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January 11, 2012 10:35 AM A tale of two speeches

By Steve Benen

After watching Mitt Romney’s speech in New Hampshire last night, I went back and watched Barack Obama’s speech in New Hampshire, delivered almost exactly four years ago. The contrast told me quite a bit about the two candidates.

Obama, who’d just lost to Hillary Clinton in an upset, delivered his “Yes We Can” speech. It made literally no mention of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, literally no mention of those seeking the GOP nomination, and it referenced Republicans only twice — each time to highlight the fact that Obama was prepared to work with anyone, regardless of party. In the same speech, then-candidate Obama looked at his competitors and said, “All of the candidates in this race have good ideas and all are patriots who serve this country honorably.” He also shared a vision, which included ending the war in Iraq and reforming the nation’s health care system.

Romney, with the benefit of a teleprompter, delivered a very different kind of speech last night. Within seconds of thanking his supporters, Romney began a lengthy condemnation of the president, who, along with “some desperate Republicans,” wants to “put free enterprise on trial.”

After mocking the president’s “lofty promises,” Romney also proclaimed last night:

“Our campaign is about more than replacing a president; it is about saving the soul of America.”

First, I’d prefer that pandering politicians leave our soul alone. Second, “saving the soul of America” sounds a little “lofty” to me.

And how, exactly, does Romney intend to save the American soul? As it turns out, he never quite got around to that. And that’s part of the problem I have with his candidacy.

It occurred to me, watching the guy deliver a series of cheap attacks that I doubt even he believes, that Romney has been running for president for more than five years straight, and I still have no idea why he wants the job or what he intends to do with these awesome responsibilities.

The Monthly has a terrific cover package in the new issue on what Americans could expect from a Republican administration in 2013, and it tells us a great deal about how the nation would change, but I’ve been kicking around a slightly different question: Why does Romney want the presidency?

I understand that he’d like power. I also understand that he might even feel entitled to it. In Romney’s mind, it’s likely his “turn” to be president, and if he can demonstrate his contempt and disgust for Obama to the satisfaction of his party, Romney seems to believe that should be enough.

But is it? Ask yourself: after five years of national campaigning, can you say what he strives to do as the leader of the free world? What grand vision he’ll pursue to “save the soul of America”?

“Repeal Obamacare” isn’t an answer, so much as it’s a negation of recent progress. “Create jobs” is a worthwhile goal, but it’s a vague platitude. Romney’s speech last night, and indeed all of his recent speeches, tell us practically nothing. We know Romney has an odd hang-up about Europe, and that he’s comfortable lying with a straight face about the president, but ultimately his agenda is thin and his vision is … small.

A combination of tax breaks for the wealthy, free rein for Wall Street, and less health care coverage for millions of middle-class Americans does not a saved soul make.

As the general election phase gets underway, I’m hoping Romney can start telling the nation less about how much he detests President Obama and more about what he’d do if he replaces President Obama.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • stormskies on January 11, 2012 10:44 AM:

    You said it yourself Steve:

    "What, after all, is the Romney agenda? Tax cuts for the wealthy, replacing Medicare with a voucher scheme, privatizing Social Security, taking away health care coverage from millions, letting Wall Street do as it pleases, a more right-wing federal judiciary, slashing public investments that benefit working families, more foreclosures, and of all things, tax increases on those already struggling."

    And let's add to this recreating the neocon approach to foreign policy, and the elimination the the EPA. And let's add to this the removal of the minimum wage, and all child labor laws. And to this let's add removing the re-regulation of the financial industry.

    And then let's ask the question is this what the majority of Americans want, and will vote for. If this answer is yes then we have much more severe problems in our country than most of us realize.

  • g on January 11, 2012 10:47 AM:

    It's simple, Steve. An optimistic, non-divisive Romney is going to bring America back together in a positive way to work on solutions to solve its problems. Just after he gets that Muslim-European class-warfarin' Socialist Elitist who poses the greatest threat to our exceptional nation in its glorious history, out of the White House.

  • Josef K on January 11, 2012 10:49 AM:

    And how, exactly, does Romney intend to save the American soul? As it turns out, he never quite got around to that. And thats part of the problem I have with his candidacy.

