In 2008, the difference between the two major-party conventions was stark. As detailed in this round-up at the time from Tim Cavanaugh, one of the most striking contrasts was in message discipline:
The Democrats stayed remarkably on-message, inside and outside the convention. New Green Jobs, McCain's houses, and the busted budget weren't just the talking points during the speeches. They were repeated by delegates and guests throughout the week. By comparison, the Republicans were all over the place in their rhetoric, with fanciful calls to repopulate the Midwest, mutually exclusive goals like simplifying the tax code while instituting new tax breaks for various environmental and personal behaviors, constant prattle about special needs kids, and so on.
Republicans this time around have learned from the Democrats. Almost every speech last night valorized "small businesses," decried "red tape," talked with pinpoint vagueness about limiting government and cutting taxes, and vowed that America was coming back, baby!
Even more striking was the similarity between the prime-time Day Ones of DNC 2008 and RNC 2012. Both were designed to introduce America to its putative next First Lady, at the end of an evening drowning in identity politics, hardscrabble family migration stories, non-white-males, and remarkably vague nods toward policy. Both of the handsome and smart wives then gave aw-shucks talks about how they couldn't possibly be more American and normal and human as you, no matter how rich, successful, and educated they are.
It's clear that the people who do competitive politics for a living have arrived at some consensus conclusions: Americans reward vague rhetoric, and punish specificity. It's important for us to bond as pals with the spouses of SCOTUS. And the personal narrative—raising autistic kids, starting a home business, revering an immigrant father who never asked for no handout—is the single most important thing about this politician you've never heard of.
Though this says something troubling about the people who practice such pap, it says something considerably worse about us. And it underlines something we've long known about the man at the top of the GOP ticket: The last thing Mitt Romney wants to be near is a policy specific, particularly when it comes to cutting government.