Anyone who has ever read an Ayn Rand novel or George Orwell’s 1984 is familiar with the lifeless patterning of the propaganda state, where the big lie is repeated so steadily that it is eventually mistaken for truth. As speaker after speaker on the opening night of the Republican National Convention took their turns at spinning a “We Built It” fantasy—based not on what President Obama said or intended to say about small business but on an imagining of what might turn the maximum number of voters against the president—the Grand Old Party opted for repetition over revelation.
Aside from Ann Romney’s assurance that what she has with her husband of forty-three years is a “real marriage,” the only compelling speeches and storylines of the night came from the candidates the Republican Party rejected. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and, even more consequentially, the absent Ron Paul.
Santorum got a prime-time speaking spot, in return for agreeing to pretend to be happy about endorsing the candidate he once blasted as the “worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.”
Despite his awkward circumstance, Santorum brought the crowd to its feet with a speech so rhetorically rich that delegates were instantly reminded that it was Mitt Romney’s money—not his personal appeal or his message—that won him the nomination. Santorum, the Anyone-But-Romney candidate who came closest to stopping Romney, tried to connect not just with the base but with a broader electorate that actually works for a living.
“I shook the hand of the American Dream. And it has a strong grip,” Santorum said, recalling the appeals to working Americans that distinguished his primary campaign from Romney’s regal run. “I shook hands of farmers and ranchers who made America the bread basket of the world. Hands weathered and worn. And proud of it. I grasped dirty hands with scars that come from years of labor in the oil and gas fields, mines and mills. Hands that power and build America and are stewards of the abundant resources that God has given us. I gripped hands that work in restaurants and hotels, in hospitals, banks and grocery stores. Hands that serve and care for all of us. I clasped hands of men and women in uniform and their families. Hands that sacrifice and risk all to protect and keep us free. And hands that pray for their safe return home. I held hands that are in want. Hands looking for the dignity of a good job, hands growing weary of not finding one but refusing to give up hope.”
As Santorum spoke, not on the message of the night but on a deeper message of outreach to working-class voters delivered in the language both parties once employed, the crowd that packed the great hall roared with approval—if not entirely for the political point, then surely for the relief from the drab repetition that defined “We Built It” night. This was not the empty rhetoric molded by the mandarins who have managed the life out of the fortieth Republican National Convention.