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Is that the best Mitt Romney can do?

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri September 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: Speech, convention succeeded in painting positive portrait of Romney, family
  • He says speech had conflicting themes: high-minded rhetoric and divisive recrimination
  • Avlon: Romney substituted criticism of Obama for a real plan to take America forward
  • He says Romney needed to communicate a specific vision for greatness as a president

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

Tampa, Florida (CNN) -- Is that the best he can do?

On family, Mitt Romney got an 'A' in his nomination speech last night. On positive presidential vision he got a 'C' -- and on presidential policy he got an incomplete.

There's no question that Mitt Romney succeeded in painting a portrait of himself as a loving husband, son and father. You wouldn't have a heart if you didn't find the story about his father buying a single rose for his mother every day deeply affecting.

Mitt seemed moved to tears by the memory of his parents, as did many in the arena. Looking back at their lives and his father's political career, I found myself tweeting "George Romney 2012." Mission to humanize Mitt, accomplished.

John Avlon
John Avlon

But overall the speech kept drifting between biography, high-minded rhetoric about national unity and criticisms of President Obama's leadership that ended up passing for policy.

The speech itself seemed of two minds -- one, that of a committed centrist reluctantly running against a failed president for the good of the country. The other mind indulging in the division, resentment and recrimination the first mind decried.

There were a few lovely images, like that of the tombstones of soldiers who sacrificed their lives for freedom, lying side by side without mention of what party they belonged to. But these sections seemed dropped in the text, more of a poll tested necessity than part of a seamless philosophical whole.

Romney: I wish Obama had succeeded
Rubio: Obama is a bad president
Reaction to Clint Eastwood's RNC speech

As has been too often the case during this campaign, base-pleasing criticism of President Obama substituted for actual proposed policies Romney would implement as president.

A recently retired Marine e-mailed, "he's banking on Americans having total amnesia about 2001-2009, including failed wars and a multiple increase of the national debt."

The crescendo of the speech was surreal, abrupt and unsatisfying. Traditional nomination speeches end with a memorable optimistic line repeated for effect, consider John McCain's "Stand Up and Fight" defiance. This speech's closing call and response was a series of questions that ended with the crowd shouting "No!" It was a metaphor as well as an ill-advised rhetorical device.

There was a hurry to leave the hall tonight, a sense of perfunctory celebration in a party united mostly by a passionate desire to kick President Obama out of office.

Mitt Romney is a good man and this speech reflected his goodness, but it did not confidently communicate a specific vision for greatness as president.

Instead, I left the Tampa arena almost feeling dizzy from gazing at the continued gap between partisan narrative and policy fact that has characterized this campaign.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

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