We try, on Political Safari, to take the long view of things, or, if you prefer, the wider. We aren’t here to comment on daily disasters and events.
On the other hand, with the Republican convention still on our mind, we have to report to being severely confused.
For weeks we had been hearing how this was Mitt Romney’s last opportunity to introduce himself to America. How this time at last, and finally, we would have to hear a speech at the end of which we knew something about the candidate that was personal, revealing, important, and human.
As conventions are organized, of course, we had to wait until the final night, during the final hours, if we were to be rewarded, if the country was to be rewarded with a glimpse into what makes Romney want to be president, and what he thinks he can do as president that Mr. Obama can’t or hasn’t.
So, for three days and nights, we had warm-ups. It’s enough to say we agree with most people who found Chris Christie’s speech self-serving. As were so many other speeches being given by men and woman whose eyes were on the big prize that this year is Mr. Romney’s.
We got over Christie because Ann Romney looked directly into the television cameras and told us, “This man will not fail!” That, in effect, was news from the front, and many were convinced and relieved, and believed.
On Wednesday we had a great speech by former Secretary of State Rice. This was an old-fashioned political speech, full of warnings and cautions, but also full of the kind of hard thinking about big problems the country needs. Susanna Martinez of New Mexico followed with an equally good address, although completely different: personal, honest, tough, yet also inviting to its listeners. Great stuff.
Paul Ryan flashed his Sinatra baby-blues at us and lied all the way through his speech. He selected big topics and offered minimal information about them. Sometimes he omitted altogether the solutions to the problems he foresaw, and although he made a point continually of telling us that Mr. Obama has had nearly four years to make the country and the economy his and to improve it, he himself gave no details about how he and Mr. Romney would try to do the same were they elected.
He defended Social Security and Medicare bravely, without telling us what he would do to minimize their increasing costs and maximize their efficiency. That’s because a lot of the country already knows his plan for privatizing Medicare with vouchers which cannot be expected to pay for the kind of spectacular care Medicare now provides its members. Worse, we know from a hundred different sources that this new attempt at stream-lining Medicare and Medicaid is going to cost seniors thousands of dollars a year, not to mention the less fortunate on Medicaid, whose assistance would be handed back to individual states to oversee and run and be cut.
Finally, Thursday night, the convention had the opportunity it sought, to hear directly from its nominee with the hope that Mr. Romney was a warm, compassionate, thoughtful and trustworthy man who, should he obtain the Oval Office, would be worthy of it.
So what happened?
The three independent networks chose to televise only the final hour of the events that night. One would ordinarily say, fine, we understand, America has limited time and patience for rhetoric as rhetoric, and is sophisticated enough to understand that not every American wanted to be forced to listen to endless hours of laudatory prose.
Which, alas, gave last night a sense of the bi-polar. Because the really great stuff came before the networks signed on.
Americans waited and hoped for something human and emotional. And they got it. But only in the hours before the powers that be at ABC, NBC, and CBS allowed as how something of import was occurring. Thank heavens, and Mr. Romney should thank heaven too, that cable news — CNN, MSNBC, PBS, FOX — had cameras cranking from seven o’clock onwards. Otherwise, none of us would have seen and listened to, and wept for and with, Ted and Pat Oparowsky of Randolph, Vermont, who told of their connection to Mr. Romney and of how he mattered to the life of their son. These two seniors, married for decades, came on and wiped us all out with their story, and had us wiping our tears unashamedly to hear the concern and gentleness of Mr. Romney when the world wasn’t looking at him.
We got a double shot of emotion, then, from another speaker also telling us about Mr. Romney’s concern and affection for a dying child in hospital who, eventually, did not survive.
We heard about Romney’s devotion to his flock when his turn to pastor his small chapel of Mormon followers was told us by his ecclesiastical assistant.
At this point in the evening, we were nearly ready to enroll in the cause.
But political reality struck at ten, with an embarrassing Clint Eastwood, and an ambitious Florida Senator, Marco Rubio. Their performances were as practical as Chris Christie’s and not much more successful.
So what we had was a climbing and elevating sense of the goodness and genuineness of the Republican nominee suddenly undercut by politics as usual, or as we like to say, practical politics.
It would appear to us that the definition of the term, Practical Politics, no longer means applying bravery and experiments to today’s problems.
Today what it means is lying.
It means rearranging facts to suit your own argument. It means throwing excrement at a wall until some of it sticks. And when it does, one builds that mound with even more detritus.
Today practical politics means lying until you’re caught, and then sticking to, and embellishing, that lie.
It also includes the fore-knowledge that no matter how many fact-checkers call one’s bluff, no matter how many governmental and nongovernmental organizations vouch for, or criticize, the lies one tells, the offense is only going to get increasingly fantastic.
That’s what people do, when caught in a lie. Either they admit their error, or they “double-down” as the press likes to say today and elevates the story, embroiders it, makes it seem even more likely because, and this is key, because the people listening want to believe it, no matter what.
And “no matter what” is what we’ve got in this election.
In the end, as we drifted towards sleep, all we could imagine was political schizophrenia. When all along we should have been hearing from people like the Oparowskys, we were brutalized by criticism that, in many cases, was caused by the very party that now wanted us to believe it had been good and decent all along. We should have been measuring the Republicans and Mr. Romney by being able to compare the Oparowskys with the trash and venom of Political Super Pacs.
For our money, and for all of Mr. Romney’s, the Oparowskys are the real Republican Party, and the anger and sniping, the complaining and comparing with half-baked statistics and outright lies, should be left at the side of the road that leads to the White House.