Before she took the podium at last night’s Republican National Convention in Tampa I had no idea what Ann Romney’s voice sounded like. But her legend loomed so large that I was prepared to love whatever came out of her mouth. Not because our political ideologies are perfectly aligned, but because I respect any woman who can survive MS, breast cancer, motherhood to five boys and marriage to a freeze-dried husband while maintaining the kind of warmth, charm and sparkle that are the stuff of a political operative’s dreams.
The breathless TV commentary about what an accomplished public speaker she was only added to my anticipation, so much so that by the time the sun to Mitt’s moon finally rose in a vibrant-yet-safe Oscar de la Renta dress, I was a goner.
And can we talk about that dress?!
The unmistakable shade of American flag red simultaneously referenced Old Glory, the States Mitt is counting on to catapult him into the Oval Office and Ann’s allegiance to the “This is our country” (her words, not mine) brigade who don’t need no stinkin’ birth certificates (my words, not hers) to know that this is the place where [they] were born and raised (Mitt’s words, not Ann’s). The belted waist and pouf skirt played up Ann’s girlish figure, while the slightly popped collar said “Don’t mess with Mama.” Her three-quarter length sleeves were a modern touch that playfully mimicked Mitt’s let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves-and-and-fix-this-broken-economy message. But the coup de grâce of Ann’s wardrobe choice was that it made her look like a giant walking/talking heart: the very personification of the valentine she’d come to deliver to her sweetheart of 47 years. And boy did she deliver.
“Tonight, I want to talk to you about love. I want to talk to you about the deep and abiding love I have for a man I met at a dance many years ago.”
Oh, this was gonna’ be good!
Not only did Annie get her gun, but she obviously came locked and loaded. The first shot was a clean hit. Sucker that I am for a good love story I could feel myself melting into my sofa for what was destined to be a Lifetime Television for Women moment in high-definition and surround sound. Sure, the hand over her heart as she counted the ways in which her one true love was such a great catch seemed a bit studied, but the heart is such a funny muscle. Who was I to judge? That is, until Ann struck a note that was so glaringly false that I was shaken from my reverie and badly stirred.
Near the midpoint of her speech— after recalling why she fell in love with the guy who was tall, laughed a lot, nervous (which, according to Ann, girls like because “it shows the guy’s a little intimidated”) and nice to her parents, albeit happy when they were gone— Ann divulged, “Some of you might not know it, but I am the granddaughter of a Welsh coal miner.”
The revelation came out of left field and had nothing to do with the love story that preceded it. Instead, it was an obvious, if awkward, attempt to quell the class warfare that’s been threatening to topple Romney’s presidential aspirations ever since last winter when he revealed that his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs”. Suddenly, Mitt’s better half’s pandering felt as cold and calculating as her husband’s wooden affect. My antenna went from sleep mode to overdrive in a millisecond.
I think it bears noting here that I have never been one to hold the Romney’s financial fortune against them. As far as I’m concerned, anyone willing to devote the time, energy and focus necessary to build their personal capital within the parameters of the law deserves my Good For You seal of approval. By the same token, when a woman like Ann Romney waxes on about the travails of working moms, young couples who are strapped for cash or “that price at the pump that you can’t believe” as if she could possibly feel their pain I find it grating. She may have had me with her brilliant opening line of “I want to talk not about what divides us, but what holds us together as an American family”, but by the time she squealed “I have been all across this country and I know a lot of you guys!” she lost me.
Once the scales fell from my eyes all that remained was an avatar for Fitzgerald’s “The Rich Boy” in a pretty designer dress.
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
What I have come to understand about Mitt Romney is that he suffers from rich-kid syndrome. Not all children born to parents of means are necessarily afflicted, but those who are tend to grow up thinking they have the most charming, scintillating, dynamic (pick an adjective, any adjective) personalities based on the way the world responds to them– while the sad truth is that many people’s motives for seeking a rich kid’s (RK) company in the first place may be attributable to what my friend Rick refers to as the RK’s PhD: Papa Has Dough.
Mitt Romney’s PhD explains his ability to make friends in spite of his mean-spirited and well-documented “pranks” as a young boy. It explains how he might have successfully juggled the demands of being the sole-breadwinner in a family of seven without missing a step on the corporate ladder, nor losing his mind, as a very young man. And it certainly explains his audacity to run for a public office— which demands not only capability, but equal doses of likability and transparency— in spite of the fact that the biggest task facing his handlers just two months shy of Election Day is to “humanize” their candidate.Who, but a PhD could be so oblivious to why he has risen so far so fast? And who, but a PhD could think that viewers like me would fall the stunt that passed for coalition building on stage last night? Again, it is not the privilege that I find objectionable, but Mitt’s ignorance of how far that privilege has taken him in life as well the divide this creates between himself and 99% of the electorate.
Sadly, after last night’s performance I now believe Ann is cut from the same boring cloth.Given the media hype surrounding her alleged ability to connect with and move people with her words, I was expecting the second coming of Michelle Obama. But whereas our First Lady’s words have always struck me as compelling because they are borne of multi-dimensional life experiences, Ann struck as more of a one trick pony who is probably blind to the possibility that the only reason she even has an audience is due to her proximity to power. As she spoke, I was reminded of the beauty queen who is allowed to babble on ad nauseum about nothing as a young woman, captivating a room in the process, who then goes on to use the same social crutches that sustained her 23-year-old self in spite of the fact that she is now a 63-year-old woman. What likely passed for cute in the former— the wide-eyed, innocent who giggles apropos of nothing while cultivating a hyper-excitement over life— is damned annoying in the latter. It also leads me to regard Ann less as the everywoman and more the perfect compliment to her Tin Man of a spouse. In spite of the hundred-and-one points of commonality which should have made it easy to embrace her as a sister, last night’s speech only cemented Ann Romney’s status in my mind as the Petrified Wife.
That said, I get why her speech would be a triumph to women across the country. She hit all the right woman-to-woman notes: as did Sarah Palin four years ago. She twinkled in the bright lights: just like Sarah did. And as a mother of five who could honestly attest to the desperation of “long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once” her bonafides are indisputable.But Ann also shares Sarah’s utter lack of gravitas. Not to mention an arrogance that can only be born of delusion or extreme privilege. To her credit, I don’t think Ann Romney is delusional. But there’s no getting around the fact that she is very different. And that’s a real shame, because she was the Republican ticket’s best and last hope to prove that Mitt Romney is just like you and me.
I may have tuned into the Convention thinking “Go, Baby, Go!”, but by the time I clicked the remote and went to bed I was Gone, Baby, Gone!… in more ways than one.