can work a little less hard.
This connecting of her husband’s work ethic, talent, drive and (to put it charitably) pragmatism in service to policies that would encourage broadly rising living standards is a pretty decent argument for Romney as president. You can see how his personal qualities can be put to work for the rest of us.
4. Now let us look at Mitt Romney on his parents:
My mom and dad were married for 64 years . And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist. Because every day, dad gave mom a Rose, which he put on the bedside table. That is how she found that the day my father died. She went looking for him because, that morning, there was no rose.
And Romney on his sons:
Those weren’t the easiest of days. Many long hours, and weekends working. Five young sons who seemed to have a need to reenact a different world war every night. (LAUGHTER) But if you ask Ann and I, what we’d give to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in a room — well every mom and dad knows the answer to that.
Those are a couple of affecting stories (they hit me harder than the stuff from Reagan, Ryan, or Ann Romney), but where do they go? They don’t constitute arguments for Romney. We already have a president who seems like perfectly decent husband and father. It also doesn’t address public concerns about Romney. To the extent that concerns about Romney revolve around the idea that his agenda is bad for the middle-class, all of these stories are beside the point. There is no obvious contradiction between Romney loving his children and being willing to cut Medicare or raise taxes on the middle-class. If there is such a contradiction, Romney did nothing to point it out. The big problem with the “humanizing” approach in Romney’s speech is that it focused too much on answering questions that people weren’t asking. These were questions like “How much did George Romney love his wife?” The result was that Romney’s speech gave little idea of why a Romney agenda would be good for the public and even less to inoculate him from the attacks that are coming this week and all Fall.
I don’t doubt that Romney and his speechwriters thought they were being clever by sidestepping issues. Don’t take risks by saying anything anybody might disagree with. Humanize Romney with total non sequiturs. How can you believe he will cut Medicare? Didn’t you hear the hitch in his voice when he talked about missing his kids? He is so human.
The problem is that Romney not talking about his policies won’t stop Obama and his team from talking about Romney’s policies and anecdotal non sequiturs won’t convince people that Romney must be on their side. Romney chose a “humanizing” strategy that was more cynical than the truth and it appears viewers noticed.