I am glad Ann Romney loves her husband. I think Michele Obama loves hers, too. I know I love mine. But I don’t see how that qualifies any of them for the presidency.
For days leading up to her perfectly scripted appearance at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, a news-starved media kept inflating the importance of her speech. “A campaign game changer,” promised Fox News. Ann Romney would humanize the awkward GOP nominee. She would loosen up his stiff persona. She would show us his lovable side, and deliver all those wavering independent voters in the process.
Looking radiant in Nancy Reagan red, she gave it her best shot, showing no hint of her age (63), let alone the multiple sclerosis or breast cancer she has battled in her life. That she failed to recast her husband’s robotic image in a single prime time speech says less about Ann Romney’s rhetorical skills than it does about the absurd role of candidates’ wives in presidential campaigns. She cannot change Mitt’s personality in 2012 anymore than Tipper Gore could alter Al’s in 2000.
What she did do Tuesday night was make the case that her long marriage to the gawky boy she met at a high school dance is a good one, and that her admiration for his personal qualities and professional accomplishments is deep and abiding, truths that were never really in doubt or of very much concern to voters.
What is in doubt and of considerable concern is just what Ann Romney means when she promises that “you can trust Mitt.”
Why should “parents who lie awake at night side by side, wondering how they’ll be able to pay the mortgage or the rent” trust Mitt? The budget priorities he and his running mate espouse will cost them the food stamps that are easing the financial strain.
Why should “working moms who love their jobs but would like to work just a little less to spend more time with the kids” trust Mitt? Mitt’s Republican allies in the Senate killed the Paycheck Fairness Act that would have insured that they were paid the same as their male colleagues.
Why should “the single dad who’s working extra hours tonight, so that his kids can buy some new clothes to go back to school, take a school trip or play a sport,” trust Mitt? The cuts in federal aid to education that he and Paul Ryan promise to implement guarantee that schools will be charging even higher fees for extracurricular activities that were once assumed to be part and parcel of a public education.
Ann’s empathy is no match for Mitt’s machete.
She has mastered the art of the careful narrative since her husband ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994. This week, in recounting their student years in a basement apartment where the ironing board doubled as the dining table, she was careful not to say, as she did to The Boston Globe back then, that she and Mitt were so poor they had to sell some stock to make ends meet. But reminding voters that her grandfather was a Welsh coal miner is not going to make them forget that her husband earned his millions at Bain Capital any more than John Edward’s incessant invocation of his father’s years as a mill worker made anyone forget that the North Carolina Democrat made his fortune as a trial lawyer.
On the personal front, Ann Romney had the opposite task that Hillary Rodham Clinton faced in 1992 when she was dispatched to “60 Minutes” to convince us that Bill was not a dog, no matter what that lounge singer said. Ann Romney, the mother of five grown sons and grandmother of 18, repressed a blush as she reached back 47 years to assure voters that her straight-laced husband had a naughty side. Mitt was awfully nice to her parents, Ann said, “but he was really glad when my parents weren’t around.” Wink. Wink.
Sewed up my vote right there.