A tale of two speeches

After watching Mitt Romney’s speech in New Hampshire last night, I went back and watched Barack Obama’s speech in New Hampshire, delivered almost exactly four years ago. The contrast told me quite a bit about the two candidates.

Obama, who’d just lost to Hillary Clinton in an upset, delivered his “Yes We Can” speech. It made literally no mention of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, literally no mention of those seeking the GOP nomination, and it referenced Republicans only twice — each time to highlight the fact that Obama was prepared to work with anyone, regardless of party. In the same speech, then-candidate Obama looked at his competitors and said, “All of the candidates in this race have good ideas and all are patriots who serve this country honorably.” He also shared a vision, which included ending the war in Iraq and reforming the nation’s health care system.

Romney, with the benefit of a teleprompter, delivered a very different kind of speech last night. Within seconds of thanking his supporters, Romney began a lengthy condemnation of the president, who, along with “some desperate Republicans,” wants to “put free enterprise on trial.”

After mocking the president’s “lofty promises,” Romney also proclaimed last night:

“Our campaign is about more than replacing a president; it is about saving the soul of America.”

First, I’d prefer that pandering politicians leave our soul alone. Second, “saving the soul of America” sounds a little “lofty” to me.

And how, exactly, does Romney intend to save the American soul? As it turns out, he never quite got around to that. And that’s part of the problem I have with his candidacy.

It occurred to me, watching the guy deliver a series of cheap attacks that I doubt even he believes, that Romney has been running for president for more than five years straight, and I still have no idea why he wants the job or what he intends to do with these awesome responsibilities.

The Monthly has a terrific cover package in the new issue on what Americans could expect from a Republican administration in 2013, and it tells us a great deal about how the nation would change, but I’ve been kicking around a slightly different question: Why does Romney want the presidency?

I understand that he’d like power. I also understand that he might even feel entitled to it. In Romney’s mind, it’s likely his “turn” to be president, and if he can demonstrate his contempt and disgust for Obama to the satisfaction of his party, Romney seems to believe that should be enough.

But is it? Ask yourself: after five years of national campaigning, can you say what he strives to do as the leader of the free world? What grand vision he’ll pursue to “save the soul of America”?

“Repeal Obamacare” isn’t an answer, so much as it’s a negation of recent progress. “Create jobs” is a worthwhile goal, but it’s a vague platitude. Romney’s speech last night, and indeed all of his recent speeches, tell us practically nothing. We know Romney has an odd hang-up about Europe, and that he’s comfortable lying with a straight face about the president, but ultimately his agenda is thin and his vision is … small.

A combination of tax breaks for the wealthy, free rein for Wall Street, and less health care coverage for millions of middle-class Americans does not a saved soul make.

As the general election phase gets underway, I’m hoping Romney can start telling the nation less about how much he detests President Obama and more about what he’d do if he replaces President Obama.