A maxim says, “Dance with the one that brung you.” For half-a-century, Democrats have waltzed with leftist pressure groups, bowing and bartering. By contrast, till George W. Bush the Republican dance card featured Americanism v. tribalism, general v/ special interest, and melting pot v. manic pluralism.
More than anyone, Bush 43’s apostasy made Barack Obama president. To unmake him, the 2012 GOP must again lure Main Street “and specifically,” a writer said, “the people reviled in Main Street”: middle-brow and -class, prizing work, family, religion, and reverence for everything American.
This demands an ability to educate – to wit, speak. Sadly, the most likely Republican nominee is so erratic wife Ann said recently, “I’ll do the talking while Mitt [Romney] stands there.” For help, he should read a new book, Speechwright: An Insider’s Take on Political Rhetoric, about perhaps America’s all-time best acceptance speech — Richard Nixon’s, in 1968.
Like Romney, Nixon wished to be seen as a center rightist. Each faced doubt that he could win. Both needed to reintroduce themselves: Nixon, after losses in 1960 and 1962; Romney, after primaries this year. Nixon’s speech was partly drafted by this book’s author, William Gavin, who applied “street corner conservatism” — a populist laying-on of hands.
Pollster Lou Harris said Nixon’s address “swayed more votes than any [prior, or since] acceptance.” George Gallup said it helped swell Milhous’s lead over Hubert Humphrey from 2 to 16 points. The GOP reaired the acceptance on TV, released a long-playing record, had Nixon voice passages in still photo ads. In his book Kennedy and Nixon, liberal Chris Matthews hailed “a masterful address.” Without it, Humphrey, barely losing, would have won.
Nixon’s dance was cultural, hailing those ignored by the 1960s: “The forgotten Americans.” Ecumenical, it quoted Lincoln, who, unlike Obama, respected faith: “The great God which helped him [George Washington] must also help me.” It touted U.S. exceptionalism, which Obama loathes: “The American Revolution caught the imagination of the world.” It was vivid – which is good – and personal – which is better.
Romney has struggled to connect. Read Nixon, etching a lower-class child: “He is black. He is white. He is Mexican, Italian, Polish. None of that matters. What does matter is that he is an American child.” He then described another child – himself — who “hears the train go by at night and dreams of faraway places where he’d like to go. It seems like an impossible dream. A great teacher, a remarkable football coach, an inspirational minister encouraged him on his way.”
Like Nixon, Romney can seem aloof. Both were/are also smart, knowing the need to bond with the middle class. It was easy for Nixon, manifestly one of us. Mitt needs at least to speak for us: almost as good. Take the economy: $4 a gallon gas making 7 in 10 voters back offshore drilling. Have Romney say: “Let us speak not of shortages but of supply.” Take racial preferences, which a like number opposes. Romney: “More than affirmative action, we need affirmative lives.”
Eight in 10 back voluntary prayer in the classroom. “I want radical judges out of our public school,” Romney should say, “and the Faith Of Our Fathers back in.” Illegal immigration mocks respect for law. Mitt should note: “The President says he is a citizen of the world. I’m a citizen of the United States.”
Unlike Nixon, Romney often seems a stranger in Main Street’s foreign land. Oratory can sway its still-hung jury forge a GOP coalition of the winning. “To President Obama, America is clients whose support can be bought,” Romney should say. “To me, America is individuals whose support I must earn.”
Bill Gavin’s new book Speechwright should be required reading on how to give Obama the involuntary retirement he deserves.
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