Friday, August 31, 2012

Mr. Romney's Rambler

Speeches, especially political speeches, are about emotion.

They're about story-telling, creating an emotional climate, establishing a tempo--and a temperature. A chemistry between the speaker and the listener.

At the Republican convention, we've seen this art in practice. Speeches with wit and humor, designed to make the room feel friendly and warm. Speeches with pathos and drama, designed to make the room feel intimate and wet.

And then there was Mitt Romney's speech.

It was . . . dull. Billed as "the speech of his life," a "defining moment" for his campaign, a chance for Mitt to show us who he really is, to talk about his Mormonism, to open up as a human being, Mitt muffed it.

Of course, he looked the part. He always does. So did Al Gore, who Mitt resembles in more than a few ways (like trying to live up to his father's example; being wooden and stiff; having an artless speaking style and the delivery of a cigar-store Indian--but I digress.)

But if a speech is about tempo and temperature, Romney's tempo was halting, faltering, and uneven. And the temperature in the room--and in the connection with the audience--was cold.

You know you've got a problem at a political convention when, as a speaker, you set up the time-honored ploy of a call-and-response, and the audience doesn't know what response you want!

Last night, the Republicans, unable or unwilling to chant "Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!" for fear of having a host of baseball gloves descend from the ceiling, were reduced to the generic "USA! USA! USA!"

That's how off-key and off-the-mark Romney's ramble actually was.

Does it matter?

Usually not. Great convention speeches can give way to mediocre (or worse) campaigns, and forgettable convention speeches can be forgotten in the wake of an election victory.

But it was interesting to note that Romney's defining moment was completely undefining--nothing new, nothing personal, nothing fresh, nothing memorable. And the speech of his life ultimately reflects much of the rest of his life--a solid, stolid business guy who really really wants to be President, but isn't sure what to say or how to say it in a way that will actually connect with real people.

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