Governor Romney today took some time from his day to day politicking to deliver an “economic freedom” speech. This was, by almost any measure, a good speech. It allows Romney to be in his comfort zone, to provide a clear contrast and a “general election” narrative to all and sundry of his primary opponents and to the President. (Which is also why I assume he found time to fit an “Israel vs. Egypt” reference into an econ speech. Never too early to focus on South Florida.)
Without further ado, what I liked:
Romney in the Zone; in Command; Controlling Message
This was crisp and it was clear. Romney has a point of view (there’s no obfuscation here as to what he “really” believes or how he might “really” govern) and it’s backed up by four decades of adult life choices. Further, he’s enjoyed some real, well earned successes (no matter your political persuasion).
It also allows him to get away from discussing health care and anything social issues related, which both from a GOP primary and general election standpoint are probably not the best places he should be. There’s no getting away from it totally, and in a general, he probably gains some moderates & independents on certain social issues, but it’s not where he should be focused.
As well, Governor Romney exudes confidence and control – i.e., he seems presidential – when he gets talking economics. As a non-incumbent running with no federal elected experience, he can claim zero hands on foreign policy knowledge (sans whatever overseas trips he led as governor). He can’t be surefooted on it, because he’s got no exposure. Not so on the economy.
Good, clear examples
Romney has the best research operation of any GOP campaign and if nominated, it will rival the Axelrod-Plouffe juggernaut (I figure if David Axelrod gets to use German military symbolism, I can too. Not, for the record, that I found Mittzkrieg offensive. “Blitz” has been used in politics a long time, and I don’t think Ax meant this in a Nazi way.) He used that staff to good effect here.
His EPA anecdote – especially the part about no recourse in the courts – will surely send conservative activists already agog, post Kelo, at what the courts are doing on their own, into spasms. That’s good for “moderate Mitt” – he needs the conservative base incensed, and excited about him (or about defeating the President). It will also play well with moderates.
His St. Louis guitar amplifier story was also good, but could’ve packed more punch.
The small research bits – that Dodd-Frank is 848 pages, that there are 140,000 more federal employees under the Obama administration, really helped burnish the thrust of Romney’s narrative.
Romney gets hit as being too stiff, and not at all funny, which is a bit unfair. He can be – and has been – good with zingers, especially off the cuff ones where he isn’t over-prepped (One was tweeted earlier. A young woman told Romney that free birth control was something she’d really like. He responded “Vote for the other guy,” presumably meaning President Obama. We doubt she’d have any better luck with Mr. Santorum on this). In any case, it’s even harder to be funny when talking economic policy. But the Milton Friedman anecdote about spoons vs. shovels was both legitimately funny (in a wonky, policy type way) and also a political and philosophical mile marker.
Quoting Will Rogers – and not the “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government & report the facts” line – but Congress is like a baby with a hammer line was funny, and also had a point. But more subtly, it pivoted the attacks off President Obama and onto the Congress, allowing Romney to also run against Harry Reid & Nancy Pelosi should he get the nomination.
Again, for a guy who gets hit as being uninspiring, or mediocre, there were some very, very solidly crafted lines here.
My favorite: “We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can’t even build a pipeline.”
Also, this: “And nothing is more fragile than a dream. It is essential to the genius of America that we have developed a culture that nurtures these dreams and dreamers, that honors them and, yes, rewards them.”
What I didn’t like:
These will seem perhaps like nitpicks, but I think they could have kicked the speech from good to great.
Skip the intro
For a guy already being billed as not a great speaker, the less boring introductions with platitudes of thank yous and acknowledgements the better. He could’ve given the first paragraph all the way at the end. Especially as his opening anecdote was about Friedman. How much more homage do you need at University of Chicago?
Tighter connections between facts and conclusions
The aforementioned admittedly great research team could’ve helped plug a few holes here (they may have done this in a backup document distributed to reporters; if so, apologies). Namely, exactly how did the Founders envision economic freedom? It’s not actually in the constitution, unless his argument is that’s “pursuit of happiness.” If so, it could’ve been said more clearly.
I’d have liked more detail on this St. Louis guitar amplifier story as well.
Romney says 140,000 new federal employees. First, how many of these are these defense/national security related? Second, he states regulators are sprouting up like rabbits (By the way, something else I didn’t like. Really need a better metaphor than bunnies. Though it was far superior to Bibi Netanyahu’s “nuclear duck” reference.) and then says there are 140,000 more federal employees. Surely not all 140,000 are regulators. And if they are, wow, say so!
More policy specifics
I know it’s still early in the campaign, but it’d be nice to hear him flesh out at least a few of these policy ideas, rather than just talking vaguely about lower taxes, less regulation, more freedom.
But as I said, overall, this was really good. If he keeps at it like this, I think we have a race on our hands.
Howie Beigelman, now a corporate communications pro for a Fortune 500 enterprise blogs about political speech in his spare time @speechifying.com. He is an ex-politico and former director of state advocacy for a national nonprofit and also served on the communications staff of a big state governor. He has testified before legislatures and executive branch agencies numerous times and has been published and quoted in newspapers of record across the country.