    The man's a walking catastrophe as both a candidate and a human being. And, like Steve, don't really understand why he's subjecting himself (and the rest of us) to this. Perhaps Willard doesn't know the answer himself. Such willful ignorance wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

  • c u n d gulag on January 11, 2012 10:51 AM:

    I guess you 'save America's soul' by electing a lying, flip-flopping cyborg who'll help lop off it's head, and then cut-out its heart.

    Things we know as education for people, and any safety nets that are still around that prevent ALL of the f'in money in the country from ending up in the pockets of soulless plutocrat's and oligarch's like Mitt 3.0 and cronies.

    That's what he means by 'saving America's soul' - by selling it to the Company Store.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 11, 2012 10:51 AM:

    G beat me to it . To get the black, black, blackity blackity black guy out of the white house and return it to white guys.
    That my friends is enough for the Republicans as a platform.
    The house members have told us that is their mission.
    Good enough for me sez Willard.

  • Okie on January 11, 2012 10:52 AM:

    Mitt has Daddy issues.

  • hells littlest angel on January 11, 2012 10:53 AM:

    It's just a reboot of Pat Buchanan's 1992 "cultural war" bullshit. Just take heart in knowing we'll never again have to hear from this jerkoff after his November concession speech.

  • Grumpy on January 11, 2012 10:56 AM:

    And how, exactly, does Romney intend to save the American soul?

    By moving America forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom!

  • walt on January 11, 2012 10:58 AM:

    You have to be a little bit crazy to want to be president, particularly in these times. Mitt's lunacy is fairly simple: win, win, win! Because that's what winners do.

    This is a variant on an old theme: weaving a net to catch the wind. Mitt doesn't waste time thinking about anything other than being a winner. If he did, he wouldn't be one in the first place. The lack of self-awareness in this man may not be astonishing but it is disturbing.

  • karen on January 11, 2012 10:58 AM:

    As Gertrude Stein said, there's no there there. So of course, there's no vision.

  • RalfW on January 11, 2012 11:06 AM:

    We know Romney has an odd hang-up about Europe

    This may border on psychological mumbo-jumbo, but since the question at hand is what drives Mitt Romney, I find myself wondering if any reporters have gone over and tried to find out how Mitt's mission trip to France went?

    Is his odd scorn for Europe based on a bad two years witnessing for the Book of Mormon? I mean, I can't imagine it would have gone all that well, seeing as how France is both very Catholic and not very observant about it.

    More likely, bashing Europe scores well in focus groups of likely GOP voters, but maybe Mitt is working off an old, old tape in his head.

  • coonsey on January 11, 2012 11:07 AM:

    He is the one the has been running on BITTER ENVY....Envy of anyone that's been President of United States. It's the ONE thing he's never had in life....

  • homerhk on January 11, 2012 11:09 AM:

    I haven't read Romney's speech yet but just re-reading President Obama's speech made me remember how good that speech was. And it also puts into stark relief the things he has actually achieved compared to what he promised. Go down the list: healthcare - done; and note that he all but promises that everyone will get a seat at the table (including drug companies) but that no-one gets the buy all the chairs; ending tax breaks for corporation - man he's been trying to do that all his term (and btw have you noticed the republicans talking about corporate subsidies as well?); ending the war in Iraq and finishing the job in Afghanistan/against Al-Qaeda - need I say more?; and this one in particular: "And we will never use 9/11 as a way to scare up votes, because it is not a tactic to win an election. It is a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear weapons, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease." - all of which is pretty much the case or at least in process. I don't recall any instance of President Obama using 9/11 as a scare tactic.

    What hasn't been achieved is unfortunately something that was at the heart of his campaign, to wit: "Democrats, independents and Republicans who are tired of the division and distraction that has clouded Washington, who know that we can disagree without being disagreeable, who understand that, if we mobilize our voices to challenge the money and influence that stood in our way and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there is no problem we cannot solve, there is no destiny that we cannot fulfill. ". IN my view as a non-American; the majority of voters that supported Obama completely ignored this consistent line throughout his campaign and when he became President it was only about him and his "failure" to press on with his promises. the mobilized voices I'm afraid were only mobilized to cry in unison about what a disappointment this President was despite the fact that he, basically, has fulfilled the majority of his signature promises. I really - still - have a hard time understanding this.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 11, 2012 11:11 AM:

    hla: Just take heart in knowing we'll never again have to hear from this jerkoff after his November concession speech.

