Tampa Tidings

PUBLISHED: August 31, 2012

The Republican convention raised two key questions for swing voters. Does form trump substance? Is fiction more compelling than fact?

Compressed into three nights, the GOP event was the most carefully staged and artfully executed political gathering in U.S. history. Every touch – from the dynamic lighting that made each speaker look younger and healthier, to the emergence of future conservative stars like New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, to the glorious singing of BeBe Winans – made for engaging TV. Free of distractions, such as arguing over nominees or writing a platform, the event was a brilliant execution of the type of marathon marketing presentation that political conventions have become.

It's too bad that more viewers didn't choose to watch on C-SPAN, where the coverage was uninterrupted and unfiltered. The over-spun and commercial-laden versions on Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN were insufferable.

Seen in its nearly 18-hour entirety, the convention used engaging themes – "We built it," "We can change it" and "We believe in America" – to anchor each evening. Most of the speakers stayed on point, citing apparent failures of the Obama Administration, reminiscing about the bootstrap-tugging days in their past, and seeking above all to paint a fuller picture of Mitt Romney's life-long dedication to faith, family and business.

There was plenty of sizzle and very little steak. That’s neither surprising nor unacceptable in light of what conventions have become. But the event was also a test of just how far political operatives can go in the era of modern communications when it comes to falsifying facts and distorting arguments.

For example, both Romney and running mate Paul Ryan were determined to push the notion that the Obama Administration siphoned $716 billion from Medicare to “pay for” Obamacare. That’s seriously misleading; moreover, it fails to mention that it is almost identical to the approach advocated by Ryan himself.

Then, too, Ryan blasted the president for failing to adopt the economic recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission without mentioning that Ryan was a member of the panel, and voted against its findings.

Romney maintained that he had rooted for Obama to succeed in his first term. Yet he never disavowed the strategy by his colleagues, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to do whatever they could from day one to thwart the president’s efforts. Ryan zinged Obama for a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating, without so much as acknowledging the role Republican brinksmanship played during the lengthy debt-ceiling debate. And so it went.

But as theater, the GOP convention was a boffo hit. That’s why it was particularly disappointing that the event’s renowned showbiz representative, Clint Eastwood, struck such a sour note. Clint and his family are acquaintances of mine, and I have deep respect for much of what he has achieved in films, business, and his many charitable endeavors.

Clint and I differ in our political views, but so what? He’s entitled to his opinion and he could have been a commanding presence at the GOP convention. Instead, he tried a risky adlib gimmick of “interviewing” an empty chair and the result was uneven, unsettling and, at one point, unacceptably crude.

Overall, however, the Romney campaign is certain to get a boost from this well staged event. Democrats will face a stiff challenge in mounting an equally entertaining convention in Charlotte.

But if the Obama forces skip the Roman columns, resist the temptation to rely heavily on their own roster of Hollywood heavyweights, and remain fair with the facts, they have a solid opportunity to gain the upper hand. While most Americans enjoy a good show, they also know that the urgency of the moment requires more than smoke and mirrors – or, for that matter, empty promises and an empty chair.

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.

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