Family Imagery at the Conventions

by Mike Manhart, Ph.D.

I watched the President’s address Thursday night as I had watched Mitt Romney’s last week.  I’ll not dwell on the political positioning so masterfully orchestrated by both conventions, nor muse on how serious dialog on substantive issues has been supplanted by sound bites, straw men, and put downs.

What surprised me was the visual impact I felt at the families coming on stage after each candidate’s speech.

Last week, the Romney and Ryan clans filled the stage with young children more intent on grabbing balloons than posing for the camera. The hugs and embraces seemed genuine and warm. It was great to see young parents telling their dad he did a great job while keeping at least half their attention on their own kids scrambling underfoot. Call me old-fashioned, but it really felt to me like a Norman Rockwell painting celebrating what’s truly great about America — families.

When the same scene unfolded at the Democratic convention, I was surprised at my emotional reaction. To me, the Obama/Biden stage looked sterile and cold. The handshakes and hugs seemed more staged than genuine and it looked like a number of invited guests beyond family members came on stage…was this to get to the kind of numbers seen at the Republican convention?

My reaction took me by surprise because I fully understand how devoted President and Mrs. Obama are to their family, and the Bidens are clearly proud parents and grandparents. The Obamas certainly have a right to be proud of those daughters; they are growing into beautiful, composed, confident young women.

Why was my reaction to these two nearly identical scenes so totally different? Could it be because the Democratic scene showed love that was perhaps dampened by a cultural imposition of man’s will over God’s? I don’t doubt the depth and sincerity of the Obamas’ or Bidens’ love for their families, but I do wonder if this love doesn’t shine quite as bright because it is bound-up by secular ideas about the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage and the idea that religion is only what happens in a building on Sundays and not what we carry with us every moment of every day.