    I sure as hell hope this would be the case. Mitt doesn't strike me as someone who knows when to gracefully excuse himself. I have an itchy feeling that Mittbot is going to be the permanent candidate for something or another in the future. If the man can't figure out what the hell he's doing here in the first place, I doubt he'll figure out why he should expedite his own egress from the national stage of politics.

  • c u n d gulag on January 11, 2012 11:14 AM:

    When Mitt says the word "soul," people should be throwing-up from laughter.

    And that includes the MSM.

    What could a soulless, plutocratic, loves-to-fire-people, cyborg know about souls?

    But, no - that would be shrill.

    Speaking of soulless cyborgs, CRAPTCHA...

  • John E on January 11, 2012 11:19 AM:

    Romney never struck me as someone to be that worried about. I would support Obama no matter what, but wouldn't be totally freaked out about a possible Romney presidency as I would say a Santorum or Perry presidency.

    But after reading this it really made me think of Dubya in 2000. Another rich guy empty suit, who really didn't seem to have a rationale for why he wanted to be President (other than the whole psychobabble with him and his father). And his platform was tax cuts and restoring "honor" to White House and the military after those "horrible Clinton years." Sounds a lot like the Romney campaign, doesn't it? The empty suit candidate may be more worrisome.

  • Perspecticus on January 11, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Like the bit about Obama being a pessimistic president, this line:

    "Our campaign is about more than replacing a president; it is about saving the soul of America.

    is also directly from a campaign ad he has been running in Massachusetts for the past few weeks.

  • Mustang Bobby on January 11, 2012 11:23 AM:

    Aside from the lies and vindictive tone of Mr. Romney's speech, I heard an echo of a previous candidate who dished out nostrums and empty statements of the obvious such as "You know that your future is still ahead of you."

    Mitt Romney is Tom Dewey 2.0.

  • lou on January 11, 2012 11:25 AM:

    You'd probably have to look deeper into the father/son relationship (similar to pappy and slappy Bush) to get to the heart of why.

    I have never heard so much bullshit in one speech as that one from Romney last night. Very disheartening but also inspiring from the standpoint of making me want to help Obama more (like what happened after that Palin speech at the 2008 GOP convention) ... and in the sad event Romney would get elected -- taking to the streets!

  • Josef K on January 11, 2012 11:25 AM:

    Building on a post from last week, does last night's speech tell us anything about how President Romney (and let's not kid ourselves, its possible he'll win in November) would govern?

    He's proving long on rhetoric, but short on actual policy, at least for the moment. If anything he's sounding a lot like W, particularly when you consider the religious imagery he's using. His speech sounds like a call for a new Crusade, except he'll have the tools in the recently signed NDAA to work with.

    Nervous yet?

  • filkertom on January 11, 2012 11:33 AM:

    I'm afraid I agree with Sgt. Gym Bunny. Three years after McCain's convention speech, I don't even know how many years after Lieberman's various concession speeches, and we still can't get rid of them.

    Being a Republican jerkwad. It's not just a job -- it's a career.

  • Anonymous on January 11, 2012 11:43 AM:

    Josef K: If anything he's sounding a lot like W, particularly when you consider the religious imagery he's using. His speech sounds like a call for a new Crusade, except he'll have the tools in the recently signed NDAA to work with.

    Do you really think that W. cared whether he had legislatively created "tools"? When the Republicans take power, they have tools. (Think Rumsfeld, Gonzales ...)

  • exlibra on January 11, 2012 11:44 AM:

    Im hoping Romney can start telling the nation [...] more about what hed do if he replaces President Obama. -- Steve Benen

    How can he? I doubt he has any idea. *Getting* there, not *being* there, is the beginning and the end of his ambition.

    Reminds me of what an ex-student (ESL) once told me about the Japanese educational system: it's very difficult to get accepted to a university -- you have to slog for years, beginning with pre-kindergarten -- but, once there, it's a piece of cake; party time all around.

  • anniecat45 on January 11, 2012 11:46 AM:

    "Mitt is proving long on rhetoric but short on policy"

    Well, maybe this is because the goals set out in his rhetoric cannot be achieved through any action a President or legislature could take.

