The Republicans may have built it, but will the voters come?

I’m having a severe case of déjà vu all over again.

My original vu was Thursday, September 1, 2005, and the news about a hurricane called Katrina heading for New Orleans was all over the US bulletins coming in via satellite to Sydney that night.

I was preparing the rundown for the Sunday Program on September 4, and we had a local cover story, and a political guest locked in. But the hurricane got bigger with each passing hour … and by Friday morning, after shotlisting all the major grabs and pictures, I went in to see the executive producer and said: “We’ve got to lead on Katrina and make it a special edition of Sunday.”

“Really,” he said, not exactly enamoured of the idea, but willing to give it a go. From then on, it was non-stop, hands-on, hard yakka until the show was over at 11am on Sunday morning. We had to cancel Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, and secure the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, because there were Australians trapped in the disaster area.

The rundown was changed, and updated until 11am Sunday as well, and the cover story would be a wrap of the latest on Katrina, to be voiced by Nine’s bureau chief, Robert Penfold, in New Orleans. It meant I would have to do a lot more shotlisting and writing, and one of our editors, Ross Wilson, would have a late night putting it all together. I would be cutting with our on-line editor, John Vaccarella, all the breakouts from CBS and ABC America’s Nightline and playoffs – those little bits of music montages, with natsot of images and grabs from people in the hurricane area. The Sunday staff were all superb, including Paul Steindl, who did a breakout on Robert Penfold finding nine Aussies stranded in the super-crowded New Orleans Superdome. Robert won a Walkley award for his coverage of the disaster for Nine News.

The breakout I remember best was a cut-down of an interview the brilliant presenter of Nightline, Ted Koppel, did with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, who dawdled while New Orleans was virtually engulfed by the Gulf of Mexico. Twenty-five thousand people were stuck in the Superdome for four days. Ted Koppel asked Brown: “Don’t you watch television or listen to the radio? We’ve known about this for days.” Brown responded: “We took a while. That is true.” To add insult to injury, President George W. Bush visited the scene and told the FEMA chief: “And Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

What reminded me of all of the above were the pictures on Fox News and CNN in the leadup to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. The convention was postponed for a day in case Hurricane Isaac hit the city, which is also on the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, for the Republicans, the storm veered to the west and allowed the quadrennial party gathering to take place. Unfortunately, for the GOP (Grand Old Party), Isaac headed for New Orleans, where it remains, and revived memories of the Bush administration’s mishandling of the disaster.

As the anchors described what was happening on the floor of the convention, there were images of the storm making landfall in Louisiana, followed by live crosses to the Gulf Coast where one CNN reporter was adding unnecessary drama to the scene: “The intensity of this hurricane here now is an intense as we’ve seen it all day … this is an incredibly intense storm that we’re feeling right now…”

Back to the convention, where the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, was taking credit for balancing the State’s budget and for “killing the death tax.” He praised Mitt Romney for balancing the budget when he was Governor, and “he did it in Tax-achusetts.” Kasich said he had played golf with Vice-President Joe Biden, who told him he was a good golfer, and “that wasn’t true either.”

The warm-up speakers for Ann Romney and the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, included former Republican candidate, the conservative Catholic, Rick Santorum. The former Senator told the usual story about his coal-mining grandfather from Italy, who found a chance to live the American dream for his family in the mines of Pennsylvania. And he blasted the Obama’s administration policies: “We must stop the assault on marriage and family in America today.” And in an emotional ending, Santorum recounted how doctors told him and his wife Karen that their baby, Bella, born with a rare genetic disorder, wouldn’t survive and if she did, her life wouldn’t be worth living. Four and a half years later, Bella is still alive “and full of life,” said Santorum, who went on to bring up the abortion issue: “I thank God that America still has one party that reaches out their hand in love to lift up all of God’s children, born and unborn.”  It’s a controversial topic, given recent comments by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin about “legitimate rape,” but the Santorum speech drew loud and long applause.


Another speaker who impressed was Artur Davis, a former Alabama Democratic Congressman, who’s turned Republican because “it’s time for us to create jobs again.” His best line was suggesting the Democrats should pay tribute to former Democratic Presidents as “Now you’re just somebody I used to know.” And another good line: “This is the dawn before we remember who we are.” Another African-American Republican who revved up the audience was Mia Love, the Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, who, if elected in November, would become the first black Republican woman in Congress. Someone to watch out for in 2016, she told Barack Obama: “We’re not buying what you’re selling in 2012 … This is our America. We know because we built it.” The theme of the RNC is “We built it,” based on a line in a Barack Obama speech, referring to roads and bridges, but seemingly anti-business: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” A number of speakers used the slogan “We built it,” criticising President Obama’s lack of business acumen. New Hampshire Republican Senator, Kelly Ayotte, said: “President Obama has never even run a lemonade stand — and it shows.”

Amid the constant reminders of a hurricane bearing down on New Orleans came a speech that really did stand on its own – and probably helped Mitt Romney more than the thousands of words that will be spoken on his behalf, including his own, this week. It was by his wife, Ann Romney, a personal, passionate address, a love letter to Mitt, and a message to the RNC and the nation that the women of America deserve better: “I’m not sure if men really understand this, but I don’t think there’s a woman in America who really expects her life to be easy. But these last few years have been harder than they needed to be. . . . The good jobs, the chance at college, that home you want to buy just get harder.”

Ann Romney also started her speech the right way, asking the audience to remember that fellow Americans are in the path of the hurricane, and “just hope and pray that they all remain safe and that no life is lost and no property is lost.” The reason she was giving the speech was to let Americans know what the real Mitt Romney was like – a man who finds it difficult to talk about himself in a personal way. She talked about how they met: “And that is where this boy I met at a high school dance comes in. His name is Mitt Romney and you really should get to know him.”

