Friday, October 19, 2012

Mitt Romney Channels the Spirit of Reagan at a Campaign Stop in Ohio

by Michael Kaplan

Overhead shot of Mitt Romney speaking to an energized crowd in Lebanon, Ohio, Saturday October 13.

In my previous post I said that Mitt Romney needed to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan if he wants to win this election. Well, Mitt did it! Move over Alicia Keys; you’re not the only one who’s on fire. Mitt Romney’s on fire now and it just might blaze a path for him to the White House.

The fired up Mitt Romney, burning with passion, was on display at a campaign stop in Lebanon, Ohio on Saturday October 13. Speaking before an estimated crowd of 10,700 outside the historic Golden Lamb Inn, Romney touched on many of the themes that resonate with Jacksonians. This is what Romney must keep on doing for the remainder of the campaign. This is a fine demonstration of how to rally Jacksonian America on the stump and keep it energized and focused on victory.
The video of the speech is posted below. You can also find it here, here, and here.

In the first half of the speech Romney listed the five points of his plan for getting the economy moving again. “Number one is energy. Number two is trade. Number three; I want to make sure people have the skills they need to be able to work in the jobs of today. . . . Number 4 for me is we’re going to cut federal spending. We are going to cap Federal spending and get us on track to a balanced budget,” Romney added as his final point that he would cut taxes on small businesses to encourage them to hire people. The crowd cheered as Romney denounced the crony capitalism of the Obama administration; how the $90 billion wasted on Solyndra and other “green” energy companies could have hired two million teachers. “He likes picking winners and losers, or as a friend said to me ‘no he just likes picking losers.’”  Romney also reminded the audience that the number of people on food stamps increased from 32 million to 47 million over the last four years. “That’s an increase of 15 million people, more than the population of Ohio.” The president, Romney quipped, would much rather focus on the fate of Big Bird than find ways to combat the poverty which now traps one in six Americans, and create jobs for young graduates, half of whom cannot find college-level work. “What I want to talk about is how I can help save the American family and get good jobs for the American people.” Romney repeated his pledges to repeal Obamacare, not raise taxes on middle-class Americans and small businesses, hold China to account for unfair trade practices, and restore the strength of the American military. And he also took a swipe at the teachers’ unions which is always popular with Jacksonian audiences. (Romney was careful to distinguish between teachers and the teachers’ unions.)

“His campaign is getting smaller and smaller,” Romney declared to the cheers of the more than 10,000 Ohioans gathered in Lebanon. “And our crowds keep getting bigger and bigger. There’s a crescendo of passion about changing Washington.” This is the look of political momentum, “the Big Mo” as George H. W. Bush famously said.

Byron York, covering the rally for the Washington Examiner, assessed the mood of the crowd. Danielle Low, a 22-year-old preschool teacher from Lebanon who York described as “the quintessential Romney target voter,” made no secret of her disappointment with President Obama. Low voted for Obama in 2008, the first election in which she was eligible to vote. “But then I gave birth to my first son, and I knew we needed a change.” Life is now a constant struggle for Low and her husband. They want to have a second child and buy a bigger house but the stagnant economy makes this impossible. Low is furious with President Obama whom she holds responsible for her situation.
I think President Obama tricked me into voting for him. I feel like he lied to me. He made promises he couldn’t keep. He played on my young emotions. He played on me because I was young and naïve. I didn’t know anything about the world. I believed that he was going to give us a change. I just feel like he made a lot of promises—there’s no way he followed through with them. I haven’t seen any change. I’ve seen change for the worse, not change for the better. So I hope Mitt Romney can carry us through the next four years.
Low’s anger reflects the sentiment of the Jacksonian middle class in heartland towns like Lebanon, Ohio, which feels betrayed by Obama’s lofty but empty rhetoric. If Romney can tap into this sentiment, the dashing of Obama’s Pied Piper song of “hope and change,” and follow through with his own free-market vision of economic renewal, he will win Jacksonian America to his cause and cruise into the White House.
Sabrina Ingram is a small business owner in Lebanon. She recently opened a restaurant, 180 Cafe, with her family’s savings. Ingram told local television reporter Mario Ramirez that she wants to expand her restaurant and hopes that Romney can turn the economy around. “I mean we don’t have chain restaurants around here. We all depend on each other to support each other and with him getting elected it will help.” Jerri Grooms, a retired teacher, applauded Romney’s stance on teachers unions. “Get rid of them,” Grooms told Ramirez. “Let the teachers teach the children. That’s all they need to do is teach the children. I think he’s on the right track.”
Joel Kotkin has labeled people like Low, Ingram, and Groom, the new “yeomanry,” the twenty-first-century version of the nineteenth-century Jacksonian homestead farmers. This new Jacksonian middle-class yeomanry, committed to rugged individualism and self-reliance, is the conservative base of the Republican Party. Kotkin places the yeomanry in opposition to the “clerisy”; the upper-middle-class professionals and technocrats in law, academia, the media, and the well-paid public sector who are now, along with the government-dependent poor, the progressive base of the Democratic Party. The yeomanry, Kotkin writes, “are primarily small property owners who lack the girth and connections of the clerisy but resist joining the government-dependent poor. Particularly critical are small business owners, who Gallup identifies as ‘the least approving’ of Obama among all the major occupation groups. Barely one in three likes the present administration.” Again this is the social and political polarization that Romney was trying to convey with the 47% meme. Jacksonian yeomen tend to have larger families than the clerisy and they believe in finding solutions to social problems through private initiatives and philanthropy rather than by expanding blue model government. While the clerisy works in offices and rarely gets its hands dirty in actual production, “many yeomen, particularly in business services, depend on industry for their livelihoods either directly or indirectly.” Thus they find Obama’s and the clerisy’s “green” regulatory regime a mortal threat to the jobs which are their livelihood. Kotkin concludes that “ultimately this division—clerisy and their clients versus yeomanry—will decide the election.” And Mitt Romney understands this.

