Average Folks, Talking About Someone They Admire

Tonight (so far, at least) the Republican National Convention has been largely devoted to average folks talking about Mitt Romney — as a member of his church, as a friend and neighbor, and as an executive with Bain Capital.

It’s a bit jarring to hear people defending a venture capital firm — the kind of educated risk-taking business that is crucial in a capitalist economy, but which is so easily depicted as a blood-sucking, money-grubbing blight on society — and speaking so openly about the Mormon faith, because these aren’t the kind of things you normally see on TV.   I think it’s been refreshing, and effective, to hear from these average folks, talking about a man they know and like and appreciate.

We see enough of the airbrushed crowd, with their permatans and carefully coiffed hairdos, their carefully scripted remarks and rehearsed moves.  Seeing Joe and Jane America walking onto a political convention stage, speaking from the heart about someone who helped them, and whom they admire, is corny — but it’s a nice change of pace.

Jack’s, In The Alley

In the alley behind the State Office Building in downtown Columbus, you will find Jack’s — a small diner serves one of the best lunches in central Ohio.

This is one of those places that is frozen in time.  I’ve been going there for more than 25 years, and it hasn’t changed in that time.  It still has the slowly spinning disco ball on the ceiling, the ’50s vintage signage, the lights strung from wall to wall, and the bright aluminum backsplashes behind the grill.  The friendly wait staff has been there for years, too, and the menu hasn’t changed much, either.

When I go to Jack’s, I get the same order every time:  the double cheeseburger special, with the two hamburger patties cooked on the open grill so that they have a slight crust, crinkle-cut french fries, and a chocolate milkshake made with real milk and real ice cream, mixed in a large blender in huge steel glasses.  It’s the best milkshake in Columbus, so thick you have to work hard to suck it through your straw, and one of the best cheeseburgers, too.  I have mine with a raw onion, melted American cheese, and ketchup, and it goes down easy.

I know we’re supposed to eat healthy these days, but there is nothing — nothing! — like a good cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake for lunch.

The Hitler Brand

What is it about Adolf Hitler that causes businesses in foreign countries to use his name to market their products?

First it was “Fuhrerwein” being sold in northern Italy, now it’s a Hitler clothing store — complete with a circular swastiska dotting the “i” — that has opened in a city in western India.  The owner says that he didn’t know that Hitler was the name of a Nazi dictator who gave the order to kill millions of innocent Jews.  Instead, he claims, “Hitler” was just a nickname given to the “very strict” grandfather of a friend.  Really?  And the very strict grandpa dotted the “i” with a swastika?  Give me a break!

It turns out that Hitler is popular in certain parts of India, because he is viewed as giving “dignity and prestige” to Germany.  Apparently Indian schoolbooks don’t teach people that he was a mass murderer whose bloody dictatorial reign made Germany a pariah state that, even now, 70 years later, is still trying to to live down the inexplicable horror of the Nazi years.

But hey . . . if using the name Hitler and the swastika brings curious people into the store and results in a few purchases that might not have occurred otherwise, what’s the harm of trading on the name of one of history’s most evil figures?

 

Hearing From The Boy Scout

Paul Ryan gave his much-anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention last night.  After a somewhat hesitant start, Ryan successfully introduced himself to the American public and gave a speech that suggests that he will be an effective running mate.

My first reaction to Ryan was:  he looks like a Boy Scout.  Squint at him long enough, and you won’t see a guy in a suit but a Scout in a crisp uniform and tie, displaying merit badges galore.  Ryan has retained not only boyish looks but also boyish mannerisms, looking at you sheepishly from under his eyebrows, with his head tilted forward and a lopsided grin.  It’s as if he were apologizing to you for taking a short cut of his own devising when he ties a perfect slip knot.

Ryan’s earnest, “aw shucks” demeanor should go a long way to combating the effort to portray him as an evil, mean-spirited shill for the super-rich who will happily throw senior citizens to the wolves as part of the bargain.  He got choked up when he talked about his Mom getting beyond the loss of his father at an early age and how she was his role model.  And when he spoke of teaming up with his Mom to respectfully and tenderly care for an elderly relative with dementia, I believed him.   He seems like the Scout who will help granny across the street, not steal her Medicare check and shove her off the cliff.

This doesn’t mean that Ryan is right on policy — it just means that it probably will be hard for the Democrats to demonize or marginalize him.  His speech last night showed that he could well be an effective advocate for the Republican approach and critic of the President’s record.  He’s obviously knowledgeable about economic and budget issues and comfortable with math, and he displayed a knack for framing the issues in a way that brings them home.  His remark about recent college graduates being forced to live in their parents’ homes, peering up at faded 2008 Obama posters, rather than getting on with their lives, probably resonated with some of those recent graduates (not to mention their parents).  And his willingness to poke gentle fun at Mitt Romney’s elevator-music tastes was refreshing and, again, consistent with that Boy Scout persona.

We shouldn’t get too excited about vice presidential candidates.  They shouldn’t be the focus — and when they are, as was the case in 2008 with the last GOP vice presidential candidate, it’s usually not a good thing.  But if the phony caricatures aren’t plausible, vice presidential candidates can help to frame the the substantive debate.  If he can successfully dodge claims that he’s Mephistopheles in disguise, Paul Ryan may be able to actually address some of the important issues in this election on their merits and allow us to judge for ourselves.  Wouldn’t that be a refreshing development?