TAMPA, Fla. — Candidates often say they write their own speeches, but in the case of Mitt Romney's convention address, it is a claim more plausible than most. It was highly personal, rhetorically unambitious and perfectly imaginable as the product of Romney's iPad.
Assuming this to be the case, we have been handed an interesting artifact. Setting aside aesthetic and partisan judgments, what do his preferred arguments and illustrations reveal about Romney himself?
First, at least stylistically, Romney is the retro candidate. His stories are sentimental, his jokes are corny, his parents are his heroes and his family is aggressively nuclear. There is an admirable defiance about it all. You want authenticity? You got it. In your heart you know he's square.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends — actually, me — are squares. But this is a change from recent presidents. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were baby boomer archetypes — one a story of indiscipline, the other of repentance. In his 2000 convention address, Bush said, “I believe … in forgiveness, because I needed it.” The need itself was humanizing and typical of his times.
Romney, in contrast, inhabits the world before Mrs. Robinson. Some deny it ever existed. Romney proves them wrong. This is not nostalgia; it is a lifestyle choice. Some on the cultural left have little tolerance for this particular alternative lifestyle. But millions of Americans, including many Mormons and evangelicals, practice it without shame. It may even help explain Romney's strong appeal to seniors — a group he leads by double digits, for example, in Florida.
In this case, anachronism is also a kind of armor. No man so grounded, so stable, so religious, so endearingly square can also be the heartless, lawless villain of President Obama's hyperbolic negative ads.
A second self-revelation contained in Romney's speech: He is not really ideological. He did not engage a debate on the role of government, or America's place in the world, or the future of entitlements. He proclaimed policies instead of arguing for them. He offered five points instead of first principles.