LANSING — My favorite quote from attending presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s appearance at Lansing Community College today was not one by Romney himself. It was, in fact, by a silver-haired gentleman sitting in front of me, who, at the end of the speech, enthusiastically declared to a few similar looking men, “The way he talks about freedom is amazing.”
This quote perfectly sums up Romney’s campaign. During the primaries, his goal appeared to be “try to be the most sane person in the room.” But now, it’s about freedom. Because vague subjects like “freedom” are the perfect way to avoid any discussion of, well, the auto bailout. After a media frenzy regarding his comment on the bailout, “I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back,” on Monday, it would have been smart and humble to address those concerns. He could have discussed how it was his thinking to let the auto industry fail. And part of the reason it came back, in fact, was because of the bailout.
Granted, it’s a lot to ask a candidate to admit when they’re wrong about something. But Romney was surrounded by people who live and work in Michigan, those hardest hit by the auto industry’s problems.
So instead, he discussed this vague concept of freedom — eight times to be exact, in a mere 20-minute speech. The “unrivaled power of freedom,” “the freedom to dream big” and how there’s “no app for freedom.” The word most certainly did its job, and elicited that warm and fuzzy feeling from the audience commonly associated with hopeful words. The crowd loved it, complete with numerous breaks for applause (which probably took up 50 percent of his time speaking) and a few standing ovations.
But when you aren’t in support of a candidate’s policies, it’s a lot easier to take a step back and analyze what exactly goes on during one of their speeches. They first attack their opponent in a way that hopefully doesn’t make them seem petty. They then throw in general and rhetorically pleasing phrases such as, “it can be our future,” “it doesn’t have to be this way” and “we can choose our destiny.” All of which, sadly, sound like country song lyrics. A few white lies to top it off, and bam, the speech is over.
Most of us know this, yet some are quick to conclude that talk of “change” from one candidate is infinitely more acceptable than any other candidate’s equally ambiguous generalizations.
We should demand more from candidates. Romney should have addressed his unjustified comments where he gave himself credit for the comeback of the auto industry. It would have been a pragmatic move that many, including those who vehemently oppose him, would have appreciated.
It ended up as simply another failed attempt to identify with blue-collar workers. He claimed to understand the difficulty of losing one’s home and working more than one job. But ultimately, the crowd primarily consisted of older, well-suited men, who completely glazed past talk of supporting the middle-class and moved straight to the unclear concept of “freedom.”
The American flags framed with industrial metal that provided the backdrop for his speech were certainly trying to send a message. They were there to prove that Romney is willing to simply get the job done, without Obama’s supposed desire for a so-called “celebrity status.” But if he can’t address falsely taking credit for a problem that his audience had to live through, we should expect more of the same: perpetually covering up problems with talk of destiny, liberalism and, most importantly, freedom.
Adrienne Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.