TAMPA — When CNN asked top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom to assess Clint Eastwood’s performance on stage at the Republican convention Thursday night, Fehrnstrom answered simply, “It’s improv.”
It’s an open question why such a carefully run campaign chose to feature improv at the beginning of the 10 p.m. Eastern time hour — peak viewing time as millions of people waited for Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech. But that’s what happened, and the hour Romney had been anticipating for many years began in a decidedly offbeat way.
The bottom line on what happened after Eastwood: Sen. Marco Rubio’s extended introduction of Romney — it was a serious speech all by itself — was classic Rubio, mixing compelling material with an equally compelling delivery. Romney’s speech was solid and well delivered, with some quite affecting lines — his point that Barack Obama pledged to stop the rise of the oceans, but he, Romney, would focus on helping American families was particularly effective. Romney’s speech wasn’t magic, but Romney speeches just aren’t magic, and they don’t need to be magic for him to be elected President of the United States.
But the most affecting moments of the evening happened long before Eastwood, Rubio, and Romney took the stage. The Romney campaign put together an extended narrative of Romney’s life, featuring testimonials from people had been involved with him in the four major aspects of his life: faith, work, the governorship of Massachusetts, and the Olympics. The portion of the program devoted to Romney’s religious service was enough to leave many viewers in tears — and with a higher opinion of Romney than they had before.
In particular, the program featured Ted and Pat Oparowski, a couple who lived in Medford, Massachusetts in the 1970s. They knew Romney from church, and when their 14 year-old son David was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1979, Romney visited the boy regularly. “They developed a loving friendship,” Pat Oparowski said, recounting the many times Romney came to see her and her son.
David Oparowski’s cancer was terminal. During one visit, Mrs. Oparowski recalled, “David, knowing Mitt had gone to law school at Harvard, asked Mitt if he would help him write a will. He had some prize possessions that he wanted to make sure were given to his closest friends and family. The next time Mitt went to the hospital, he was equipped with his yellow legal pad and pen. Together, they made David’s will. That is a task that no child should ever have to do. But it gave David peace of mind. So after David’s death, we were able to give his skateboard, his model rockets, and his fishing gear to his best friends. He also made it clear that his brother Peter should get his Ruger .22 rifle. How many men do you know who would take the time out of their busy lives to visit a terminally ill 14 year old and help him settle his affairs?”
“David also helped us plan his funeral,” Pat Oparowski continued. “He wanted to be buried in his Boy Scout uniform. He wanted Mitt to pronounce his eulogy, and Mitt was there to honor that request. We will be ever grateful to Mitt for his love and concern.”
It was an extraordinary story, seldom mentioned in the press, and it left many in the hall in tears. “You cannot measure a man’s character based on the words he utters before adoring crowds during times that are happy,” said Ted Oparowski. “The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble — the quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters.”
Many critics say the Romney campaign needs to do more to “humanize” the candidate. What those critics might want to do is watch the Oparowski story and ask if they themselves could ever be as human, and humane, as Mitt Romney.