Chris Christie whips up the crowd to a roar of approbation. The camera pans in on Mitt Romney and he stays seated, looking utterly daunted, terrified. Has he just had an epiphany that he isn’t equipped to be president of the United States, that running a country is a far cry from vulture capitalism, saving the 2002 winter Olympics, spending two years biking around France with the Book of Mormon under his arm?

Tonight the short version of the Republican National Convention kicked off in Tampa. How tragic it is that in order to win us over to the idea that Romney is the new messiah, right out of the gate, Rick Santorum had to say that he is thankful that “at least one political party in America values human life” in telling the story of his disabled son.

Those whose thinking parallels Santorum’s have no moral or material context for the termination of a pregnancy as an act of love and bravery on the part of a woman who knows she is ill-equipped to carry a child to term and provide for it. When it comes to a woman’s right to choose, say the pro-life demagogues of the Right, a woman’s body is public property, to be managed by the government and requiring active government intervention in the form of criminalizing abortion. Self-love, self-care and self-nurture in the form of termination– painfully: no one takes such a thing lightly– is a sin. I blogged about this not long ago.

Yet, in her speech tonight, Ann Romney lauded her husband and said that it was time to talk about love. As she was preceded earlier by John Boehner’s ego-saturated speech about kicking Obama out of office like ejecting someone from a bar, there wasn’t much love in the air.

In truth, love and respect for one another is completely absent from Republican politics and the poison leached into everyday life infects all of us. We get down and dirty and mean, looking to see who can most creatively insult the opposition. The emotional temperature of the country is at the high end, everyone’s blood boiling.

Where the painfully half-literate conservative men who have been opining on rape and how a woman’s body shuts down during a rape so that she doesn’t conceive and other staggeringly inane bits of folk lore, love and compassion for women is nonexistent.

Rick Santorum went on and on unlovingly about how the welfare and food stamp rolls have swelled under Barack Obama, seemingly unable to link these things to the fact that we have been in a recession, that there are no quick fixes. He makes the false, indefensible claim that those on the Left who care about the poor and displaced want to make Americans more dependent on the government rather than independent.

Christie and Santorum and Ann Romney talk a smooth line. There’s no question that Romney is a good and admired husband and father.

But vision? Guts? Passion? The ability to handle international crises, negotiate foreign policy?

Mitt Romney and the Republicans have a platform so nebulous that it depends for its existence on antagonism and rhetoric—-verbiage, catch-phrases, distortions and empty words.

Rather than damning each other, we should all be talking about how to effect a rapprochement and mend the divisions in this country and the put a cork in the vitriol of our discourse.
Never mind that Chris Christie’s story of a mother struggling in poverty resembles Obama’s story. Never mind that Barack Obama is a loving, compassionate and brilliant human being who hit the ground running and kept us, thus far, from another depression.

For the next week we will hear again and again about how different, how selfish, how government-dependent, how unlike real Americans those of us who care about the dispossessed are.