Being Ann Romney

by MICHAEL TRACEY

Ann Romney addressed an all-white crowd on Tuesday afternoon in Littleton, CO. Literally — I did not see a single person of color there, except for Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff, a candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives and one of the featured speakers, who introduced herself as a “proud Hispanic conservative woman.” But other than Clarice, unless I missed something, this was a uniformly white affair. (As a “Women for Mitt” production, it was also quite mom-heavy.)

Most of the ladies were friendly and very willing to chat, so I asked Nada Graves, 78, of nearby Englewood, to comment on what she perceived as the key differences between Ann Romney and Michelle Obama. “Well, I don’t know if I should say the obvious thing,” Graves replied. “And what would that be?” I inquired.

“One is black and one is white.”

“Well… yes,” I said. Graves did not appear to make this (technically true…) observation out of racial animus. “Ann is a seasoned, wise human being,” she continued. “Michelle is young — she hasn’t had a chance to have much wisdom.” Graves also remarked on Michelle’s “immaturity,” best exemplified by the lavish “date nights” she has taken with Barack to Broadway shows in New York City.

I mentioned that while Michelle Obama held prominent jobs before becoming First Lady — law firm associate, vice president at a major Chicago hospital, and so forth — Ann has, for the most part, spent her life in the home. To Graves, in fact, this was a primary source of Mrs. Romney’s “wisdom.” And while Graves might find Michelle distasteful in certain respects, she does not dislike her on a personal level — just strongly prefers the Romney clan. “She’s had breast cancer, MS,” Graves said of Ann, “many ups-and-downs in her life.” (It seems Ann Romney’s triumph over various “health challenges” is one of her most oft-cited accomplishments.)

On Michelle, Graves added: “If she were really serious about public education, she should send her children to public school.”

Introducing Ann was a woman named Angela Lawson, who appeared to be chosen for no other reason other than that she voted for Obama in 2008, but now enthusiastically backs Mitt Romney. Lawson seemed nervous, fumbling over words. The president has “put our troops in danger,” she said, on account of the upcoming sequestration cuts to the defense budget. (Cuts which, of course, were demanded by the House GOP in a deal to avert a default on the country’s debt in July 2011)

“I’m toasty hot!” proclaimed a very unhappy young boy who was lying on the grass at the rally. He was wearing an American flag bandana.

Ann herself invoked themes familiar to those who watched her speech at the Republican National Convention. Her grandparents immigrated from Wales, we were again informed, and her grandfather started working in the coalmines at age six — demonstrating his self-reliance and drive. Another major theme was Family; three Romney grandchildren, looking extremely bored, flanked Ann onstage. “We know that everything is on the line in this election,” she declared, with traditional American values most in jeopardy “probably since the founding of this Nation.”

“Win the debate!” somebody in the crowd shouted. Ann was in town because Mitt had set up shop in the Denver area to prepare for tonight’s big event. “Let’s celebrate the fact that we’re all Americans!” she exhorted.

Ellen Roller, a volunteer for the Romney campaign (phone-banking, etc) told me she felt Ann better embodies American values than Michelle: “Ann Romney has lived through what Mitt put together, the businesses that he built,” she said, while by contrast, “Obama has never had a job; he doesn’t know about payroll, hiring and firing…”

Roller and her husband are small business owners themselves — real estate management — and have been shaken by the anti-business climate imposed by Obama. “People are scared,” she said. “We need to open up the regulations, so people can get ahead.” This was the first time the couple ever attended a presidential-level political rally in person, due to their fear that their seven grandchildren will suffer from over-regulation.

Among some ladies, a main objection to Michelle is that her wardrobe is unbecoming of the White House. “Ann is a real lady, and Michelle isn’t,” said Valerie Nixon of Littleton, a regular Romney campaign volunteer. “Ann has class and style,” remarked Dianne C. of Colorado Springs (her husband ordered her not to provide a surname). “I don’t think Michelle dresses classily.”

“She looks like somebody going out to the beach on a Sunday afternoon,” Dianne added.

An elderly lady named Alice told me she respected Ann for being “a good mother, a family woman,” but harbored no antipathy for Michelle. “I think they have a good family,” she said of the Obamas. “I don’t hate people.”

Michael Tracey writes  for Salon and The American Conservative.

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender.

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