POLITICS

Reflections on “day two” of the Republican National Convention

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Politics Digest

Genuine enthusiasm among the delegates for Governors Bob McDonnell and  Scott Walker. Ratification for the idea that Republican political and policy success at the state level is appreciated by political cognoscenti (or at least those cognescento/a to become national convention delegates) around the nation. An interesting phenomenon. And suggestive of the period in the 1990s when Republican governors (e.g., Tommy Thompson, this year’s nominee for U.S. Senate from the fantastically successful Wisconsin Republican delegation) and mayors (e.g., Rudy Giuliani) led the successful conservative public policy fights on welfare reform and crime control.

 

Very great enthusiasm in the hall in different ways for Utah House candidate Mia Love, of Haitian origin, for Ted Cruz, Texas Senate nominee, of Cuban origin, and Artur Davis, former Alabama Democratic Congressman, and now the night’s strongest and most explicit critic of Barack Obama, whom he endorsed early in the 2008 cycle. Naturally, MSNBC didn’t show any of these “minorities”: would break Chris Matthews’s narrative that Republicans oppose Obama only because they’re racists. Davis was particularly funny and adroit: he clearly has imbibed of America’s wonderfully vibrant tradition of black preachers, and knew how to please the crowd (in a way that Joe Lieberman, speaking as a nominal Democrat and Orthodox Jew to the 2008 Republican National Convention, couldn’t quite do). In my previous encounters with Davis, he has sounded quiet and thoughtful; here he sounded thoughtful, though partisan, but more or less the opposite of quiet.

 

Ann Romney. A brilliant job of relating her and Mitt’s experiences to those of millions of ordinary Americans. Two thoughts. One: She spoke, as Gloria Steiem era feminists have, of how women have to bear more burdens than men. But without the edge of animosity and resentment. My sense is that women over 50 have a different experience than women under 50 in this respect. Women over 50 (or some age in that vicinity) were torn between the way they were expected to behave when they were growing up and the way they were signaled to behave with changes in the society. “Choice” was a brilliant euphemism for pro-abortion rights activists because it was a proxy for all the choices women currently over 50 made in greater or less conflict with the choices they were told they were expected to make as they were growing up. It says something good about these women that, unlike men (including me) of their generation, they questioned their choices—am I spending too much time on my children? Am I devoting to much effort to my work? Men just figured, hey, I’m spending more time with my kids than my dad did, so who’s to question me? Women felt questioned all around, on both sides, and in most cases never most assiduously and accusingly by themselves. When politicians said anything that suggested women working outside the home were neglecting their children—as they themselves, to their moral credit, often did—they bristled with anger. “Choice!” they screamed. Abortion must forever and ever be not only legal but celebrated and endorsed.

Ann Romney presented a different view, one that I suspect makes a lot more sense for women under 50 and those over that age who never became advocates of the “choice” movement. She showed that she shared the everyday experience of mothers, married and single, pro-choice and pro-life. An illuminating picture, one worth reflecting on for all of us.

 Second thought on Ann Romney. “He will not fail,” she said toward the end of her speech. The Romneys seem to have total faith in each other. In June, at my fiftieth reunion at Cranbrook School, from which I graduated in 1962, three years before Mitt Romney (Ann Romney graduated from Kingswood, the since-united girls school, a year or two later), one woman at lunch told me that Ann Romney had said to her, about a year and a half before, that “Mitt has to run to save the country.” Evidently she thinks, and I hope, that a Romney presidency will rescue the nation from what they and I see as the downhill slide toward Europeanization/Greece that we would experience in a second Obama administration. Ann Romney talked movingly about the problems women encounter in everyday life, but with a view toward what that means for the nation as a whole in the long term.

Chris Christie. Ann Romney talked about the power of love. Chris Christie told us that we (America? Politicians?) should be “respected” rather than loved. Liberals pounced on an apparent contradiction. Perhaps, but one that can easily be resolved. A leader motivated by love can prefer to be feared rather than be loved, as taught by the great teacher Machiavelli (not a Sicilian, like Christie’s mother—and she sounds a lot like what I’ve heard about my Sicilian great-grandmother). A leader should be feared rather than loved, said Machiavelli, thinking of the leader of a new republic, if he and his republic are to accomplish great things. And a second thing they need, if I have not read my Machiavelli amiss, is that citizens embody a certain virtù, a certain public spiritedness and bravery. I have not mastered the scholar J. G. A. Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment, and I doubt that Christie has either, but I think we are moving in the same direction. An active citizenry, armed as necessary, determined to protect the principles of the republic, willing always to face the truth and difficult necessities—all these are the ingredients of a successful republic. Barack Obama’s name, like that of G-d in the discourse of certain Orthodox Jews, was not mentioned specifically, but the reference and the danger were not left unknown to the listeners of the discourse. I heard the objection that Christie’s criticism was too generic and applicable to all politicians at all times. To his audience in the hall, and I suspect to many in the audience that even MSNBC might feel it must include, the reference was no mystery.

Could a New Jersey politician have been making such a subtle reference to Machiavelli? Maybe so. I will refer skeptics to the recent volume entitled The New Machiavelli, in which Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, reflects on the actions of the Blair government in light of the teachings of the Florentines. Machiavelli, it appears, never goes out of fashion.

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