First Night of the RNC: A Bad Night for Truth
Date posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2012
On Republican politicians ignoring facts and seeing the America they want to see.
Quick summary of Day 1 of the RNC: a good night for Chris Christie, a bad night for truth, and a bad night for people interested in what happens outside of our borders. If there was an overriding theme to the night, it was a counterfactual history of the development of the American middle class. Speaker after speaker told their own family history as an example of economic mobility in America while excoriating the president for supposedly believing that people should depend solely on government to meet their needs, all the while failing to acknowledge that the success of the previous generation was achieved against a backdrop much more similar to the Democrat’s vision for America—higher taxes on high earners, extensive government investment in infrastructure, education, and the safety net, and (gasp) unions—than the current GOP’s vision. (At least Chris Christie gave a shout-out to the GI Bill).
Chris Christie gave an excellent speech. But, as many have already pointed out, it was much more of a “Chris Christie 2016” speech than a “Mitt Romney 2012” speech. While there is a tradition of convention keynote speakers addressing broader and more personal themes than the current election—Barack Obama’s 2004 address being a good example—it’s hard to imagine that Christie could have chosen a theme that would be less helpful to Romney than the need for political courage. Whatever virtues Romney has a candidate, willingness to tell “hard truths we need to hear,” is hardly one of them.
I also have to imagine that Christie was more direct than Romney and Ryan care to be about the Republicans’ willingness to take unpopular action on entitlement reform. While the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate was supposed to show how serious the GOP is about getting America’s fiscal house in order, Romney and Ryan are trying to sell a “have your cake and eat it too“ approach to entitlement reform rather than framing it, like Christie did, as forcing America to take its medicine. Christie declared that seniors aren’t selfish and that they see the need to reform Medicare for their children and grandchildren, but the part of the Romney/Ryan Medicare plan which the campaign forefronts is that it would not have any effect on current seniors.
Rick Santorum gave a very Rick Santorum speech (spoiler alert—gay marriage did it!).
Ann Romney’s speech is getting a lot of kudos. Maybe I’m being overly cynical or overly partisan, but, while it was impressively polished for someone who isn’t a politician, I fail to see how the speech moves the needle on her husband. Imagine the caricature of Romney—awkward, entitled, out-of-touch—isn’t Ann Romney exactly the person you’d expect that caricature to be married to? I don’t think she has as strong of a “humanizing” effect on Romney as his campaign would like to believe. Given that Ann’s main task was supposed to be the humanization of her husband, the speech had surprisingly few personal anecdotes. She did praise Romney for being charitable, but (class warfare alert!) when you’re worth nine figures, giving to charity doesn’t necessarily show that you’re a good guy, it just shows that you’re not a monster.
Ann is also supposed to help Mitt with the gender gap. I’m sure her paean to love and the family went over great with women already inclined to vote Republican. But, for women skeptical of the GOP because of its anti-abortion extremism and attack on programs that are critical for working families, I don’t think being told that Ann Romney loves them is going to be terribly persuasive.
And, because I can’t resist taking a few cheap shots: Ann Romney recently claimed that since they’ve been married, she and Mitt have never argued. Does this mean she flip-flopped on abortion at the exact same time that Mitt did? Also, this.
The theme of the pre-primetime speeches at the convention seemed to be that the economy is doing terribly, but that the aspects of the economy that are doing well should be attributed to the efforts of Republican governors. John Kasich of Ohio, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin all extolled the performance of the economy in their states since their elections, while lambasting the overall performance of the economy under President Obama (and milking as much as they could out of the dishonest “didn’t build that” attack). The most absurd example of this came not on the convention floor but during an NPR interview: Governor Rick Snyder boasted the extent of Michigan’s economic recovery since Republicans took control of the state in 2011, but when asked about the importance of the auto bailout, he hemmed and hawed, conceded that it needed to happen, but ultimately described it as “overblown” and merely “a historic event that got done.” Yup, just happened—no need to think about whether it happened due to the efforts of some and over the objection of others.
Rick Santorum gave a very Rick Santorum speech (spoiler alert—gay marriage did it!) and, of course, carried some water on the Romney campaign’s welfare lie. While I understand that you have to let the primaries’ runner-up speak, it probably doesn’t inspire much confidence in Romney’s leadership skills to remind people with how much difficulty he beat out a weak Republican field (remember how fun that was?).
Finally, having been zinged by Ian yesterday, I feel like I’d be letting him down if I didn’t do a quick labor law fact-check on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s hit on the National Labor Relations Board and the Boeing case. Rather than conservatives “winning” a case brought by “President Obama and his National Labor Relations Board,” the case settled with Boeing pledging to create more union jobs. Then there’s the small matter that the (independent) NLRB issued its complaint because Boeing broke the law. Also worth pointing out is what an inconvenient hero Boeing, with its heavy reliance on government contracts, is for the “we built this!” convention.[pinit]