Thoughts on the Speech

I thought the President did well by making it a thematic speech — he has the State of the Union in three weeks for policy.  This speech was a meditation on who we are, what we believe and stand for, and sets the tone for addressing our specific problems next month.

He reminded us how far we have come from four years ago — “My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment.”  Can you imagine his saying that in January 2009, when it would have sounded cruel and sadistic, given that our collective fortunes were still in a downward spiral and we had no clue where the bottom was?

He also reminded us how low we have sunk — “We cannot…treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

And he effectively turned the tables on those who call him an exotic extremist, by affirming that we as a country have reached a consensus about what was achieved in the New Deal and the Great Society, and we are not going back.  He showed who the real extremists are.

And he called on us to stop that extreme minority who don’t represent our values:

“You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.  You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

The crazies in Congress are a minority of their majority in the House and a minority of their minority in the Senate.  The President said that we can’t let these people set and control our agenda, that it wasn’t enough to re-elect him, we have to help him with phone calls and petitions, with marches and money.

To me, this is a time to forge new winning coalitions.  Those who don’t have or want a gun must join with those who want their guns only for hunting, personal protection, and recreational range shooting because there are many more of us than those who want to stockpile military-style weapons and ammunition.  This isn’t about urban/suburban Americans versus rural Americans, it is about the non-paranoid many against the paranoid few.

The great divide right now is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between rational Republicans and irrational ones.  It is up to reasonable people of both parties to undertake the “common effort and common purpose” the President summoned us to, so we may “carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”


The Worse Political Advice, Ever

David Brooks argues (“The Elevator Speech,” NYT) that Obama has to “define America’s most pressing challenge” on Thursday, and says he has “three clear options.”

The first option is global warming:

“But if this is really where Obama’s passion lies, he should go for it.

“He should vow to double down on green energy and green technology.  He could revive cap-and-trade legislation that would creat incentives for clean innovation.  He could propose a tax reform package that would substitute gasoline and energy consumption taxes for a piece of our current income taxes.  He could say that his No. 1 international priority will be to get a global warming treaty ratified by all the major nations.”

He could say all these things and then proceed to replicate George McGovern’s 1972 defeat.  Hell, Obama probably wouldn’t even carry Massachusetts.  Mitt could safely spend the rest of the campaign on his boat in New Hampshire while Ryan is off bow- and- arrow hunting.

So here is Brooks’ door number two, broken capitalism:

“Obama could go before the convention and say that there has been a giant failure at the heart of modern capitalism.  Even in good times,the wealth that modern capitalism generates is not being shared equitably.  Workers are not seeing the benefits of their own productivity gains.

“Obama could offer policies broad enough to address this monumental problem.  He could vow to strengthen unions.  He could vow to use federal funds to pay for 500,000 more teachers and two million more infrastructure jobs.  He could cap the mortgage interest deduction, cap social security benefits, raise taxes on the rich, raise taxes on capital gains and embrace other measures to redistribute money from those who are prospering tho those who are not.  He could crack down on out-sourcing and regulate trade.  He could throw himself behind a new industrial policy to create manufacturing jobs.

This agenda wouldn’t appeal to moderates, or people like me, but it’s huge, it’s serious and it would highlight a real problem.”  Emphasis added.

So Brooks is supposedly giving Obama sincere advice for a speech that’s intended to attract moderates and admitting that his advice would repel moderates.  This speech would feed the socialist, anti-capitalist GOP smear.  Again, he’d lose, maybe not as big as with the global warming speech, but he’d lose.

Brooks’ third option is to embrace Simpson Bowles.  That’s the least suicidal of the three, but you can’t offer honest, real numbers when the other side is committed to lying, imaginary numbers.

Brooks concludes, “If Obama can’t tells us the big policy thing he wants to do, he doesn’t deserve a second term.”

If Obama were to listen to Brooks, deserving or not, he wouldn’t get a second term.  And I can state unequivocally that David Brooks no longer deserves a NYT op-ed column.


Quote of the Day

“Paul Ryan, what he did in his speech, I think, so stretched the truth, and I like Paul Ryan, I have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but [what] he said about closing the GM plant, which closed before Barack Obama took president, about the Simpson-Bowles bill which — Simpson-Bowles, which he opposed, and then all of a sudden you see faults Barack Obama for. At some point the truth should matter. ”

Matthew Dowd, Republican strategist, on ABC’s This Week

So patently insincere Mitt puts this shameless liar on his ticket.  Yeah, that’ll help.

Condi Conservatism

From “Party of Strivers,” David Brooks, NYT:

“I see what the G.O.P. is offering the engineering major from Purdue or the business major from Arizona State.  The party is offering skilled people the freedom to run their race.  I don’t see what the party is offering the waitress with two kids, or the warehouse worker whose wages have stagnated for a decade, or the factory worker whose skills are now obsolete.

“The fact is our destinies are shaped by social forces much more than the current G.O.P. is willing to admit.  The skills that enable people to flourish are not innate but constructed by circumstances.

