On Ryan’s Acceptance Speech
When assessing a speech by a vice presidential nominee, including its potential impact, it is important to keep in mind that in the history of American politics, at least since the end of WW II, only one vice presidential candidate possibly had an impact on an election. In 1960 it is unlikely that John F. Kennedy would have won as many southern states as he did, and in particular Texas, without Lyndon B. Johnson on the ticket. That said, the vice presidential nominee’s speech is unlikely to convince many voters to vote for one presidential nominee rather than another.
There are two things the VP nominee’s speech can and should do. First, it can “energize the base,” a phrase that has become almost a cliché. It can encourage turnout among doubtful or reluctant party members. The challenge that Ryan faced is answering the question, which base is that? Lately, pundits have been inclined to identify the Tea Party as the base of the Republican Party. But recent comments by Todd Akin and numerous other Republican candidates about legitimate/forcible rape have led some Republicans, who may think of themselves as moderates, to distance themselves from the effort to exclude some forms of rape from the category of “real” or “legitimate” or “forcible” rape. Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass) is one such candidate, although his votes against women on a range of other issues hardly qualify him as a profile in courage within his own party. So the following question emerges: “Is the Tea Party, a radically right wing element proudly opposed to any compromise whatsoever, the base or are there competing factions who can claim that mantle?” Complicating the dilemma for the Republicans is the fact that recent research by Robert Putnam (Harvard) and David Cambell (Notre Dame) has demonstrated that out of 32 significant groups and/or individuals, the Tea Party is last in approval ratings among registered voters. Muslims, gays and lesbians, atheists, Barak Obama, the NRA and numerous other groups/individuals had higher approval ratings when Putnam and Cambell conducted their research last year.
The other thing that a VP candidate’s speech must do is avoid any major gaffs or raise any controversial issues. In that respect, Ryan’s attack on what he claims is Obama’s record in dealing with the economy appeals to both the Tea Party and what moderates are left among the Republicans. So on those two counts the speech appears to have done what it was supposed to do and in the process allay the fears of those on the extremist right that a Romney administration will not really be conservative enough for them.
Of course, in attacking President Obama on what he claims is Obama’s record Ryan was in an element in which the facts of his assertions would not be challenged, a trend that seems to be true of the media as well. An analysis done by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that the combination of the Ryan voucher system coupled with the repeal of Obamacare will cost current Medicare recipients an average of $11,100 or two years worth of groceries; those who are currently 54, $59,500, the average Medicare senior’s life savings, and it goes up from there.
Similarly, the so called raiding of Medicare to the tune of $716 billion by Obama has been shown to be false on so many occasions that at this point the Republicans know they are telling an untruth. Savings come in the form such things as lowering payments to hospitals (e.g. $76,000 for four hours of outpatient surgery for a fractured knee-cap, surgeon and anesthesiologist extra is exorbitant by any standard). Moreover, Ryan’s own plan called for the exact same reduction with the cuts going to pay for more tax relief for those in the upper 2% of the income scale.
There are other items that are problematic that were ignored in the assessment of much of the electronic media, MSNBC being one exception. The downgrade of the U.S. credit rating that Ryan alluded to came in response to the Republicans refusing to agree to raise the debt ceiling. The increase in the total U.S. debt has continued because of two unfunded wars, the deregulation of the financial industry resulting in the real estate disaster contributing to the unemployment that remains so stuck around 8%, and tax reductions of upwards to $800 billion to the upper 1% of the income scale who don’t seem to be creating many jobs. The fact that the GM plant that closed in Ryan’s hometown closed while President Bush was in office was not only ignored but discussed as though it occurred during Obama’s administration and ignores the number of plants that were reopened as a result of the automobile bailout that Romney very vocally opposed. All of these things were nicely misrepresented and projected as Obama’s failure of leadership rather than the Tea Party’s announced policy of refusing compromise.
In the end, Ryan’s speech did nothing to refute the assessment of Paul Krugman, the Nobel winning economist from Princeton, that when it comes to the economy and reducing the deficit, Ryan is not the serious fellow that the press has thoughtlessly proclaimed him to be. In this respect the Republican Party’s early strategy announced in 2008 seems to have worked nicely. They understood that if they could oppose Obama on absolutely everything, as Mitch McConnell indicated they would, in 2012 many people, including the media, would blame Obama for the results.
This complicity of the media was perhaps best demonstrated by Erin Burnett and Wolf Blitzer who repeatedly praised Ryan’s speech for its precision despite the fact that it contained absolutely no specifics, as The New York Times editorial of today (August 30) shows. And Blitzer’s claim that Ryan’s support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) shows Ryan’s willingness to “cross the aisle” ignores the fact that the program was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 3, 2008. One has to ask if media outlets such as CNN are so afraid of being called liberal that they are willing to be complicit in the duplicity.