Our Frustrating Search for Substance

Something that has long stunned me about our elected leaders, particularly those running for president, is their lack of appreciation for the opportunity that perpetually lies before them—i.e., their ability to influence the world around them in a positive way just by speaking. I always think about it this way: What if I had the opportunity to speak to millions of people, and whatever I chose to talk about would set the national dialogue, change minds, and potentially alter the course of history?

First of all, the amount of power held by these few people is breathtaking. One would expect people holding such power to feel an awesome responsibility to use this power in a meaningful way. We can argue over the best way to use this power, but there should be no disagreement that no one should waste such an opportunity.

We find ourselves, however, with a slew of public leaders who do nothing but waste these opportunities. The vast majority of people running for president in the past few elections use their precious time and attention to offer up meaningless platitudes and mindless jingoism. This was never more evident than it was this past Thursday evening when Mitt Romney gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

Here is the totality of how Mr. Romney sold to us his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan:

  • “A man with a big heart from a small town. He represents the best of America, a man who will always make us proud.”
  • “A strong and caring leader who is down to earth and confident in the challenge this moment demands.”
  • “I love the way he lights up around his kids and how he’s not embarrassed to show the world how much he loves his mom.”
  • “[He doesn’t have very good songs on his iPod.]”

Does anything there remotely begin to tell you whether Mr. Ryan will make a good vice-president, or is in any way qualified to be one heartbeat from the presidency?

The remainder of the speech proved just as empty. Here are some of the many meaningless lines uttered by Mr. Romney:

  • “That is the bedrock of what makes America, America. In our best days, we can feel the vibrancy of America’s communities, large and small.”
  • “I am running for president to help create a better future.”
  • “My promise is to help you and your family.”
  • “We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world.”
  • “If I am elected President of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us.”

And my favorite meaningless line of the entire speech:

  • “We Americans have always felt a special kinship with the future.”

Jon Stewart poked fun at this ridiculous line by stating, “Yes, yes, yes. We Americans, uniquely among Earth’s people, move forward in time.”

If you listened to or read Mr. Romney’s speech, you know I am not selectively choosing sentences to place his speech in an unfair light. The speech was, without question, vapid and trite in every sense of those words. In the end, it was nothing more than, “I’m good. Obama is bad. I will solve all of your problems. Trust me on these three things. Good night.”

Which brings me back to my original question: “What would I do with such a platform?” I don’t know the answer to that overwhelming question, but I can say without hesitation that I would not use it to prove to the world that my only value is ambition, and that I hold such low regard for the American electorate that I would not burden them with anything approaching specifics.

My ultimate hope is that a brave and charismatic politician will someday emerge and be elected in an overwhelming fashion over a candidate who displays the kind of cowardice and cynicism shown by Mr. Romney. From this drubbing, a new model will be adopted. A model that rewards courage, specifics, and ideas over the old model of playing it safe by being vague, trite, and in effect, meaningless.

– Dylan


One Response to “Our Frustrating Search for Substance”

  1. This was a very strange convention. The enthusiasm did seem tepid to put it kindly. I note Nate Silver is predicting no bump based on his theory that a bump of less than four points is a negative in terms of convention bumps.

    I have been amazed throughout the campaign process at Mitt’s audacious lack of any plan. I want to know how his handling of the economy would be any different than W’s. The small amount we get from his surrogates indicates he would probably follow the same plan that put us in the ditch in the first instance. Is the ditch supposed to look better the next time around? If he can get elected with a campaign strategy that consists almost entirely at winking at his non-diverse audience and saying more or less “I’m the white guy–you know; the American born one” we are in more trouble than we can imagine. Maybe he should borrow something else from Hollywood and change his campaign slogan to, “Back to the Future.”


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