The rap on Chris Christie’s keynote address at the Republican convention last night–and this is coming even from some conservatives–is that it was too much about Christie and not enough about the nominee. I’ll be on NPR’s Talk of the Nation at @2:40 EST today and since this criticism is likely come up, I’ve been trying to decide if I think it’s fair.
One way to look at it is to compare Christie’s speech with Barack Obama’s 2004 keynote address, which most people (certainly most Democrats) would consider a highly successful example of the genre. They’re actually very similar. Both are heavily biographical. Both utilize that biographical material not only to introduce themselves as rising party stars but to do what Websters Dictionary says is the purpose of a keynote address: “to present the issues of primary interest to an assembly (as a political convention) and often to arouse unity and enthusiasm.” And by this definition I think it’s fair to say both achieved their aims.
Both speakers, however, also carried the burden of having to make he case for nominees who were not terribly likable or effective candidates, and on this measure, Christie came up short, at least by comparison. He didn’t mention Romney until 1800 words into his 2600 word speech, whereas Obama referenced Kerry 1000 words into his 2300 word speech. And while Christie mentioned Romney a scant 7 times in all, Obama referenced Kerry 13 times.
One other point of comparison to consider is Mario Cuomo’s 1984 Democratic convention speech. For Democrats of a certain age and disposition, that was the very definition of a great keynote address, with it’s striking theme of the nation as a family on the wagon train of progress and the Democrats being the party that would keep the family together while the Republicans would leave the weak ones behind. I can still remember that speech and the feelings it evoked in me. But in re-reading it, here’s what I noticed: not once did he say the name Walter Mondale.