Open Your Heart, Mitt
Many Americans believe the Obama campaign’s caricature of Romney.

Mr. Potter lights a cigar for George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.


Henry Olsen

Nixon also appeared in a series of 60-minute live TV shows. Without a podium or notes, he would take questions from the audience and answer them, showing that he was both open to the average person’s concerns and able to effectively respond to them. Finally, he appealed to the average voter’s sense of unease at the turmoil of 1968 by speaking of the “silent majority,” contrasting their quiet, law-abiding dignity with the sophisticated but loud and angry rioters.


Nixon’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention was masterful, evoking a love of America that transcended class and race and tying it to an America that reined in government spending but promoted public virtue. Perhaps he could give this speech because he himself had been born of humble parentage and experienced poverty in his youth. But whatever the cause, Governor Romney should read these words concluding President Nixon’s speech and ponder whether he shares the sentiments expressed.

Tonight, I see the face of a child.

He lives in a great city. He is black. Or he is white. He is Mexican, Italian, Polish. None of that matters. What matters, he’s an American child.

That child in that great city is more important than any politician’s promise. He is America. He is a poet. He is a scientist, he is a great teacher, he is a proud craftsman. He is everything we ever hoped to be and everything we dare to dream to be.

He sleeps the sleep of childhood and he dreams the dreams of a child.

And yet when he awakens, he awakens to a living nightmare of poverty, neglect, and despair.

He fails in school.

He ends up on welfare.

For him the American system is one that feeds his stomach and starves his soul. It breaks his heart. And in the end it may take his life on some distant battlefield.

To millions of children in this rich land, this is their prospect of the future.

But this is only part of what I see in America.

I see another child tonight.

He hears the train go by at night and he dreams of faraway places where he’d like to go.

It seems like an impossible dream.

But he is helped on his journey through life.

A father who had to go to work before he finished the sixth grade, sacrificed everything he had so that his sons could go to college.

A gentle, Quaker mother, with a passionate concern for peace, quietly wept when he went to war, but she understood why he had to go.

A great teacher, a remarkable football coach, an inspirational minister encouraged him on his way.

A courageous wife and loyal children stood by him in victory and also defeat.

And in his chosen profession of politics, first there were scores, then hundreds, then thousands, and finally millions worked for his success.

And tonight he stands before you — nominated for president of the United States of America.

You can see why I believe so deeply in the American Dream.

For most of us the American Revolution has been won; the American Dream has come true.

And what I ask you to do tonight is to help me make that dream come true for millions to whom it’s an impossible dream today.

See what Nixon does here with imagery rather than fact. He ties his dreams and accomplishments to those of others; his success is merely an example of the success every American can have. There are no “makers” or “takers.” There are only normal Americans who dream of comfort and self-reliance, or perhaps something more. Nixon “builds” his success, but he does so because of the sacrifice of others — his success is a joint venture and a shared journey. And he’s running so that every American can be helped to achieve the American Dream, and he’s going to use government to do it.

Perhaps Governor Romney cannot express similar sentiments. If so, he is really asking Americans to follow him because he is greater than us. And if that is why he is running, to demonstrate his abilities on the highest and most difficult stage in life, then Americans will see that and turn away from him. Rejecting that idea — the idea that the mass of mankind has been born with saddles on their backs, with a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately — is the heart of the American Dream.

But let’s assume that his failure in this campaign to convincingly utter Nixon’s sentiments is one of reticence, rather than of conviction. Perhaps the governor believes it would be undignified or unpresidential to expose his soul to Americans in this manner. Indeed, he suggested this in rejecting the idea of appearing on Saturday Night Live:What was good enough for Nixon is not good enough for him. Is this high-minded attitude refreshing, or is it conceit masquerading as humility? 

Americans are ready to vote for Mitt Romney. But they need to be convinced he seeks to lead them; they need to know his presidency will be something they are part of.

Win the election. Save your country. Open your heart.

— Henry Olsen is a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute.