Timidity as biography.
“PLEASE LIKE ME!!!!”
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is doubtless a terrific person. But alas? Alas, the Congresswoman botched her speech.
Before she delivered her speech answering President Obama’s State of the Union address, perhaps she should have spent some time dipping into Sean Hannity’s Conservative Solutions.
America learned Cathy McMorris Rodgers had a baby eight weeks ago.
Good for her. But…really? As part of the official response to the State of the Union?
Yes, this particular speech is always a problem. The response never can match the majesty of the President in the majestic House Chamber surrounded by pomp and ceremony.
But…much as I hate to say this….Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers botched the job.
What does this particular botched speech really say? What signal does it send about the House GOP leadership, in which Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers serves as chair of the House Republican Conference?
Along the same line? Same problem, different verse?
Mitt Romney is a terrific family guy with a terrific family, not just a superb business guy. The newly released Greg Whitely documentary film MITT (trailer here) by all accounts (and I have not seen it) goes out of its way to make all of this clear.
But the problem McMorris Rodgers and Romney appear to share is political timidity disguised as the biographication of the GOP.
So let’s do an exercise in comparing and contrasting GOP speeches, shall we?
We will use four speeches to illustrate the timidity problem as it appears in speech form. Hopefully to serve as a red flag for Ms. McMorris Rogers as she swims in a DC tide of Establishment Republicans as part of the notoriously timid House GOP leadership . Here also are excerpts from Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP nomination acceptance speech, a text book example of GOP Establishment timidity that consistently results in lost elections.
McMorris Rodgers Speech: (Video version here and text version here)
As she talked about the GOP’s vision of America, McMorris Rodgers begins by speaking of :
….a nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s Drive-Thru to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.
Then she went on, speaking of a GOP vision for America.
It’s a vision that is fair and offers the promise of a better future for every American. If you had told me as a little girl that one-day I would put my hand on the Bible and be sworn in as the 200th woman to serve in the House of Representatives, I never would’ve thought it possible. I grew up working at my family’s orchard and fruit stand in Kettle Falls, a small town in Eastern Washington — getting up before dawn with my brother to pick apples.
My dad drove a school bus and my mom worked as a part-time bookkeeper. They taught me to work hard, help others, and always, always dream for more. So, when I showed my 4H animals at the county fair, my parents used to say to me, “Cathy, you need to save this money so you can go to college one day!” So I did — I saved, I worked hard, and I became the first in my family to graduate from college. The chance to go from my Washington to this one was unexpected. I came to Congress to help empower people, not politicians; To grow the working middle class, not the government; And to ensure that everyone in this country can find a job. Because a job is so much more than just a paycheck — It gives us purpose, dignity, and the foundation to build a future.
I was single when I was elected — but it wasn’t long before I met Brian, a retired Navy commander, and now we have three beautiful children, one who was born just eight weeks ago. Like all parents, we have high hopes and dreams for our children, but we also know what it’s like to face challenges. Three days after we gave birth to our son, Cole, we got news no parent expects. Cole was diagnosed with Down syndrome. The doctors told us he could have endless complications, heart defects, even early Alzheimer’s. They told us all the problems. But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities. We saw a gift from God. Today we see a 6-year old boy who dances to Bruce Springsteen; who reads above grade level; and who is the best big brother in the world. We see all the things he can do, not those he can’t. Cole, and his sisters, Grace and Brynn, have only made me more determined to see the potential in every human life — that whether we are born with an extra twenty-first chromosome or without a dollar to our name — we are not defined by our limits, but by our potential.
…. So we hope the President will join us in a year of real action…
Sounds lovely, yes?
So too did the sentiments expressed in Mitt Romney’s 2012 GOP nomination acceptance speech (video here, text found here).
Mitt Romney Nomination Acceptance Speech — 2012: Said the newly nominated Republican nominee for president:
I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed.
… So here we stand. Americans have a choice, a decision. To make that choice, you need to know more about me and where I’d lead at our country. I was born in the middle of the century, in the middle of the country, the classic baby boomer. It was a time when Americans were returning from war and eager to work.
….My dad had been born in Mexico. And his family had to leave during the Mexican revolution. I grew up with stories of his family being fed by the U.S. government as war refugees. My dad never made it through college, and he apprenticed as a laugh (ph) and plaster carpenter. He had big dreams. He convinced my mom, a beautiful young actress, to give up Hollywood to marry him. And moved to Detroit.
He led a great automobile company and became governor of the great state of Michigan.
We were — we were Mormons . And growing up in Michigan, that might have seemed unusual or out of place, but I do not remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to.
My mom and dad gave their kids the greatest gift of all. The gift of unconditional love. They cared deeply about who we would be and much less about what we would do. Unconditional love is a gift that Ann and I have tried to pass on to our sons and now to our children.
All the laws and legislation is in the world will never heal the world like the loving hearts and arms of loving mothers and fathers.
You know, if every child could go to sleep feeling araft (ph) in the love of their family and God’s love, this world would be a far more gentle place.
My mom and dad were married for 64 years. And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist.
Because every day, dad gave mom a Rose, which he put on the bedside table. That is how she found that the day my father died. She went looking for him because, that morning, there was no rose.
My mom and dad were two partners. A life lesson that shaped me by everyday example. When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way. I can still see her as saying in her beautiful voice, “why should women have any less safe than men about the great decisions facing our nation?”
Now. What’s wrong with these two speeches?
Speeches like these, heaven knows, are not limited in the GOP to either McMorris Rodgers.
or Mitt Romney. Which is precisely the problem, as they are emblematic of a GOP Establishment that is scared of its own shadow.
In the aftermath of the McMorris Rodgers speech Ann Coulter, exasperated, nailed the problem exactly when she tweeted of the Congresswoman’s painful effort:
Republicans have got to stop hiring speech coaches. Just stop it.
Coulter is right. But directly connected to speech coaching is substance.
What the McMorris Rodgers and Romney speeches illustrate is the GOP Establishment/consultant complex insistence on biography — rather than substance – as political platform. And, of course, the telltale Establishment GOP line of “reaching across the aisle” is expressed in the McMorris Rodgers plea that she hopes “the President will join us in a year of real action…” and Romney’s wish that “President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed.”
In fact? In fact the idea of biography as platform is one of the reasons Republican candidates repeatedly lose elections.
Bob Dole and John McCain were celebrated for their heroism in World War II and Vietnam respectively. In fact, both men were heroes. But the mere fact of their personal heroism in war could not and did not persuade voters who chose instead the draft-dodging Bill Clinton over Dole and the anti-war-community-organizer Barack Obama over McCain.
In Romney’s case a main selling point was the combination of family and his business record, both undeniable successes. Needless to say, despite repeated warnings to the Romney campaign about an ideologically content-free campaign revolving around a candidate who was repeatedly cited for his political flip-flops, the idea of Mitt’s Biography as a reason to elect him president was the centerpiece of the Romney campaign — and along with the bizarre idea of being nice, politically speaking, to President Obama — the idea failed dismally. Shocker. In a key moment in the film, Romney himself belatedly realizes his real problem is his political-career-long dexterity on major issues. Pro-choice before being pro-life, anti-Reagan before being pro-Reagan, proudly defending Romneycare etc. were doing him such serious damage that he is unable to overcome the problem. Says Romney on camera as he acknowledges this:
In which case I think I’m a flawed candidate.
Not to be rude to a man who really is a nice guy, but….bingo.
Now. Let’s move to two other speeches — and yes, they are two speeches from Ronald Reagan.
The first is Reagan’s now famous A Time for Choosing speech, delivered on national television October 27, 1964, during the Johnson-Goldwater campaign. The second, delivered 16 years later, Reagan’s acceptance speech at the 1980 GOP Convention.
First, the 1964 speech. Bear in mind that in the moment, the Reagan 1964 speech, coming as the campaign closed, effectively served the same purpose that the McMorris Rodgers speech was supposed to serve: The Summing Up of The Opposition View.
Reagan’s 1964 Speech (Video version here and text version here):
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you and good evening. The sponsor has been identified, but unlike most television programs, the performer hasn’t been provided with a script. As a matter of fact, I have been permitted to choose my own words and discuss my own ideas regarding the choice that we face in the next few weeks.
I have spent most of my life as a Democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course.
There’s more, of course, to which we will return. But first an excerpt from:
Reagan’s Nomination Acceptance Speech — 1980 (video version here and text version here): After an opening joke about finally being in a primetime movie, the new nominee begins this way:
With a deep awareness of the responsibility conferred by your trust, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States. I do so with deep gratitude, and I think also I might interject on behalf of all of us, our thanks to Detroit and the people of Michigan and to this city for the warm hospitality they have shown.
What’s the difference between the McMorris Rodgers and Romney speeches with the Reagan speeches?
What you see above with Reagan — in two major speeches 16 years apart — is zero reference to personal biography. Beyond what I’ve cited above, and a closing request for prayer in the 1980 speech, that’s it for his personal references. Period. There is no discussion of his boyhood in Illinois, his mother, his father, his wife or his children. Other than a quick off-cuff-reference in the video version at the beginning, not included in the official text, there is not a mention of his decades-long Hollywood career in films and television either.
Instead what you see with Reagan is a purposeful, pointed, detailed discussion of America’s problems and the conservative view to solving them. He goes after liberalism point by point and holds his opponents responsible. That’s it — that’s all. And, as the historical record shows, repeated again and again and again over the years, that was more than enough. Distinctly unlike Mitt Romney’s expressed view that “I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed,” there was no such sentiment from Reagan about either Lyndon Johnson in 1964 or Jimmy Carter in 1980. Reagan’s mission was to defeat not just Johnson and Carter, it was to make the case in vivid detail just why each man’s liberal ideas were not only wrong but bad for the country. Politically and intellectually speaking, Reagan was tightly focused on the task at hand.
