Can I be even tougher on Ann Romney’s speech than John was? I know we’ve agreed, as a class, to grade candidates’ spouses on a generous curve. They’re all the closest adviser, the secret weapon, et cetera, and—as best I can recall—their convention speeches always get good reviews.
But Ann’s seemed to miss the mark not only because, as John neatly outlined, it was entirely free of revealing anecdote. I felt as though it confused hardship with the humdrum in a way that seemed even more detached from the way most Americans live than any car elevator or Swiss bank account. “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a ‘storybook marriage,’ ” she said, in the moment where we’re supposed to begin to learn that the Romneys are not as tragically perfect as they think we believe they are. “Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once.”
Really? What dystopia is this she describes? Isn’t five adorable kids playing in a house of one’s own pretty much the idealized tableau of suburban domestic bliss? Isn’t this the American Dream as the National Association of Realtors has sold it to us for years?
“A storybook marriage?” she tells us. “No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.”
Then Ann explained to us that the Romneys had it rough. “We walked to class together, shared the housekeeping, and ate a lot of pasta and tuna fish,” she went on. “Our desk was a door propped up on sawhorses.”
These were the speech’s rare bits of color, the details that were supposed to give us a sense of how the Romneys had lived their very real marriage. Ann was deploying status signifiers, but what exactly did they signify? Is having to eat tuna supposed to signal that Mitt “was not handed success”? Is pasta an unheralded grain of affliction?
And they had to walk?
While I’m generating an inventory of Ann’s oddball use of detail, what about this roll call of society’s indispensable roles performed by women? “We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters,” she said. “You know it’s true, don’t you?”
Yes, we know it’s true that women are mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters; every family tree attests to it. Like declaring their marriage a “real marriage,” Ann had aimed to share something about how she sees the world. But when she tried to take her experience and universalize it, she could come up with nothing better than truisms about human nature.
These weren’t insights; they were facts.
Read the rest of Slate’s coverage from the GOP convention.