"Tell Them About Yourself Mitt, Tell Them About Yourself"
Mahalia Jackson, 1962. Credit: Library of Congress
On August 28, 1963, in front of a quarter of a million people massing at the Lincoln Memorial, a young 34-year-old orator felt a little intimidated, a little overwhelmed. Initially, he delivered a somewhat formal address from prepared notes. Suddenly, the singer Mahalia Jackson called out to Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Tell them about your dream Martin, Tell them about the dream!" Turning to oratory he had been perfecting for a decade, King delivered one of the great speeches of all time.
This week, Republicans are desperately in need of a modern-day Mahalia Jackson to liberate Mitt Romney. So far, Romney has failed to inspire many Americans with his life story. He often seems too stiff, too robotic on the campaign trail. Two things seem to be holding him back. First, he has a bit of the patrician George H.W. Bush in him. In 1988, when running for President, Bush was reluctant to get personal, go emotional, or even use the word “I.” His formidable 87-year-old mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, had taught him not to boast, not to focus on himself, not to be a peacock -- and she was still watching him carefully. Eventually, Bush let loose -- so much so that he ended up apologizing after the campaign, and after his victory, for being too aggressive.
A second factor reinforcing Romney’s personal and cultural restraint is his religion. Since entering public life, Romney has learned to be circumspect about his Mormonism. He understands that many evangelical Protestants have deep prejudices against Mormon theology. And while during his 2008 campaign he tried to echo John F. Kennedy’s famous Houston remarks about fighting religious bigotry, he has been too afraid of his skeptical base this time around to go there. But trying to explain the most interesting aspects about Romney, including his charitable initiatives and the lure of public service, without mentioning his Mormonism, is like discussing Barack Obama’s calling without mentioning his racial background or absent father.
Especially in American politics, culture counts. Biography counts. Words matter. We are a nation of story tellers and of rapt listeners. Hollywood -- and American history -- entrance hundreds of millions of people around the world with dramatic tales, inspiring moments, grand lives, compelling ideas. A presidential campaign is a forum for this kind of storytelling and wordsmithing. Americans want to be inspired. They want to know their leaders. They want to be swayed by a compelling narrative, a sweeping vision, and significant ideas. So far, Mitt Romney has failed to provide much of any of that to most Americans. So, when he accepts the Republican nomination for president, the call of history, the call of the people, will be an echo of Mahalia Jackson’s 1963 call to Martin Luther King, Jr.: despite your upbringing, your personality, your religious caution, “Tell them about yourself, Mitt. Tell them about yourself.”
comments powered by Disqus
- The National Security Agency's own history of tracking of U.S. Citizens is flawed
- Before Trump vs. the NFL, there was Jackie Robinson vs. JFK
- Saudi Textbook Withdrawn Over Image of Yoda With King
- Israelis are celebrating the Kurds’ bid for independence
- Wall Street Journal study finds that rural youths who enlisted after 9/11 shouldered the greatest burden for the nation’s defense
- Jelani Cobb unloads on Trump’s double standard of patriotism in the New Yorker
- Lonnie Bunch is astonished the African-American History Museum has become a pilgrimage site so fast
- Nancy Isenberg says what Americans think is exceptional about them is that they erased class distinctions
- Niall Ferguson’s new book is a warning about the pernicious threat of networks
- Yale history department now emphasizing global history in undergraduate courses