Friday, August 31, 2012

Paul Ryan’s Convention speech in 3 words (Sally Kohn)

Partisan oratory at national conventions should not be subject to the same standards of accuracy and honesty as courtroom testimony or scientific publications.  A certain amount of exaggerated sloganeering, looseness with facts, and rhetorical hypocrisy are par for the course and perhaps even appropriate.  But these things are a matter of degree. The level of blatant and shameless dishonesty that pervaded the just-completed Republican National Convention in Tampa, ranging from distortion and misrepresentation and prevarication to outright lying, was pretty astonishing—but not surprising, since it was simply an extension of the relentless cynical dishonesty that has been a hallmark of the whole Romney presidential campaign and, over the past decade, of right-wing political discourse more generally.

(As I've noted in the past, one ought to emphasize that Republicans and right-wingers have no monopoly on dishonesty, hypocrisy, delusional groupthink, and cynical demagoguery.  But right now anyone who tries to claim or pretend that there is moral equivalence between the two major parties in this respect is not facing reality.)

A prime example was Congressman Paul Ryan's speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination. Even many people who regard Romney, fairly or unfairly, as pandering hypocrite without real convictions, whose statements can't be taken seriously because he's willing to say anything for political advantage, have accepted a picture of Paul Ryan as as a principled and serious truth-teller, whether or not one agrees with him.  (Take, for example, the right-of-center columnist Clive Crook. In a recent piece, while conceding that Ryan's budget proposals are largely "fantasy"—something that took him a while to recognize—Crook nevertheless reiterated an earlier judgment that Ryan's "Medicare plan is serious, brave and not to be dismissed."). Ryan's speech on Wednesday night should have been a reality check for some of these people.  As Paul Krugman correctly observed:
Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday night may have accomplished one good thing: It finally may have dispelled the myth that he is a Serious, Honest Conservative. Indeed, Mr. Ryan’s brazen dishonesty left even his critics breathless.
Well, when illusions of this sort are so firmly embedded in the conventional wisdom of the punditry, it is often hard to dislodge them with mere evidence.  But Ryan's speech has  indeed been subjected to rapid and devastating fact-checking by a a number of critics and other analysts.  Paul Krugman's critique of the Romney/Ryan Medicare scam is worth reading in full, as well as more general take-downs by Jonathan Chait, James Fallows, Michael Tomasky, Jonathan Cohn, and others.

However, one of the most acute compact assessments of Ryan's speech came, surprisingly, from a writer for Fox News, Sally Kohn (Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words). I recommend reading the whole thing (below), but here are some highlights. Kohn's three words are Dazzling (which strikes me as excessive, but I see what she means), Deceiving, and Distracting:
1. Dazzling

At least a quarter of Americans still don’t know who Paul Ryan is, and only about half who know and have an opinion of him view him favorably.

So, Ryan’s primary job tonight was to introduce himself and make himself seem likeable, and he did that well. [....] To anyone watching Ryan’s speech who hasn’t been paying much attention to the ins and outs and accusations of the campaign, I suspect Ryan came across as a smart, passionate and all-around nice guy — the sort of guy you can imagine having a friendly chat with while watching your kids play soccer together. [...] [w]ith his speech, Ryan humanized himself and presumably by extension, the top of the ticket.

2. Deceiving

On the other hand, to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was  Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

[JW: I think this underestimates Romney's own prowess in the mendacity sweepstakes, but it's true that if you just compare their two Convention speeches, Ryan comes out ahead, since the parts of Romney's speech when he wasn't talking about his family life were mostly vacuous.]

[....] Fact: While Ryan tried to pin the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating on spending under President Obama, the credit rating was actually downgraded because Republicans threatened not to raise the debt ceiling. [....]

Fact: Though Paul Ryan accused President Obama of taking $716 billion out of Medicare, the fact is that that amount was savings in Medicare reimbursement rates (which, incidentally, save Medicare recipients out-of-pocket costs, too) and Ryan himself embraced these savings in his budget plan. [....]

3. Distracting

And then there’s what Ryan didn’t talk about.

Ryan didn’t mention his extremist stance on banning all abortions with no exception for rape or incest, a stance that is out of touch with 75% of American voters.

Ryan didn’t mention his previous plan to hand over Social Security to Wall Street.

Ryan didn’t mention his numerous votes to raise spending and balloon the deficit when George W. Bush was president.

Ryan didn’t mention how his budget would eviscerate programs that help the poor and raise taxes on 95% of Americans in order to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires even further and increase — yes, increasethe deficit. [....]
And so on. And so on.  Kohn doesn't have room to mention all of Ryan's whoppers and misleading omissions, including the one about his role in the Simpson/Bowles deficit-reduction commission.

I think Krugman is right to suggest that, amidst all these distortions and omissions and untruths, the things that Ryan said and didn't say about Medicare add up to the central Big Lie of his speech. In this respect, it is startling that after Ryan had built up so much of his reputation as a serious policy-oriented politician by very publicly formulating an aggressive program to "reform" (i.e., dismantle) Medicare and then getting the House Republican majority to vote for it overwhelmingly ... in his Convention speech he abandoned and, in effect, repudiated his own position as if all that had never happened. This really was a breathtaking, almost Romneyesque, flip-flop.

Peter Suderman, one of the market-utopian enthusiasts at Reason magazine who really would like to see Medicare eviscerated and dismantled, nicely captured the extent to which Ryan's speech betrayed Ryan's own stated principles:
The GOP has now made its intentions clear: Defend Medicare at all costs, now and forever. And in doing so, it's weakened one of the party's most promising policy reformers.

