Condoleezza Rice Hits It Out Of The Park

Condoleezza Rice has always impressed me as a thoughtful, accomplished woman who had brainpower to spare.  Who knew she also could give a really good speech?

Her remarks tonight cut through the standard political noise and presented a compelling overview of the world and America’s role in it — how American leadership makes a difference in staving off the forces of chaos and repression, how America serves as an inspiration for the oppressed, and how America must stand up for free people and free markets  And, she pointed out, America can only lead the world, as it must lead the world, if it is strong at home, economically and educationally, and true to its ideals of freedom and opportunity.

Rice delivers her remarks in measured tones, letting the force of her ideas and carefully chosen words have an increasingly powerful impact.  Her speech, available here, is well worth reading.

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“Rocking” The Convention

Mitch McConnell’s flaccid remarks at the open have set the tone so far tonight; it’s been a series of dull speeches — so dull that I’ve actually contemplated the less-than-crucial issue of political convention music.

Has there ever been any political convention musical performance that wasn’t instantly forgettable?  Earlier tonight, some aging rocker with an ’80s haircut and a leather jacket actually tried to perform something that sounded like a rock song.  Imagine, trying to perform a rock song under such circumstances!  An outsider, bad boy, anti-establishment musical form gets awkwardly transplanted into an event that is the essence of the establishment — it is called a convention, after all — and photos of some prancing rocker, jazz combo or hip hop band are intercut with the spastic swaying and fitful dance moves of the conventioneers.  And we learn that, however convention delegates are selected, it’s not for their dancing prowess.

It’s bad enough for those of us watching . . . imagine how unpleasant it must be for the performers.

Paul Ryan, Extremist

The big speech at the Republican Convention tonight will come from Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman who is Mitt Romney’s running mate.  For many people — including Kish and me — it will be the first time we get to see Ryan make a speech.

The speech will be important, because President Obama’s supporters are doing what they can to convince us that Ryan is a dangerous extremist, a fringe politician who wants to scalp the poor and enrich the wealthy, push granny off the cliff, eviscerate the social safety net, and  hurl the nation back into the dark ages.  Of course, that’s what modern politics is like — we can’t just respectfully disagree with someone, we have to try to depict them as the devil incarnate.

I’m skeptical about Ryan’s supposed extremism.  He’s fiscally conservative, sure, but no nut job Republican is going to elected repeatedly from a blue-collar district that favored President Obama over John McCain in 2008 — and that is exactly what Ryan has done, and in 2010 he got 68 percent of the vote.  I think we can trust the voters in Wisconsin congressional district number 1 to not repeatedly reelect a bomb-throwing nutcase.

Still, many Americans will form their first impression of Ryan tonight, which means he’ll never have a better opportunity to try to shrug off the extremist label.  As we all know, first impressions often can be lasting ones.

Incompetence, Squared

Think of every can-you-top-this story of bureaucratic incompetence that you have ever heard — and I read a story today that almost certainly beats it.

It happened in Cleveland, and it happened to a little boy getting ready to start kindergarten.  A letter from the Cleveland public school system told him to show up at an address four miles from his home on a particular date for the first day of school.  When he appeared at the designated time and location, he learned that it was the wrong day — in fact, school didn’t start until a week later.  What’s more, the school that formerly was found at the location wasn’t there any more — it had been demolished two years ago, leaving the little boy looking forlornly at a construction site.  And to top it all off, a telephone number provided in the letter for boy’s parents to call in case of a problem didn’t work.  The little boy was one of a number of students who received the same, inexcusable treatment.

The man who is CEO (CEO?) of the Cleveland public schools called the little boy’s family to apologize.  That’s to his credit, but he now should be spending his time trying to figure out how such a ludicrous combination of errors could possibly have occurred.  How could a notice letter have included the wrong date, the wrong address, a non-existent school, and a non-functional telephone number?  Doesn’t anyone in the Cleveland school system proofread important correspondence?  What does that tell you about their careful attention to their jobs?

Government types often wonder why so many people are so skeptical of government bureaucracies, their competence, and their responsiveness.  This story is one powerful reason.

Mitch Mush Mouth

We’re back in front of the TV and tuned in to C-SPAN for day two of the Republican National Convention.  We turned on the set and who is speaking?  Mitch McConnell.

Is there any more mush-mouthed, uninspiring speaker in national politics than Mitch McConnell?  Okay, I’ll give you Harry Reid — but short of that dreary measuring stick, McConnell is unparalleled.  Wooden, colorless, with mechanical gestures and monotone inflection, stale lines and lame jibes, McConnell can’t even get a rise out of the silly hat-wearing crowd in the convention facility.  He may well be a great tactical leader and parliamentarian who fits in well in the Senate club rooms, but he doesn’t belong on a podium speaking to a crowd, much less giving an address at a national political convention.

