The zealots on Fox News were ecstatic.
The prunes on MSNBC were aghast.
Somewhere in the middle lies the truth about Mitt Romney’s speech last night.
Here it is—if you can handle it.
First, let it be said that Mitt Romney is not now nor will he ever be Winston Churchill; he’s not even Condoleezza Rice. Romney is naturally reserved, refined and reticent—making him a rather tepid, robotic speech deliverer; the anti-Obama, if you will.
And maybe that’s the point.
Thursday night, Romney faced three immediate challenges:
1. Show emotion—warmth even—to prove you’ve got a soul.
2. Show some fire—red meat even—to prove you’ve got a backbone.
3. Show some substance—specifics even—to prove you’re not anti-women and you’ve got a plan that will create jobs.
Here’s how he did on each.
Two critical parts of any speech are the introduction and the conclusion. The Laws of Primacy and Recency suggest that what people most remember—if they remember anything at all—are the introduction and the conclusion.
Here, Romney showed his most memorable emotion.
His intro was classic; not the beginning of his speech, but rather the way he entered the hall. The decision to have the candidate walk in State of the Union-style, at ease, smiling, shaking hands, kissing women and hugging friends was the most human part of his night, warm even.
Likewise, his conclusion, written to build to a rousing crescendo was delivered emotionally, flawlessly, leaving the crowd roaring—a la Jesse Jackson in his prime.
“That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it. And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight.”
But that was about it emotionally; the obligatory references to upbringing, parents and family all relatively benign and forgettable, delivered quickly and without verve.
All-in-all, a “B-” on emotion.
Here again, Romney, the adult, refused to forsake his innate sense of propriety to take it to his adversary—much to the disappointment of those in the hall eager for more Obama-bashing and Christie-onics.
Romney seemed more sad than mad about the performance of the man he sought to unseat.
“I wish President Obama had succeeded,” he intoned, “because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division.”
Later, he became more pointed but still with a tinge of regret rather than the revulsion the crowd craved.
“To the majority of Americans who now believe that the future will not be better than the past, I can guarantee you this: if Barack Obama is re-elected, you will be right.”
Indeed, the only real “fire” Romney showed was when he recalled the late Steve Jobs and lamented Obama’s naiveté about business.
“That’s what this president doesn’t seem to understand. Business and growing jobs is about taking risk, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving. It is about dreams. Usually, it doesn’t work out exactly as you might have imagined. Steve Jobs was fired at Apple. He came back and changed the world.”
There was no doubt the candidate cared about capitalism and the private enterprise system. On “fire,” then, Romney rated a “C+.”
This was the portion of the speech to which many looked forward; the opportunity for Romney first, to dispel the canard about being “anti-women” and second, to spell out his prescription for jobs.
On the former, he was fine, quickly noting that he had been surrounded by powerful and important women, whom he respected, not only at home but in government and business. ‘Nuff said.
But on the latter, where Romney should have sealed the deal by citing specifics as to how he would fulfill his pledge to create 12 million new jobs, he punted. Rather than giving examples or illustrating the kinds of job-inducing measures he would take, Romney relied on five stump speech generalities that yielded little nourishment.
Substance grade: “C.”
Overall, Romney’s performance merited a solid “C+.”
So, if you’re one of the 12 percent still uncertain about a presidential choice, simply ask yourself: “Has President Obama’s performance been better or worse than C+?”
Then vote accordingly.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, commentator, author and teacher for 40 years. He teaches public relations at NYU and is the co-author of “Rethinking Reputation,” published this month by Palgrave Macmillan. He can be reached at email@example.com.