Mona Charen
We've all heard the objection that political conventions have become empty kabuki theater. The high drama of multiple ballots is dead and gone. Uncertainty about the outcome is no more. "Today," laments political guru Mike Murphy, "delegates are bound through the application of TV ad ratings points, not machine deals. They sit in the convention hall like the background actors in a TV show, milling about to the director's orders, wearing costumes and denied a single line. It seems a shabby ending to a great tradition. It's time for a mercy killing."

Mike Murphy is an astute observer of all things political, but I think he's wrong about this. Sure, conventions have lost their drama (though, even in the old days, very few actually featured any suspense about the eventual nominee). And yes, like so much else in American life, they have become shows. But at least they are shows about public policy and about democracy -- each party getting an extended opportunity to make its best case. Political conventions are one of the only shows Americans watch collectively that are about important matters, like the direction of the country rather than about Snooki or "Monday Night Football." (Not that there's anything wrong with football...)

The Republican convention is particularly important this year, because if the polls are to be trusted (an open question), the voters are quite dissatisfied with the leadership of Barack Obama yet unconvinced that Romney is an acceptable alternative.

As Jack Kemp was fond of saying, people want to know that you care before they care what you know. Voters are uncertain about Romney because they don't yet perceive him to care about their problems. Funny how that can happen when your opponent spends hundreds of millions of dollars presenting you as a villain -- a corporate raider, felon, tax cheat and murderer.

But there's another reason as well. Romney himself -- unlike the sort of candidates we've seen in the past several cycles, particularly Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- has a kind of old-fashioned reticence. He doesn't have a story about paternal abandonment as Obama (quite the opposite) or posthumous birth as Clinton. He comes from the kind of loving and supportive family that he now heads with Ann Romney. But even if he did have a hard luck story, one senses that he wouldn't be comfortable retailing it. Yes, he can tout his accomplishments as a businessman or governor or savior of the Olympics, but he cannot tell stories about his personal kindness and decency -- about how often he has dropped everything to help others.


Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
 
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