She wanted to talk about love and marriage, and how self-deprecating her husband was. It resulted in her best line of the night: “Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he’s helped others, because he sees it as a privilege not a political talking point.” It attracted huge applause.

Ann Romney admitted she and Mitt had done better than most, but she wasn’t apologising for that. And she continued the “we built it” theme: “As his partner on this amazing journey, I can tell you Mitt Romney was not handed success. He built it.”


She did downplay their wealthy background, especially at the beginning of their marriage 42 years ago when they ate tuna and pasta and used an ironing board as a kitchen table. But she also denied that their life together was a bed of roses: “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage.’ Well, in the story books I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those story books never seemed to have chapters called MS or Breast Cancer. A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.” And it sure looked that way, too, when he came out on the stage to congratulate her at the end of her speech. (Photo above of Mitt and Ann at the RNC by Jim Wilson of the New York Times.)

It was a tough crowd, but Ann Romney made them listen, when she said: “This is the man America needs. This man will not fail.” Whether America was listening will not be known until November 6.

Another rising star sparkled at the convention tonight, though his speech wasn’t as widely praised as Mrs Romney’s. The keynote speaker was the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who came bounding on to the stage, punching the air, looking like a character out of The Sopranos, and sounding a bit like one, too.

He talked about how in the automobile of life, his mother was the driver of his family, and didn’t suffer fools at all. “She spoke the truth bluntly, directly and without much varnish. I am her son,” he said in his New Jersey accent to the laughter of the convention. He also said he was her son when he listened to Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town with his high-school friends at the Jersey shore. Wayne Swan will be happy to hear that, but not so happy with his politics. While Ann Romney talked of love, Chris Christie talked about respect. He said the greatest lesson he learned from his mother was that there were times in your life when you had to choose between being loved and being respected: “And she said to always pick being respected,” because respect could grow into real and lasting love. Of course, she was talking about women,” he said, to the laughter of women in the audience. But he added it also applied to leadership and America today.

A born speaker, Christie then turned that around to the Democrats being afraid to say no, when “no was required.” A cutaway to a smiling Mitt Romney sitting between his wife and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice showed that he liked that line, too. Governor Christie summed up his feelings about the Democrats in two sentences: “I know this simple truth and I’m not afraid to say it. Our ideas are right for America and their ideas have failed America.”

Some analysts speculated that Christie was told to tone down his speech, given the hurricane lashing the Gulf Coast, which could get much worse by the time Mitt Romney addresses the convention on Thursday night (Friday at noon AEST). A fired-up Christie blasting Obama for everything under the sun would not go down well if the President had to address the nation on another hurricane disaster. If that’s true, it’s the smartest thing the Republicans have done all year. Christie would have made a better candidate than the rest of the Republicans put together. (Not that I could ever vote for him!)

But he did criticise Obama at the end of his speech, saying the president should spend less time looking at the polls: “Real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.”

That’s wise advice for all leaders. Julia Gillard please note.

And on a personal note, I hope this is déjà vu all over again as far as an AFL anniversary is concerned. The Sydney Swans are playing Geelong in a match on Saturday which they need to win to ensure a home final. On September 9, 2005, the Swans played the Cats in a semi-final at the SCG and won by three points after Nick Davis kicked four goals in the final quarter. Two weeks later, Sydney beat West Coast in the grand final and won their first premiership in 72 years. We can but hope.

PS The speakers to watch today (beginning at 9am in Sydney — 23 minutes away!) are candidate Ron Paul’s son, Rand, Senator John McCain, Senator Rob Portman, Governor Tim Pawlenty, Condoleezza Rice and, of course, the vice-presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan. Everyone there will be keeping an eye on Hurricane Isaac, hoping the levees in New Orleans hold.

2 thoughts on “The Republicans may have built it, but will the voters come?

  1. It is a pity that you did not see parts of Ann Romney’s speech this morning.(Thursday) In responding to a quote that “women are not as good at math” she stated that it is the wife that balances the check book,it is the wife that balances the household budget, it is the woman who loves the children and it is the woman who loves the grand children.
    Am I to assume that the American male does none of these things? Perhaps not in the Republican
    camp anyway.The good little wife stays home to tend the family,the man goes out to hunt.
    “This is the MAN America needs” could have read ‘This is the PERSON America needs.’

    Not to denigrate the tragedy that is Hurricane Isaac and that was Hurricane Katrina, is the Republican convention nothing more than man imitating nature? Both spreading a lot of wind, causing a lot of damage and a lot of pain.
    I too hope that the levees hold,on both fronts.

    • Steve, Sorry it’s taken me a day to reply to your comment. (Grandfatherly duties!) I did indeed see what Ann Romney said, and thought the same thing. But I understood — she was speaking to the many women in America who consider themselves housewives, and she wants their votes. She wasn’t likely to lose any votes, saying what she said. And in the family of the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, the husband does go out to hunt (as you would have read in my recent blog: “Paul Ryan: The deer hunter who would be president”). And Paul Ryan, the deer hunter, gave a very good speech last night, from a Republican point of view, revving up the troops and attacking the President where he is most vulnerable — on the job front. The levees are holding in New Orleans, but they are in danger of being breached in Tampa. In less than an hour, Romney will give the most important speech in his life. But remember, Barack Obama will have the final word next week at the Democratic National Convention, and we all know what a great speaker he is! (And if he could come up with a plan that creates jobs that will be even better!). And then, the real campaign begins! As always, thanks for your insightful comments, and most important, for reading my blog! Cheers, Tom

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