You are on page 1of 2

The founders' divine small business dream: the cliches of GOP conventio...

http://news.yahoo.com/the-founders--divine-small-business-dream--the-c...

YAHOO! NEWS

The founders' divine small business dream: the cliches of GOP convention speeches
Wed, Aug 29, 2012

Virtually all politicians reside in a rhetorical world filled with rote phrases, inescapable clichs, predictable metaphors and patriotic myths. Democrats, for example, cannot order a cup of coffee without including a paean to working families. Republicans favor the kind of oratory that could have been lifted from a local Chamber of Commerce luncheon in 1958. These verbal tics are particularly pronounced at political conventions with their non-stop speechmaking. They came through loud and clear amid the locked-and-loaded logorrhea of the opening-night festivities in Tampa. Reading the texts of the major Tuesday night speeches in the day-after sunlight is a way to clearly identify the belief structures that animate the GOP. So here are the Republicans on the tropes: Republican convention speakers like to affirm their close personal relationship with the Founding Fathers. Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz declared, The Framers understood that our rights come, not from monarchs, but from God -- and that those rights are secure only when government power is restrained. That is a defensible statement as long as you ignore the vague deism of men like James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, and the awkward reality that the document was written to replace a weak central government under the Articles of Confederation. In his keynote speech, Chris Christie offered a slightly different take on constitutional history: Our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to know that social acceptance and popularity is fleeting and that this country's principles needed to be rooted in strengths greater than the passions and emotions of the times. It is an odd bit of rhetoric since Christie seems to be saying that the men at Valley Forge in 1777 and in Philadelphia in 1787 made decisions without consulting the polls or focus groups. That is indeed historically true, and shockingly enough they also secured Americas independence without Twitter and Facebook. Invoking the nations foundation myth is, of course, a time-honored part of political rhetoric. Abraham Lincolns four score and seven years ago referred to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But contemporary Republicans display a conspicuous need to connect concepts as varied as Super PACs and supermarket prices to their unique pipeline into the hopes and dreams of the Founding Fathers. Some of this may be rooted in the GOPs refrain since the 1960s that activist judges are undermining the Constitution. But the major cause, I suspect, is the need of desperate speechwriters to cloak their sentiments in an aura of authority and it is hard to beat God and the Founding Fathers. Even if Mitt Romneys hard-scrabble childhood wasnt played out in the upper echelons of Detroits 1950s car world and at an elite prep school, Republican orators probably still would have gone the extra mile and the extra dollar to prove that they were not the party of the rich. But reflecting the Bain migraine and disproportionately white complexion of the partys political base, the Tuesday night speeches sounded like they were all part of an oratorical contest sponsored by the Horatio Alger Memorial Society. The Republican Party is, admittedly, blessed with a few major political figures whose backgrounds reflect a unique

1 of 2

8/31/2012 11:43 AM

The founders' divine small business dream: the cliches of GOP conventio...

http://news.yahoo.com/the-founders--divine-small-business-dream--the-c...

pilgrimage rather than ancestors who gave over with the Pilgrims. A prime example is South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who introduced herself Tuesday night by saying, I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who reminded my brothers, my sister and me every single day how blessed we were to live in this country. But the humble boasting extended to virtually all the convention speakers. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell conjured up the American Dream as he said, The dream led my grandfather, a poor farm boy, to leave Ireland 100 years ago and come to Ellis Island to begin his journey of freedom. Rick Santorum proudly announced that when his grandfather arrived in 1923, he didnt come here for some government guarantee of income equality or government benefits to take care of his family. And Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada, described his father (an aviation technician) and his mother (a legal secretary) as he declared, We lived a simple American life. As opposed to what? A complex Norwegian life? Listening to the speeches Tuesday night, it seemed like the GOPs target audience were Americas dry cleaners and restaurant owners. The ballyhooed We Built That theme of the evening reflected the political calculus that every undecided voter in America owns a small business or wants to. Bob McDonnell articulated the core GOP message when he said, We need a President who will say to a small businesswoman: Congratulations, we applaud your success, you did make that happen, you did build that. Big government didnt build America. You built America. The problem is not simply that Barack Obamas words Republicans were mocking were wrenched out of context. It is rather the reality that most Americans dont build businesses from scratch. Sure, Nikki Haley took pains to point out, My parents started a business out of the living room of our home. And 30-plus years later, it was a multimillion dollar company. But that imagery does not reflect the life experience of, say, fiscal conservatives who toil in the accounting departments of large companies or a social conservative who works for the county health department. It is hard to imagine anyone in the Dilbert comic strip proudly declaring, I built that. This fervent faith in small business has long been a defining Republican philosophy and it probably is rooted in the partys small-town Midwestern roots, reflected to this day in political figures like Paul Ryan. Small business is also a convenient political fig leaf for more rapacious corporate interests like, well, big banks and Bain Capital. But there is a sense that Republicans sincerely believe that every American, with the proper encouragement and moxie, can create a small business. The Democrats have a similar myth that every American, with the proper encouragement and moxie, can become an intellectual or an artist. Political philosophies do matter and nowhere are they more conspicuous than in the TelePrompTers at national conventions. Such are the joys of enduring the torrent of mostly third-rate oratory on the opening night in Tampa. A Final Equal Time Note: Next week in Charlotte, I intend to deconstruct Democratic oratory in the same fashion.

Copyright 2012 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved. | Yahoo! - ABC News Network | /

2 of 2

8/31/2012 11:43 AM