Even though the party's latest platform acknowledges that Medicare is the largest single driver of the debt, and even as the party has inched toward making reform of the seniors health program a priority, it has also declared its intention to protect and defend the program at all costs. The GOP would have us believe that Medicare is both the biggest problem and the biggest success in American government, wrecking our public finances but also in need of saving from the current administration's cuts.

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney has declared that it was wrong for Obama to cut Medicare, and promised never to cut the program himself. Now Rep. Paul Ryan, the chief GOP proponent of Medicare reform in Congress and Romney's running mate, has thoroughly bought into this argument. Ryan's GOP convention speech tonight went all in on the defense of Medicare. [....]

What we're seeing is the war between two Paul Ryans. He has always been a conservative policy reformer as well as a good party soldier. [JW: OK, I know that the kind of ultra-individualist market-utopian approach represented by Ryan is rather bizarrely called "conservative" in US politics nowadays, though in a broader historical perspective it should more accurately be seen as an extremist version of economic liberalism. In this respect, I think Newt Gingrich, of all people, got it right when he described the Ryan budget as an example of "right-wing social engineering".] But when the two have come into conflict, the party soldier has almost always won. [...] He made his name as an energetic Medicare reformer, someone who believed the program wasn't working, was too expensive, and needed to be changed. But tonight, in the most prominent speech of his career, he chose to defend the idea that the program was not only worth preserving but worth defending from any and all of the other party's cuts. [....]
Suderman would like to think that Ryan doesn't really believe any of the things he's saying about Medicare now. And I'm sure that Suderman is right about that--which is one reason why putting the future of Medicare and other important programs in the hands of the Republicans is such a dangerous prospect.

 => Meanwhile, will the Romney/Ryan ticket and the Republican Party get away with this scam? Maybe, maybe not. At one level, I suspect that both Suderman and Kohn would agree with this statement by Kohn:
Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care. Both parties should hold themselves to that standard.
I agree with that, too. However, given the actual record of the past four years, one can see why Romney and the Republicans might conclude that shameless mendacity is more likely to be a winning strategy. With luck, the results of the November elections won't encourage them further.

 —Jeff Weintraub

==============================
FoxNews.com
August 30, 2012
Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words
By

1. Dazzling

At least a quarter of Americans still don’t know who Paul Ryan is, and only about half who know and have an opinion of him view him favorably.

So, Ryan’s primary job tonight was to introduce himself and make himself seem likeable, and he did that well. The personal parts of the speech were very personally delivered, especially the touching parts where Ryan talked about his father and mother and their roles in his life. And at the end of the speech, when Ryan cheered the crowd to its feet, he showed an energy and enthusiasm that’s what voters want in leaders and what Republicans have been desperately lacking in this campaign.

To anyone watching Ryan’s speech who hasn’t been paying much attention to the ins and outs and accusations of the campaign, I suspect Ryan came across as a smart, passionate and all-around nice guy — the sort of guy you can imagine having a friendly chat with while watching your kids play soccer together. And for a lot of voters, what matters isn’t what candidates have done or what they promise to do —it’s personality. On this measure, Mitt Romney has been catastrophically struggling and with his speech, Ryan humanized himself and presumably by extension, the top of the ticket.

2. Deceiving

On the other hand, to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was  Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. Said fact checkers have already condemned certain arguments that Ryan still irresponsibly repeated.

Fact: While Ryan tried to pin the downgrade of the United States’ credit rating on spending under President Obama, the credit rating was actually downgraded because Republicans threatened not to raise the debt ceiling.

Fact: While Ryan blamed President Obama for the shut down of a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, the plant was actually closed under President George W. Bush. Ryan actually asked for federal spending to save the plant, while Romney has criticized the auto industry bailout that President Obama ultimately enacted to prevent other plants from closing.

Fact: Though Ryan insisted that President Obama wants to give all the credit for private sector success to government, that isn't what the president said. Period.

Fact: Though Paul Ryan accused President Obama of taking $716 billion out of Medicare, the fact is that that amount was savings in Medicare reimbursement rates (which, incidentally, save Medicare recipients out-of-pocket costs, too) and Ryan himself embraced these savings in his budget plan.

Elections should be about competing based on your record in the past and your vision for the future, not competing to see who can get away with the most lies and distortions without voters noticing or bother to care. Both parties should hold themselves to that standard. Republicans should be ashamed that there was even one misrepresentation in Ryan’s speech but sadly, there were many.

3. Distracting

And then there’s what Ryan didn’t talk about.

Ryan didn’t mention his extremist stance on banning all abortions with no exception for rape or incest, a stance that is out of touch with 75% of American voters.

Ryan didn’t mention his previous plan to hand over Social Security to Wall Street.

Ryan didn’t mention his numerous votes to raise spending and balloon the deficit when George W. Bush was president.

Ryan didn’t mention how his budget would eviscerate programs that help the poor and raise taxes on 95% of Americans in order to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires even further and increase — yes, increasethe deficit.

These aspects of Ryan’s resume and ideology are sticky to say the least. He would have been wise to tackle them head on and try and explain them away in his first real introduction to voters. But instead of Ryan airing his own dirty laundry, Democrats will get the chance.

At the end of his speech, Ryan quoted his dad, who used to say to him, “"Son. You have a choice: You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution."

Ryan may have helped solve some of the likeability problems facing Romney, but ultimately by trying to deceive voters about basic facts and trying to distract voters from his own record, Ryan’s speech caused a much larger problem for himself and his running mate.

Sally Kohn is a Fox News contributor and writer.  You can find her online at http://sallykohn.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sallykohn.

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