Tampa, Fla. — “He didn’t just see a tangle of plastic and tubes; he saw our beautiful little girl, and he was clearly overcome with compassion for her,” Pam Finlayson told the Republican Convention in Tampa Thursday night.
She was talking about the man of the hour, Mitt Romney, and the love he had demonstrated as a lay bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Offered as a way of providing insight into Romney, her account revealed an aspect of what another speaker described as Romney’s “servant leadership.” Finlayson’s daughter was born three and a half months early. “Kate was so tiny and very sick,” she recalled. “Her lungs not yet ready to breathe, her heart unstable, and after suffering a severe brain hemorrhage at three days old, she was teetering on the very edge of life.”
As she continued to tell the story of her daughter, a feeling of brotherly love rippled through the crowd.
“Our daughter Kate grew into an amazing girl of faith and love,” Mrs. Finlayson said. Audibly relieved, the crowd applauded as a family photo of a girl in an angel costume appeared on the screen in the background. Then came the just-as-audible dismay when Finlayson announced that Kate had recently died: “Complications of her birth remained with her, and after 26 years of both miracles and struggle, she passed away just a year and a half ago.”
We want the happy ending. All too often we are conditioned to both expect it and overpromise it. One of the themes of the Republican convention this year was love, but the love in question wasn’t all of the happy-ending, Hallmark-card variety.
During his convention-closing speech, Mitt Romney lovingly described his father’s devotion to his mother: “Mom and Dad were married 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 her bedside table. That’s how she found out what happened on the day my father died — she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose.” There weren’t many dry eyes in the New Jersey section of the convention floor where I was standing.
“My mom and dad were true partners, a life lesson that shaped me by everyday example,” Romney recalled.
That legacy of deeply devoted partnership lives on in the Mitt-and-Ann story. And, as Ann Romney explained it, it doesn’t resemble the love of pop songs. Some have described her marriage as a “storybook” one, she said in her own speech to the convention. She begged to differ: “Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or Breast Cancer.”
“A storybook marriage?” she asked.“No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
Real love. Real marriage. Real policymaking that helps Americans and their families. The love at the root of such policymaking is foundational, not saccharine.
Just before Mrs. Romney took the stage Tuesday night, former senator Rick Santorum began to lay out his vision of a family life rooted in love and stability. Running with a theme he emphasized during the primary, Santorum said: “Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children, and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just 2 percent. Yet if you don’t do these three things, you’re 38 times more likely to end up in poverty! We understand many Americans don’t succeed because the family that should be there to guide them and serve as the first rung on the ladder of success isn’t there or is badly broken.”
As a prelude to his argument that Romney-Ryan policies will bolster marriage, Santorum said: “The fact is that marriage is disappearing in places where government dependency is highest. Most single mothers do heroic work and an amazing job raising their children, but if America is going to succeed, we must stop the assault on marriage and the family.”
It’s a theme that Romney has been running with, and I’ve personally heard him talking about it in one way or another since I first started paying attention to him in Massachusetts in 2005. In the most important speech of his political life thus far, at last week’s convention in Tampa, he said: “My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all — the gift of unconditional love. They cared deeply about who we would be, and much less about what we would do.”
“Unconditional love is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our grandchildren,” he reflected. “All the laws and legislation in the world will never heal this world like the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers. If every child could drift to sleep feeling wrapped in the love of their family — and God’s love — this world would be a far more gentle and better place.”
Love is a many-splendored thing. It can be a healing force — even in politics.
It can also be bipartisan. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, is currently modeling a bipartisan approach toward the practice of brotherly love. He prayed at the Republican convention and will do so at the Democratic convention. He also extended an invitation to both candidates to break bread with him at a charity dinner on October 18, nearly the eve of the election. As he told me backstage at the convention in an interview, he hopes that such a “conciliatory posture might . . . be a light to the world in a time when divisiveness and almost a hyperbolic partisanship seem to have overtaken the American political process.”
In a video that aired on the final night of the Republican convention, Mitt Romney talked about his love for his wife: “I can’t explain love. I don’t know why it happens. I don’t know why it endures.”
Politicians talk about their spouses, and they talk about love of country — but there’s more to this love thing. It enjoins us to be charitable in all things, including in politics. Charity, by the way, does not preclude speaking the truth; being truthful always is one way in which we love one another.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians. It’s a wedding favorite, for obvious reasons. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Including in political victory. Love has everything to do with it, or beware: Your victory will be fleeting.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.