Making The World More Like The USA

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No greater reminder exists of how loathsome certain pockets of the USA can be than three straight nights of the Republican National Convention. It is an impressively dispiriting experience; like The Shire meets waterboarding.

I eschewed far more amusing evening pursuits over the last week in favour of sitting in front of CSPAN and watching a choreographed procession of middle-aged Americans talk about how the United States of America was the only country in which one had the right to freedom, prosperity and two scoops of ice cream.

Senator Marco Rubio — the man who introduced Romney and otherwise a thoroughly impressive speaker — was probably the convention’s most appalling proponent of American exceptionalism. He criticised Obama’s policies saying, "these are ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world instead of helping the rest of the world become more like America".

"We are special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, they come true here," he declared later.

The Mitt-ster himself even got involved with a confusingly contradictory sentiment: "I don’t doubt for a second that Neil Armstrong’s spirit is still with us: that unique blend of optimism, humility and the utter confidence that when the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American."

Naturally, every declaration was followed by a rousing standing ovation. If Paul Ryan had soiled himself onstage it would have received a standing ovation. It was that kind of week.

U-S-A!

American patriotism got a shot in the arm from the Olympics, so it was hard to blame them for a bit of obnoxious chanting when Michael Phelps was winning his 75th gold medal or whatever.

However, it has become apparent to me that the "U-S-A" chant is applied to any situation in which Americans wish to make noise in unison. It got an understandably solid workout during the RNC, but I’d heard it belted it out with just as much gusto recently during a birthday dinner at a Japanese restaurant (which called to mind this sitcom scene).

Delegates at the RNC were said to have used the chant when drowning out protestors, such as the enterprising young women who attempted to storm the stage dressed as vaginas (I know you’re going to click that link).

Some tried to mix it up. Several attempts at launching a "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt" chant were made throughout the convention; none of them caught on.

Clearly, the Republicans wanted their own "Yes We Can". It has an emphatic and infectious cadence that is hard to ignore. But until Mitt gets a memorable catch phrase, it looks like they’re stuck with "U-S-A".

Well, of course, we had it tough

Perhaps after reading my missive from last week claiming that Americans don’t like (or rather, won’t vote for) rich people anymore, the Republicans were falling over themselves trying to push their "raised in the ghetto" creds.

Ann Romney was the most notable in trying to distance herself from her private equity-infused lifestyle.

"I am the grandaughter of a Welsh coalminer," she declared. "He was determined that his kids get out of the mines."

Later, she went on: "Our dining room table was a fold-down ironing board in the kitchen. But those were the best days."

The comparisons to Monty Python’s "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch ("oh, we used to dream of living in a corridor!") were almost too easy.

Both Romneys tactically avoided mentioning the words "Bain Capital" at any point. Ann referred to it throughout her speech as "my husband’s business", as if it were a hardware store. Mitt himself said "When I was 37, I helped start a small company."

As has been widely-documented, the initial funding for this "small company" in 1984 amounted to $37 million (around $82m in today’s money). Times were tough. But you try telling the kids today that; they won’t believe you.

Making Signs; Creating Jobs.

Romney’s main pitch was jobs. Lots of them. Out of Romney’s 40 minutes onstage, one line was the most effective and representative:

"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family." Cue ovation.

A friend this week told me a story. He used to own a signmaking business, and one of his biggest clients in the early 90s was K-B Toys. This was the Starbucks of toy stores at its peak, with 605 locations across the country.

In 2000, the company was purchased by Bain Capital. It entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004, closing 365 stores in the process. It was fully liquidated in 2008.

Naturally, my friend lost his biggest client. He’s not especially bitter, he knows Mitt Romney didn’t invent capitalism, but he’s a trifle incredulous when he sees Romney stand up and say he’s going to bring 12 million jobs to America. "What does that guy know about creating jobs?"

Mitt and his party made a reasonably effective case against Obama this week. To most of the nation, he has been a disappointment. What the Republicans haven’t done is convince America they’d do better.

Article of the Week

David Brooks’ excoriating and infinitely quotable op-ed on "The Real Romney" from the New York Times.

Election video(s) of the week

How can people who make a living out of public speaking be so unforgivably bad at telling jokes? And if you missed it, Clint Eastwood’s unforgettable debate with invisible President Obama.

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