I found the second half of the speech where Romney, belying his image as a corporate stiff, made an emotional connection with the crowd, the most compelling. This was where Romney was at his most Jacksonian and Reaganesque, conveying his passionate faith in the greatness and goodness of the American people. “It’s always been a characteristic of this great country to know that the future is brighter than the past. To know that we’re passing on to our kids a land more free and more prosperous even that which we enjoyed. And that’s coming back. That confidence is coming back.” Determined to combat the pessimism sweep-ing America in the wake of the economic downturn, Romney declared that the American people could overcome devastating setbacks as they did in the past and put the nation back on the path of greatness. “The heart of the American people is strong. The heart of the American people has been proven time and time again in test after test. Regardless of the challenge, we stand and overcome those challenges. I know it’s true. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen people in the most extreme circumstances who dig deep and show that kind of courage. The great qualities of the human spirit I see in my fellow Americans, day in and day out.” With those lines Romney truly embraced the spirit of Reagan and Jackson.

Mitt and Ann Romney with Jane Horton

Romney then engaged the crowd with inspirational stories of American perseverance and grit in the face of tragedy. He told of running into Billy Hulse, an old classmate from Harvard, at a rally in Atlanta. Hulse had been left paralyzed by an auto accident in 2009, but instead of giving in to despair he devoted himself to starting a center for spinal cord injury research. Romney put his hands on Hulse and said “God bless you, Billy; I love you.” Sadly, though, Romney learned that Hulse had died the next day. This was a man, a businessman, who showed a very American determination to turn his personal tragedy into a vehicle for improving the lives of others. Romney also told the story of Jane Horton, a 26-year-old woman he met at the Republican Convention in Tampa. Horton had been preparing a box of birthday presents for her husband Chris, a sharpshooter with the Oklahoma National Guard in Afghanistan, when the dreaded knock came at the door: Chris had been killed. Horton went on to help other bereaved families. When faced with a protest at her husband’s funeral by the deranged fanatics of the Westboro Baptist Church, Horton said that “Chris died for them to be able to protest.”

These stories, along with others Romney told, while sad, speak to the very strength and courage, the combination of rugged individualism and the ties of community, that built the nation. Romney praised the NASA astronauts as “pioneers who lived for something bigger than themselves. Who put themselves in harm’s way so that we could learn, pioneering new avenues of learning, understanding space in ways that might help their fellow Americans and their fellow men and women. That’s the nature of the American people. We live for something bigger than ourselves.” The parents working two jobs to keep their children fed and clothed, Romney reminded the crowd, are just as heroic as the NASA pioneers. As are the young men and women who put their careers on hold and join the military in service to the nation. “This is America. This is who we are. This is why at a time like this we come together.” Romney seemed on the verge of tears as he delivered this hymn to the American spirit and the people who embodied it. “How I love those who served. How I appreciate their sacrifice.” With proper leadership grounded in the values and traditions that made America great, Romney had no doubt that the American people could rebuild the economy and restore America’s place in the world. And so Romney ended with an appeal to the people of Ohio to join him in the work of renewing America. “I love America. I believe in America. I believe in you. I believe we’re coming back. But I need your help as well.” Together, Romney said “we’re going to be able take back America, keep it strong, keep it the shining city on a hill.” It doesn’t get more Reaganesque than that.

© 2012 Michael Kaplan


  1. Hi Michael,

    Just back from a cruise and catching up. You are definitely correct as to Mitt's "fire". If he can keep it up there is a good chance he will prevail. The man radiates an inner goodness of some kind that's hard to describe but easy to see when he let's it out. And I fully agree that he does embrace Reagan and Jackson when he is on!

    Saw the last debate on the ship. about 200 people were on deck and it seemed most were willing to call Obama for his lying and deceit. Many were Californians so very interesting.

    It's going to take me a while to catch up on the last week as I more or less shut myself off from the world. LOL!

    One thing for sure. As long as he can remind voters of "AMERICA" and what we really are, there is hope.

    Great essay as always.


    1. Hi Joe,

      Hope you had a fun cruise. It's always good to get away from things, including politics!

      The last debate--the town hall debate--was held in my neck of the woods, Hofstra University on Long Island. I called it "The Clash of the Titans at Hofstra" for my students. Some of them thought our school, SUNY Farmingdale, would have been a better place to host it. There were times when I thought Obama and Romney were going to throw punches at each other! I thought Romney was able to press his case for the failure of Obama's policies and why his would be better for America. From what I hear Romney is making headway in California too, as your fellow passengers seem to indicate.

      Anyway, we'll have to see how the final debate which is on foreign policy turns out. It should be interesting.


  2. I'm really looking forward to tonight (even though my beloved Bears are playing). If Mitt plays his cards correctly, this should be a slam dunk. On the ship, one of my fellow passengers mentioned he felt in his lifetime of 82 years he has never seen an administration like this as to the open blatant lies being put forward as fact. He is one of those Californians and actually a rabid Nixon hater yet he still feels this administration is 10 times worse than any other time in his life. The Libya thing was the last straw for him.

    1. Joe,

      I think Romney did quite well tonight. He came across as a sober and thoughtful statesman, definitely up to the job of commander in chief. He really nailed Obama on his apology tours. His best line: "America doesn't dictate to other countries, we liberate them." He avoided a showdown over Libya which might have been for the best. Anyway if Mitt doesn't win in two weeks, it won't be because of his debate performances.