In fact, in the November 19, 1964 edition of the New York Times, the reigning Times columnist of the day, Arthur Krock, began his “In the Nation” column this way:
Perhaps the most cogent exposition of the conservative political philosophy during the campaign of 1964 was made by a professional actor, Ronald Reagan. At least this was indicated that his speech on television drew almost $1 million in small contributions from the video audience to Senator Goldwater.
In contrast there are the speeches of McMorris Rodgers and Romney. The first the officially designated GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union, the second — identical to Reagan’s 1980 task — a nationwide address accepting the GOP presidential nomination. And what did both McMorris Rodgers and Romney do?
They rambled on at length about their parents/spouses/children. They said lovely things about the opposition. The contrast between the McMorris Rodgers and Romney speeches with the Reagan speeches, findable at the links above, is stark. And lest one think this is an issue of gender, it is safe to say Margaret Thatcher was Reagan’s ideological soul mate for a reason. Thatcher, like Reagan, never hesitated to go after the left-wing opposition with sharp, substantive clarity. Here, for example, is Thatcher in action in Parliament going after a Labour Prime Minister on the issue of strikes, giving no quarter. Not for Thatcher the biographical timidity that telegraphed “Please Like Me!”
McMorris Rodgers and Romney reinforced The Real Message of the GOP Establishment, a message that fails again and again and again. That Real Message?
LIKE ME!!!! Oh Pu….leeeeeeeeeeeeze like me!
To borrow from the vernacular? O…M…G.
Why do this?
Why? Why? Why?
The answer, as Coulter suggests, is because a significant portion of the GOP — already struggling badly to express conservative principle let alone act on it — is being coached repeatedly to discuss issues in terms of the politics of personal biography. To awkwardly and decidedly not-so-smoothly communicate to voters that “gee, we’re really not racists, homophobic sexist morons.”
After a Senate career working with George McGovern to expand government and raising taxes, Americans were directed repeatedly to Dole’s biography.
After John McCain compiled a record working with Ted Kennedy on immigration or Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform, Americans were directed repeatedly to McCain’s biography.
Went the plaintive refrain about both men: “But he’s a hero! He can reach across the aisle!”
And since, unlike Reagan, biography was the message, both men — like Mitt Romney at a later date – lost.
But alas, that’s not what was apparently drilled into McMorris Rodgers and Romney before their respective speeches.
Why does this matter?
Because when all is said and done, this is one of the reasons the GOP always loses.
There is a GOP Establishment that repeatedly tries to drain the philosophical content from the GOP. To win by saying:
“Elect X! He/she is a hero/businessman/great Mom/Dad/Spouse/grateful child.”
It is timidity disguised as biography.
And as long as the GOP communicates that its real message is “PLEASE LIKE ME” — as Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers did the other night — the party will lose.
And it will deserve to lose.
It’s too late for Mitt Romney. His presidential hopes, as captured in that telltale documentary, have gone aglimmering.
It isn’t too late for Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers.
At least we hope not.
And there is hope. Make no mistake. The Left will hate Cathy McMorris Rodgers because — exactly like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin — McMorris Rodgers has a Down Syndrome child. And if, as with Palin, McMorris Rodgers knew this ahead of time…and chose to let son Cole live rather than aborting her child, McMorris Rodgers will in fact become a Big Time target of the American Left.
Just like Sarah Palin.
One hopes that whatever Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers learns from this experience, she will understand exactly why Sarah Palin never lets the Left off the hook.
She may also now understand why the barrage of recent stories mocking Mitt Romney for having an adopted black grandchild. Something that was famously mocked by MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry as here.
Which is why Sarah Palin — like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher before her — pays a price. In Romney’s case, long after he is a goner as a potential president he is still paying a price via an attack on his adopted black grandchild. A big political price. In Palin’s case, she a hovering potential candidate, pays such an obvious price that is so big those who insist they want a woman president of the United States worship obsessively at the altar of Hillary so they can scorn the notion that to be a woman means they can even remotely be considered pro-life and the voluntary mother of a Down syndrome child like Governor Palin.
Carry a Down syndrome child to term? You’re white and have a black adopted grandchild? There is a political price to be paid. A price so big that those who insist they want a woman president of the United States worship at the altar of Hillary while scorning Governor Palin and Mitt Romney.
And every morning that Cathy McMorris Rodgers wakes up to the joy of her son Cole, she will hopefully understand that there really are liberals Out There — powerful people — who are determined to make Conservative Women pay a price for speaking their beliefs.
Not to mention pay a price for living them.