Mitch McConnell on the screen when we turn on the convention?  The Republicans are lucky we didn’t immediately turn the channel.

A Big Man Holds The Stage

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention last night.  I’ve read about Christie, and seen some snippets of him on the stump, but this was the first time I’ve watched him give a speech from beginning to end.  Kish and I both thought he did a fine job.

Christie really commands the stage — and not just because he is a big man, physically.  He uses hand gestures and facial expressions to good effect, and he also brings some force and emotion to his remarks.  When he talked about his parents, his family, his New Jersey roots, his pride in being elected governor of the state of his birth, and the promise of America, you sensed barely controlled passions lurking deep within that mighty frame.

In the speech we learned about Chris Christie, the person, and he touched the expected bases.  He’s proud of his parents and what they achieved through hard work.  He learned to be plain-spoken from his mother, who was the disciplinarian in the family.  He loves his kids, has coached their sports teams — there was a great moment when the camera captured one of his daughters as her Dad mentioned her name on national TV, and her face lit up with pleasure — and wants to give them an even better life than he has had.  To Kish and me, he came across as authentic, whether you agreed with him or not.

Christie’s speech then addressed big concepts, all tied to the theme of leadership.  He submits that leaders should seek respect, not love.  Being a leader is not a popularity contest.  We need someone who will make the hard decisions and face the hard truths — because the country can’t afford anything else. The math of federal spending doesn’t add up, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.  What matters is what we do now — and to make progress we need politicians who care more about doing something, and less about being something.  And leaders, he advised the President, don’t follow the polls, they change the polls.

Christie is confident that Americans will respond to such a leader.  They want honesty and truth and will endure shared sacrifice.  They will reward politicians who lead, not politicians who pander.  They want a better future for their families and a second American century where real American exceptionalism is not an empty political punch line.   He emphasized that the solutions to our current predicament will not be painless:  we all must share in the sacrifice, and anyone who says differently isn’t telling the truth.  Christie believes Mitt Romney will lead — tell the truth, confront the problems rather than passing them off to the next generation, and work to solve them in a bipartisan way.

After the speech was over, we heard pundit criticism that Christie didn’t mention Romney until well into his speech, or throw “red meat” to the partisan crowd by criticizing President Obama by name.  I disagree on both counts.  Christie was giving the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, not the Mitt Romney National Convention.  Such a speech should say what a political party stands for, not just tout the candidate.  Christie wanted to highlight his work and the work of other GOP governors (many of whom preceded him on the stage) who have balanced budgets and positioned their states for economic growth.  He wanted to convey that what Republicans have done at the state level can be done at the federal level, too.  As for the “red meat,” much of the speech was obviously directed at President Obama’s performance, whether Christie named him or not.  I, for one, appreciated that Christie refrained from cheap humor and cheap shots, and instead talked about Americans, our character, and what we must do to right the ship.

The risk for the GOP in Christie’s speech, I think, is precisely the fact that it addressed the big themes and, in so doing, made some big promises.  If you assume the mantle of hard truth-teller, and hard decision-maker, and purveyor of shared sacrifice, you’d better do your best to deliver on all counts.  If you don’t, you’re going to end up with voters who are as disillusioned and disappointed as many of those trusting folks who went all in for “hope and change” in 2008.

Artur Davis Raises The Speech Bar

The speeches at the Republican National Convention have gotten more compelling as the evening has worn on.

The story line behind the speech of Artur Davis is particularly interesting.  Davis is a Harvard-educated lawyer who served as a Democratic Congressman from Alabama for four terms.  He was one of the first significant politicians to endorse Barack Obama for the presidency, and he made one of the nominating speeches at the 2008 Democratic convention.  But Davis, a moderate, became concerned about the direction of the country under the President.  He voted against the Affordable Care Act — the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to do so — and then ran, unsuccessfully, for the Democratic nomination for the governorship of Alabama.

Davis later moved to Virginia, and began rethinking his political affiliations.  Tonight he came to the Republican convention and declared that he is a Republican . . . and then gave a speech about why he has changed his mind about who to support for the presidency.  With practiced cadence and strong imagery, Davis sought to rise above what he called the cacophony of angry voices and speak directly to those who are undecided, or wavering in their support for President Obama, and convince them to join him.

I’m not sure whether the comments of a person who has so recently changed parties will be persuasive — time will tell, I suppose — but Kish and I both thought it was the most interesting speech so far.