About 99 percent of all convention speeches are tightly timed and scripted. There’s very little freelancing or spontaneity. Clint Eastwood may have been the exception that validates the rule. Who wants to tell Dirty Harry he can’t do his own thing?
Mitt Romney gets a gentleman’s C. He gave a solid but unmemorable, uninspiring speech. He was helped considerably by Clint Eastwood’s strange act right before him. His jingoistic attacks on Obama’s “apology tour” are just as phony now as it was when he made the title of his little-remarked-upon book.
Clint Eastwood, F, is over the hill. His bizarre performance pretending to be talking to President Obama in an empty chair came across as just plain weird. Whose idea was that? Who OK’d it? He bombed on TV.
Paul Ryan earned a C-. It might’ve been higher had he told the truth both about his own record and Obama’s. His condemning the president for an auto plant closing in his hometown of Janesville had one glaring flaw: Obama wasn’t in office when it was locked up. True he didn’t get GM to bring it back on line, but that’s true for many, many businesses that collapsed in 2007-8.
Ryan served on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission and blamed Obama for its not passing. Ryan himself voted against it. It never came to a vote in the GOP-controlled House.* How was that Obama’s fault?
Ann Romney gets a B-. She seems like a nice person and came across as genuine yet slightly bewildered by the tall order of explaining the human side of Mitt. That’s not easy. The crowd and reporters gave her high marks, but I can’t remember a single thing she said.
Marco Rubio, D, for talking about himself for most of his allotted time. He looks young and unsure of himself. Those who said he was too young to be on the ticket were right. Better luck next time.
Chris Christie, D, for the same self-flattering performance as Rubio, dealing almost entirely with himself. I assume people in New Jersey and New York are used to seeing him but whenever he was interviewed on the floor, all I could think of was “Man, is he fat!” He’s easily the most obese politician I have ever seen.
The older couple were A-. Yep, they stumbled and were ill at ease, but their story of Mitt Romney helping their son who would die from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was terribly moving. It also was completely honest. Ted and Pat Oparowski of Vermont should appear in a Romney TV spot this fall.
D for the much hyped screens behind the podium. A convention is still a convention. People stand on the stage and deliver speeches. Putting pictures over their shoulders, making them look like TV anchors didn’t work. And the networks didn’t use wide shots anyway.
B for the crowd on the floor. They were better behaved than other GOP convention crowds and State of the Union GOP audience members. There were no angry, fist pumping chants like “Drill, baby, drill” in 2008. Like Romney, they were controlled and, while dressed for Halloween, were polite and responded to floor managers who tell the crowd when to cheer, when to jeer and when to tear up.
Highest grade for PBS. They cut away from the speeches at just the right times, had good guests, asked good questions, and have the best twosome in the commentariat, Republican David Brooks and Democrat Mark Shields. PBS was so fair and balanced, I got to wondering if congressional Republicans might rethink their plans to cut funding for them. Fox News was the Rove network and MSNBC was Rachel Maddow & Friends.
Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.
Correction: An earlier version of this commentary stated that the Simpson-Bowles measure failed to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure was never voted on.
This program aired on August 31, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.