    Example: saving America's soul. How do you legislate that? What would the bill look like? Forget even considering whether it would pass. A bill to save America's soul COULD NOT BE WRITTEN. Ditto "family values" -- no matter how you define them, you can't legislate them.

    This is true of a lot of right-wing rhetoric and has been for years -- they can articulat their dreams but not how government could achieve most of them.

    I really wish some of the so-called reporters in the MSM would ask some right wing candidates the follow-up question, "how do you legislate that?"

  • SYSPROG on January 11, 2012 11:48 AM:

    Yep...'the politics of ENVY'...how about the politics of FEAR? You guys are just JEALOUS that I'm such a sanctimonious peckerhead...follow me. Yes, Mitt. SHOW US YOUR PLATFORM!

  • j on January 11, 2012 11:59 AM:

    Vanity Fair has a lengthy article online today, parts of it are downright creepy! (about Romney)

  • docdave on January 11, 2012 12:09 PM:

    Why is Romney running for president?

    Perhaps for the same reasons that motivated George H.W. Bush, which came down to a modest amount of ambition, a sense of civic duty (just shy of noblesse oblige, thank you very much)and a willingness to listen to influential friends who encouraged him to run because they wanted Their Guy in the Oval Office. As a candidate, I hope that he cringed at some of the things he was expected to spout about his opponents (although "voodoo economics" was spot on). I'd like to think the same about Romney, but he sounds like he believes the prevarications, mischaracterizations and statistics in his scripts.

    At some point after the campaign is over, Romney may be gracious or conscious enough do distance himself from the rot he's pushing now. He might do well, while looking for excuses, to recall an observation from Heinlein's Methuselah's Children:

    'The Almighty,' he explained, 'finds it necessary to do things in His official and public capacity which in His private and personal capacity He deplores.'

  • SoulSavior on January 11, 2012 12:11 PM:

    I am 100% behind Mr. Romney's stated objective of saving the soul of America!!!

    However...

    I do not see any credibility in a Mormon calling for the forced conversion of all Americans to Southern Baptist.

    For that, we need to draft Reverend Mike Hucklebee.

  • cj on January 11, 2012 12:11 PM:

    The phrase "save the soul of America" is lifted from Martin Luther King's speeches. It may be the same phrase but these two speakers mean something very different.
    King saw his purpose as to redeem America's soul from the sin of racism, slavery and impoverishment. It was to rescue the lost soul and lift him up again.
    Mitt's apparent purpose is to redeem us from socialism, Euro-centrism, anti-capitalism, and maybe more, if we can ever get him to say what. The problem is that Mitt's idea of our sins has no rational basis - he made it up.
    King wanted to get us back to our ideals after we had betrayed them, Mitt wants us give up our ideals like peaceful cooperation, equality, common prosperity and justice so that his other "people" can reach their ultimate destiny: unlimited wealth.
    I couldn't think of a greater contrast between two men.

  • Reality Check on January 11, 2012 12:17 PM:

    I stumbled across this website moments ago and simply can't stop laughing. First I notice how the editors censor each comment posted and then, even more laughable and ridiculous, they simply shut off comments when the feedback is more than they can handle. Priceless. Enjoy your little crock of crap website and your elitist editing. You personify why the left-wing is so out of touch, so banal, so blindly-loyal, and so brain-dead. Not that this comment will ever see the light of day. If you can't handle the heat, shut down the website.

  • John Dillinger on January 11, 2012 12:21 PM:

    The thing is, Romney can't come across this way during the general election, and particularly at the debates. And when he stops talking these ways, the tea party types are going to conclude he didn't mean it, he's a "RINO," he's just like McCain, and they once again have been sold down the river by the Republican party.

  • Anonymous on January 11, 2012 12:22 PM:

    Reality Check, to quote a great person (me, actually), "you sound like a tool."

  • Highguy on January 11, 2012 12:47 PM:

    Mitt Romney wanting to save the soul of America brings to mind the Mormon Church wanting to save the souls of Holocaust victims.

    That's just so gosh darn swell.

  • Kane on January 11, 2012 12:56 PM:

    Romney's odd hang-up with Europe appears to be more of an attempt to protect his flank for roaming off to France during the Vietnam war and to protect himself against charges that he's a wine-drinking, French-speaking Massachusetts moderate elitist.

