Magazine | October 29, 2012, Issue

Open Your Heart, Mitt

To win, Romney must inspire

After the first debate, Mitt Romney pulled even with or slightly ahead of President Obama in the polls. The question now is whether he can close the deal. He can, but only if he realizes why he was behind for weeks and how his debate appearance has begun to solve his problem.

Romney’s pre-debate problem was easy to recognize, if painful to acknowledge. The president’s campaign, aided by numerous unforced errors from Governor Romney, had painted the wealthy businessman-turned-politician as a paladin of plutocracy. They told a nation wracked with doubt and worry that if Romney becomes president, he will make decisions to help the successful at the expense of the middle and working classes. And, before the debate, swing voters who supported Barack Obama four years ago believed the caricature.

The state of the campaign was analogous to the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. The Obama campaign had cast the race as being between the hardheaded, hardhearted banker of Bedford Falls, Mr. Potter, and the softheaded but kindhearted manager of the Building and Loan Association, George Bailey. Everyone knows that Mr. Potter is a competent businessman — but also that, when the chips are down, he won’t hesitate to foreclose on a mortgage. Bailey, on the other hand, will make allowances for people who need a hand up when they’re down, even if it’s not the best business decision for him.

The bottom line in this election is that Americans want to be governed by George Bailey, not Mr. Potter. They may respect Mr. Potter’s business acumen, but they want someone who will give them a break.

The Obama campaign adapted a model perfected in a recent Canadian election. Last year the Conservatives attacked Liberal-party leader Michael Ignatieff, who had returned from Harvard to enter politics a few years earlier, as an egomaniac motivated more by ambition than by love of country. The tag line in their TV ads was succinct and brutal: “He didn’t come back for you.”

The Obama campaign was running an equally savage and personal campaign against Romney. Their subliminal tag line was “He’s not running for you.”

The Romney who showed up in Denver cast doubt on that line. He was smart, but kind — principled and prudent, a man of judgment and, strikingly, character. He spoke so effortlessly and honestly about middle-class suffering that it was impossible to believe this was the same man described by the president.

If Romney wants to keep his Colorado mojo going, he needs to continue impressing on average voters that he actually cares about them. He needs to keep showing he’s really Bailey with better business sense, not Potter with a better PR agent.

He can’t rely on people to simply say why he’s a generous fellow, a solid citizen, and a loving father. That might have sufficed five months ago, when Americans were just getting to know him, but now they will need to see and hear, without filters, what motivates the man who is asking for their trust in the difficult years ahead. Mitt Romney must show Americans what’s in his heart.

There are many ways he can do this, but he can start by learning from Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign.

Nixon faced a similar challenge when he ran for president in 1968. He and his advisers (including a young Roger Ailes) knew he had to humanize himself. He needed to show that he could relate to average people and poke fun at himself, but also that he had the experience and knowledge to make sound decisions in America’s best interests.

The campaign devised a variety of ways for Nixon to do this. One was to place him on the Nielsen ratings’ top-ranked TV show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, which was not just highly popular but also firmly countercultural. One of the show’s running gags was to have an actress, Judy Carne, tricked into saying “Sock it to me,” after which she would be doused with water. In an unannounced September appearance, Nixon showed up to utter the magic line. He spoke in humorous disbelief — “Sock it to me?” — and did not get doused, but he connected with millions of viewers in a self-deprecating spirit. Hubert Humphrey, his opponent, refused to make a similar appearance, believing it undignified, a decision he later thought might have cost him the election.

#page#Nixon also appeared in a series of 60-minute live TV shows. Without a podium or notes, he took questions from the audience and answered them, showing that he was both open to the average person’s concerns and able to respond to them effectively. Finally, he appealed to the average voter’s sense of unease at the turmoil of 1968 by speaking of the “silent majority,” contrasting its quiet, law-abiding dignity with the anger of sophisticated but rancorous political demonstrators.

To be successful, such campaign tactics have to be joined to a moving message. Romney and his advisers can learn how Nixon accomplished this by reading his acceptance speech at the 1968 Republican convention.

It was masterly, 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. Its conclusion in particular captured the essence of how the average voter understands the American Dream.

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 vivid imagery rather than plain 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 with the sacrifice of others — his success is a joint venture and a shared journey. He’s running to help every American achieve the American Dream, and he’s going to use government to do it.

President Obama is painting Governor Romney as someone who cannot express similar sentiments. In a sense, Obama is casting Romney as a stereotypical aristocrat — someone who believes, to borrow Jefferson’s terms of disapproval, that “the mass of mankind has . . . been born with saddles on their backs,” while “a favored few [are] booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately.” Rejecting that idea is the heart of the American Dream.

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

My advice to Mitt Romney consists of three short sentences.

Win your race. Save your land. Open your heart.

– Mr. Olsen is a vice president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Henry Olsen — Henry Olsen is an elections analyst and political essayist who studies conservative politics, both here and abroad.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Truth UnPrompTed

TelePrompTers, like many of the folks who rely on them, are deceptively simple.                 Two thin panes of grey glass are clipped into place in front of the promptee, and ...
Politics & Policy

The New Tax Myth

Just in time for the 2012 election, a Congressional Research Service study has concluded, amid the usual waffles and syrup of caveats, that tax cuts retard economic growth — but ...
Politics & Policy

The Unions’ Last Stand?

Los Angeles — After the presidential election, the most consequential political contest in America this year is that over Proposition 32, a California ballot initiative that would curb union political ...
Politics & Policy

Block the Vote

Just a few days before Florida’s October deadline for registering to vote in the 2012 presidential election, authorities in Tallahassee confirmed that the state’s Democratic party and two of its ...

Features

Politics & Policy

That Obama Movie

2016: Obama’s America opened on one screen in Houston. Then it went to four screens. There were lines outside the doors. Then the movie opened in Nashville, Anchorage, Kalispell (a town ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

Grievance Class

How does one critique an entire academic discipline? For many conservative writers, it’s as simple as listing the names and topics of typical courses or papers and then counting on the ...
Politics & Policy

Flawed Genius

If Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was awaited with breathless anticipation by legions of film critics — here, finally, was a new film from the auteur behind 2007’s near-masterpiece There ...
Politics & Policy

Ambiguous Hero

There is something irresistibly conservative about Lawrence of Arabia. The film is almost Biblical in its morality and, as played by Peter O’Toole, T. E. Lawrence is very nearly the ...
Politics & Policy

The Mormon Moses

If a magnetic, irritable, and occasionally horrifying Moses were the main character in a quite bloody western, watching it might be something like reading this new biography of Mormonism’s second ...

Sections

Happy Warrior

The Volunteer Military

If you seek an epitaph for America’s longest war, consider one bleak, pitiful sentence from an Associated Press report a few weeks ago: Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)  –  A newly recruited Afghan ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

What Is Happening to the Middle Class? Scott Winship’s “What ‘Lost Decade’?” (October 1) opens by misstating one of the basic findings of “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” a ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ We don’t know why everyone is being so hard on Obama’s debate performance. He did fine. Carry on, Mr. President! ‐ Every famous political debate is coated with myth. Reagan ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

THE BOOKS By now, the books have almost filled their shelves Like some slow love affair reaching its end, When little space is left for richer selves, And all have spent the last cent ...

Most Popular

Culture

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More
Immigration

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More