I haven’t watched the prime time Democratic speeches so far, and I’m not staying up tonight either. I’ll watch the Clinton and President Obama speeches on Saturday. Maybe. But Reihan Salam said something about Clinton’s speech yesterday that struck me not for what it said about Clinton, but for what it said about Romney. Salam wrote:
I think the genius of the Clinton speech is that it gives people the confidence to shield themselves against doubt when one hears a contrary argument, you can put it in the bin, “This person is obviously a crazy extremist who can’t be trusted, as I’ve heard cogent-sounding preemptive arguments against trusting such people.” And the failure of the Republican convention is that there wasn’t a similar speech that could give partisans that same spring in the step.
I think this is where the Romney speech was so misconceived. It lacked the “cogent-sounding preemptive arguments” that Romney policies would really be good for people. I think that the failure of Romney’s speech wasn’t that it didn’t give conservative partisans something. It was that it didn’t give uncommitted voters any reason to disbelieve any particular criticisms of Romney policies. The Romney team (probably and especially including Romney) seem to have believed that if they could get people to believe that Romney loved his immediate family, people would discount any criticisms of Romney’s proposed policies. This runs counter to all our experiences that decent people we know sometimes have lousy political opinions (from our perspective) and probably vice versa. That is even before we get to the idea that someone who loves their immediate family might not be public spirited. There is no obvious contradiction between him loving his kids, closing your factory, and cutting Granny’s Medicare. You don’t even have to have the words for it. You could feel it. I didn’t like Romney’s speech when I first heard it, but the more I think about it, the more surprised I am that it was the carefully considered product of people who had weeks to work on it.