  • SadOldVet on January 11, 2012 1:02 PM:

    re Anonymous...

    Be kind and provide options! As I regularly tell my friends who forward emails that are hateful or full of easily disproven lies; they are either fools or tools.

  • Quaker in a Basement on January 11, 2012 1:10 PM:

    Im hoping Romney can start telling the nation less about how much he detests President Obama and more about what hed do if he replaces President Obama.

    And I, crazy optimist that I am, am hoping that some enterprising member of our press corps will ask him to do so.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on January 11, 2012 1:10 PM:

    This point might have been made already (don't have time to read all the comments) but four years of a Romney presidency combined with republican control of both houses of Congress by this crew might finally finish off the party, although the damage they might do to the judiciary branch in that period is frightening to contemplate.

    But that's what I thought back in 2008 after 8 years of Bush, four years of it with both houses in republican hands, and we see how that turned out.

  • Grumpy on January 11, 2012 1:14 PM:

    "...it is about saving the soul of America.

    In that case, let's re-elect Obama and then save America's soul at some later date with a retroactive Mormon baptism. It's a win-win!

  • jjm on January 11, 2012 1:19 PM:

    "Saving the soul of America"???!!!

    That's his mission: convert us all to Mormonism!!! He gave himself away!

  • E.Hatt-Swank on January 11, 2012 1:50 PM:

    Lots of excellent points above. Romney's speech struck me as being largely devoid of substance, lots of empty platitudes, etc -- but slickly delivered, probably effective for the "low-information" voter.

    One thing that jumped out was when he accused Obama of presiding over "the worst recovery since the Great Depression". I thought that was very telling and a hopeful sign for Obama's re-election. I have gotten so used to right-wingers calling it "Obama's recession" or just plain denying that there is any recovery happening, that Romney's phrasing surprised me. It suggests that the recovery has progressed far enough, and improved its pace enough, that even Obama's main opponent can no longer deny it. Obama's campaign team must be pleased with that.

  • just bill on January 11, 2012 2:46 PM:

    stumbled across the website and already knows that every comment is censored by the editors. man, what a fucking genius. oh, right, what a fucking asshole. go away troll.

  • Rick B on January 11, 2012 2:58 PM:

    Good post and extremely good comments.

    @Josef K - If you want to know how Romney would govern, remember that Bush turned government over to Cheney who selected all the political appointees and made the major decisions for Bush. Only this year there are no semi-adult Republicans still in politics to choose for the Beige Book positions. We'd see a lot of Allen Wests and Rick Santorums being appointed.

    @anniecat45 - Mitt is long on verbage but short on policy because if he were honest about the policies he wants to implement he'd scare the electorate to death. As long as he's not honest he is running with a wink-and-a-nod towards the right wing crazies who mostly recognize the scam he is pulling.

  • jjm on January 11, 2012 4:16 PM:

    And don't forget that Mitt has a known war criminal on his foreign policy advisory staff.

    I still want to know how George, his father, got away with running for president when he was BORN ON FOREIGN SOIL?????? Anyone? I don't remember that even being an issue then...WHY?

  • justaguy2 on January 11, 2012 7:03 PM:

    Mitt has a bad case of POTUS envy.

    Mitt has been running for president for like forever. He is closer and has more money behind him than ever before. He will say anything that his handlers write for him. He is not an idea guy any more than your evening news anchorman.

    But he goes along with this strategy of trashing Obama because he really does hate him. He has the job and Mitt wants it. But he isn't going to win it with ideas. He has none of his own.

  • Texas Aggie on January 11, 2012 10:55 PM:

    no idea why he wants the job

    For a similar reason that W wanted it. Because he wants to prove that he's better than his dad even though he knows in his heart of hearts that he isn't and never will be half the man his father was.

  • Sensible Missourian on January 12, 2012 12:53 PM:

    Mitt is just sad. I worked in the corporate world for 15 years. These douchebags don't create anything- let alone jobs. They just move money and people around like pawns in a big shell game. I don't "envy" this dirt bag or anything he does in "quiet rooms" when he discusses his $250 million. He has way outlived his 15 minutes of fame and he needs to fade away like the latest American Idol "has been"...

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