So what did we learn from the Republican National Convention?

September 2, 2012

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A few thoughts:

1. It feels like the case for Paul Ryan has gone from "bold truthteller" to "well, all politicians lie and deceive, why is everyone picking on Paul Ryan for doing it?" That's not good.

2. The fact checkers are changing political reporting in a way that, until now, I hadn't really thought much about: They're stiffening the media's spine when presented with lies and deceptions. Previously, it was difficult for reporters to say that a politician said X, and that was a lie. That's taking sides, even if it's simply taking the side of the truth. But now they can say that a politician said X, and the fact checkers said it was a lie. This is a slightly weird arrangement, as they're just another arm of the media (Politifact is run by the Tampa Bay Times, Glenn Kessler is employed the Washington Post, etc), but it seems to be what's happening.

3. "Politicians try to mislead voters all the time and only occasionally do they do this with flat-out lies," writes Kevin Drum. "Bottom line: if you focus only on actual lies, you miss too much." It's worth checking out his three-part test to see if a politician is trying to deceive you, and by how much.

4. Subjectivity really matters here. Unlike Kevin, I think Ryan's line about the GM plant in Janesville, Wis. is much worse than his line about Obamacare taking from Medicare.

5. For all that, what Ryan said about the Obama administration is, in some ways, less interesting than what he -- and Romney -- didn't say about the potential Romney-Ryan administration. Go back and read Ryan and Romney's speeches. Then tell me, what would they do about Medicare? How would they cut spending? How would the tax code look when they were done? How would they create jobs in 2013?

6. That's not just my judgment. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, "Neither [Romney] nor the entire GOP convention made a case for his economic policy agenda. He and Paul Ryan promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it."

7. There was a sense in which the Republican convention must have been very cheering to liberals. Republicans are running as the party that will protect Medicare. They are criticizing President Obama for doing too little to bailout auto plants. They are downplaying the more conservative elements of their agenda. It is difficult to imagine a ticket with that view of the country taking office and then making the kinds of cuts and reforms conservatives are hoping to see.

8. Perhaps this is why Romney's campaign advisers are telling reporters that Romney might be a one-term president who attempts a kind of kamikaze mission against the welfare state. Color me skeptical. "I'm comfortable being a one-term president if I've gotten some big things done" is the kind of thing people stop saying once they've won their first term and now have the opportunity to be a two-term president.

9. This goes to my initial skepticism that it would be good for conservatives to have Ryan on the ticket. Already, Ryan is proving himself a good soldier, backing off his intention to cut Medicare over the next decade, reminding voters that a Romney administration will pursue Romney's agenda, downplaying his policy ideas in major speeches. If Ryan had remained in the House and had wanted to continue being a national figure, perhaps he would have forced Romney to govern as a conservative reformer, if only because that's what Ryan would have needed to do to remain an independent leader in the Republican Party. But as Romney's vice president? The evidence so far suggests he'll be a good soldier in a Romney administration and will use his considerable credibility to keep the GOP on-board with the boss's agenda.

10. Nor is it even clear what conservatives would gain from an unpopular, single-term presidency. Romney and Ryan's Medicare plan, for instance, wouldn't kick in for over a decade. If that was jammed through Congress without much popular support and then Republicans lost the 2020 election, I think it's safe to say it wouldn't happen at all. Health-care reform, which is likely dead if Obama doesn't win a second term, is a useful analogue here. I'd say the lesson of the last few years is major policy reform is very difficult if it's not built atop a broad consensus. Simply passing the bill isn't enough, particularly if there's a long lag between when the bill is signed and when the new policy takes effect.

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September 2, 2012

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A few thoughts:

1. It feels like the case for Paul Ryan has gone from "bold truthteller" to "well, all politicians lie and deceive, why is everyone picking on Paul Ryan for doing it?" That's not good.

2. The fact checkers are changing political reporting in a way that, until now, I hadn't really thought much about: They're stiffening the media's spine when presented with lies and deceptions. Previously, it was difficult for reporters to say that a politician said X, and that was a lie. That's taking sides, even if it's simply taking the side of the truth. But now they can say that a politician said X, and the fact checkers said it was a lie. This is a slightly weird arrangement, as they're just another arm of the media (Politifact is run by the Tampa Bay Times, Glenn Kessler is employed the Washington Post, etc), but it seems to be what's happening.

3. "Politicians try to mislead voters all the time and only occasionally do they do this with flat-out lies," writes Kevin Drum. "Bottom line: if you focus only on actual lies, you miss too much." It's worth checking out his three-part test to see if a politician is trying to deceive you, and by how much.

4. Subjectivity really matters here. Unlike Kevin, I think Ryan's line about the GM plant in Janesville, Wis. is much worse than his line about Obamacare taking from Medicare.

5. For all that, what Ryan said about the Obama administration is, in some ways, less interesting than what he -- and Romney -- didn't say about the potential Romney-Ryan administration. Go back and read Ryan and Romney's speeches. Then tell me, what would they do about Medicare? How would they cut spending? How would the tax code look when they were done? How would they create jobs in 2013?

6. That's not just my judgment. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote, "Neither [Romney] nor the entire GOP convention made a case for his economic policy agenda. He and Paul Ryan promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it."

7. There was a sense in which the Republican convention must have been very cheering to liberals. Republicans are running as the party that will protect Medicare. They are criticizing President Obama for doing too little to bailout auto plants. They are downplaying the more conservative elements of their agenda. It is difficult to imagine a ticket with that view of the country taking office and then making the kinds of cuts and reforms conservatives are hoping to see.

8. Perhaps this is why Romney's campaign advisers are telling reporters that Romney might be a one-term president who attempts a kind of kamikaze mission against the welfare state. Color me skeptical. "I'm comfortable being a one-term president if I've gotten some big things done" is the kind of thing people stop saying once they've won their first term and now have the opportunity to be a two-term president.

9. This goes to my initial skepticism that it would be good for conservatives to have Ryan on the ticket. Already, Ryan is proving himself a good soldier, backing off his intention to cut Medicare over the next decade, reminding voters that a Romney administration will pursue Romney's agenda, downplaying his policy ideas in major speeches. If Ryan had remained in the House and had wanted to continue being a national figure, perhaps he would have forced Romney to govern as a conservative reformer, if only because that's what Ryan would have needed to do to remain an independent leader in the Republican Party. But as Romney's vice president? The evidence so far suggests he'll be a good soldier in a Romney administration and will use his considerable credibility to keep the GOP on-board with the boss's agenda.

10. Nor is it even clear what conservatives would gain from an unpopular, single-term presidency. Romney and Ryan's Medicare plan, for instance, wouldn't kick in for over a decade. If that was jammed through Congress without much popular support and then Republicans lost the 2020 election, I think it's safe to say it wouldn't happen at all. Health-care reform, which is likely dead if Obama doesn't win a second term, is a useful analogue here. I'd say the lesson of the last few years is major policy reform is very difficult if it's not built atop a broad consensus. Simply passing the bill isn't enough, particularly if there's a long lag between when the bill is signed and when the new policy takes effect.

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