"We Built It"
It's no coincidence that nearly every speaker who took the stage Tuesday night touched on the GOP's most recently ubiquitous theme. "We built it!" cried Mia Love, the up-and-coming African-American mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah. Grounding their arguments in personal history and anecdotal evidence, speaker after speaker hammered home the notion that Americans, not the government, are responsible for their success. That attack line, derived from President Obama's argument that most successful Americans have benefited from government support in some way, has become one of the Romney campaign's most marketable lines, and convention organizers told reporters Tuesday that it would be featured prominently in the night's events.
"I'm delighted to report that we have a wonderful lineup for you," said Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, in remarks introducing her fellow speakers. "Each speaker will be joining together to send a message to President Obama. And that message is three simple words: We built it."
She wasn't lying: At least seven of the prime-time speakers used the term "built" in the context of growing a successful business from the ground up, and most of the other speakers at least touched on the theme of individual responsibility some way.
The evening's rhetoric was relatively light on talk of Mitt Romney - the keynote speaker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, didn't mention his name until two thirds of the way through of his 24-minute speech - but there was no shortage of discussion about President Obama. From John Boehner, who called on voters to "throw him out" of office, to Rick Santorum, who accused him of pushing policies that "undermine the traditional family," Obama bashing was a hot topic onstage. It's no surprise in a campaign that's largely considered a referendum on the current president. In the end, only one speaker stayed wholly above the fray of partisan rancor: In personal remarks about her husband and their life together, Ann Romney, Mitt Romney's wife, decided to talk about love.
Democrat or Republican, politicians often invoke anecdotes about their families to make policy ideas relatable to average citizens. On Tuesday, that tactic was in especially high supply. Texas Senate hopeful Ted Cruz, who has Cuban and European lineage, relayed a story about his father's escape from torture in Cuba when emphasizing his belief in conservative notions of small government. Mia Love, too, invoked her immigrant parents when talking about individual responsibility.
Rick Santorum approached the issue more directly, calling on voters to elect Romney in order to "stop the assault on marriage and the family" he argues is currently under way, and urging voters to get married before having children. He spoke of his own daughter, Bella, who has a rare and often fatal genetic disease, before addressing issues surrounding abortion, to which he is vehemently opposed: "I thank God that America still has one party that reaches out their hands in love to lift up all of God's children - born and unborn - and we say that each of us has dignity and all of us have the right to live the American dream," he said. "And we also say that without you America is not keeping faith with its dream. That all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
In a keynote speech in which he called for a "new era in truth-telling" in American politics, Chris Christie talked about standing strong for freedom not once but twice. Ted Cruz mentioned it four times. In fact, freedom might have been among the most-cited word of the night: Bob McDonnell, Janine Turner, Sher Valenzuela, Brian Sandoval, John Boehner, Mia Love and Rick Santorum also used it at least once in their remarks.
Speakers used the term both literally and metaphorically: Ted Cruz talked both about his father's struggle for freedom in a repressive Cuban administration and his hope to free his children from financial burden going forward. John Boehner talked about free trade and the general cause of American freedom.
Santorum, meanwhile, accused Mr. Obama of trying to take it away.
"Under President Obama, the dream of freedom and opportunity has become a nightmare of dependency with almost half of America receiving some government benefit," he said. "It's no surprise fewer and fewer Americans are achieving their dreams and more and more parents are concerned their children won't realize theirs."
It wouldn't be a presidential convention without copious mention of "leadership" - both in reference to failure and potential future success. Throughout the night, speakers blasted Mr. Obama for his record on leadership, while presenting Mitt Romney as a better alternative for the future. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, also got a few leadership nods: House Speaker John Boehner lauded the former Massachusetts Governor for having "chosen as his running mate a leader who is second to none when it comes to rooting out and fixing Washington's worst habits."