Government does not always undermine initiative.  Some government programs, like the G.I. Bill, inflame ambition.  Others depress it.  What matters is not whether a program is public or private but its effect on character.  Todays Republicans, who see every government program as a step on the road to serfdom, are often blind to that.  They celebrate the race to success but don’t know how to give everyone access to that race.

The wisest speech departed from the prevailing story line.  It was delivered by Condoleezza Rice.  It echoed an older, less libertarian conservatism, which harkens back to Washington, Tocqueville and Lincoln.  The powerful words in her speech were not ‘I’ and ‘me’ — the heroic individual.  They were ‘we’ and ‘us’ — citizens who emerge out of and exist as participants in a great national project.

“Rice celebrated material striving but also larger national goals — the long national struggle to extend benefits and mobilize all human potential.  She subtly emphasized how our individual destinies are dependent upon the social fabric and upon public institutions like schools, just laws and our mission in the world.  She put less emphasis on commerce and more on citizenship.

Lyin’ Ryan

From “Facts Took a Beating In Ryan’s Speech,” Michael Cooper, NYT:

“But an interesting question unfolding is whether there is a tipping point at which a candidate becomes so associated with falsehoods that it becomes part of his public persona — which hampered Vice President Al Gore during his run for president in 2000, when his misstatements on the campaign trail were used to stoke the perception that he could not be trusted in general.

“In the case of Mr. Ryan’s speech, the jury is still out.  It was received rapturously by the Republican Party faithful, but his many questionable assertions ensured that much of the analysis on Thursday focused on his accuracy more than his acumen.”

I think Ryan, who was a media favorite even among those who didn’t agree with his budget and his Medicare vouchers, has hurt himself badly.  He’s perceived differently and more warily now, and it will be reflected in the reporting and punditry about him. 


Good, But Not Good Enough

From “The filter:  How the media will measure Mitt Romney,” Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, Politico:

“He seemed like a comfortable and accessible figure, if hardly an electric one; there was nothing distant or exotic about his performance or personal presence.  By the end, he even showed a little punch — he finished strong, even passionately, by his standards.  On the other hand, his nods to the suffering of struggling workers, such as a reference to the person who lost a $22-an-hour job and instead takes two $9-an-hour jobs to make ends meet, rang a little hollow.  The reality is that Romney regularly interacts with few such people, and is far removed from this part of the economy.

“He managed to indict Obama without coming off as mean.  He then made his case crisply for markets versus government, the essence of his political philosophy.

“One senses that talking with Romney might be a little like chatting with the boss at the company picnic — perfectly pleasant but a bit forced.  He cleared the bar on this category, but will still likely want Ryan to handle the likability account.

His policy substance was as thin as tissue paper….  Romney didn’t even get to any policy until the end of the speech.  And even then he just announced a series of aspirations…supported by almost no detail or explanation of how he would achieve these wondrous results. Very weak.

“There were no surprises in this speech, which itself is a bit of a surprise, and disappointment.  How could Romney and his writers not have even one trick up the sleeve?

“This absence highlights what may be the biggest weakness of Romney’s speech.   He is behind in this race.  It is Romney, not Obama, who needs to somehow change the dynamic in some major way, and it is hard to see how Thursday’s speech did this.

“His performance was fine, or even pretty darn good by Romney standards.  That is probably not good enough in his circumstances.”  Emphasis added.

What Mitt Did Right

From “No silver tongue, but Mitt Romney gets job done,” Jonathan Martin, Politico:

“Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech won’t find its way into any pantheon of memorable convention addresses, but the Republican accepted his party’s nomination with remarks that will help him with swing voters in two important ways.

“Facing grim polling data about his personal appeal, the usually detached Romney finally offered a glimpse of raw emotion as he discussed his late parents and spoke of his love for his own five sons. Choking up on two occasions, Romney revealed a personal side his aides have been trying to find since he began running for president more than five years ago.

“Further, the GOP standard-bearer articulated some of the most compelling lines of attack on President Barack Obama he’s yet to deliver. Romney, grasping for an edge against a history-making incumbent who scores poorly on the economy but remains well-liked, seemed to find a new implicit message for voters: You redeemed America’s promise in 2008, it felt good, but it’s OK to let him go.

“Romney doesn’t have a silver tongue. The roof of the convention hall here was never in danger of being brought down by the crowd. But he showed that he was capable of delivering a solid but not spectacular speech with the pressure on. The broad consensus among Romney watchers: about as good as the CEO-turned-governor was going to do.”   Emphasis added.

The Sow’s Ear Nominee

I watched Mitt’s speech with the soft bigotry of low expectations.  I thought it was overall a well-crafted speech, well-delivered, probably the best I’ve seen him.  They took their sow’s ear of a candidate, and certainly didn’t turn him into a silk purse, but they fashioned a decent pigskin one.

I still can’t stand his little tight-lipped smirk that passes for a smile.  You’d think someone who’s been running for president for five years would have fixed that by now.

I don’t think the speech changes anything, I still think President Obama will win.  When Mitt talked about his mother’s running for the Senate and wondering why women shouldn’t have power in national affairs, he left hanging the question why we shouldn’t have power over our own bodies.   He didn’t bridge the gender gap chasm.

The attack on Putin/Russia was ill-advised.  We have a sitting President who is trying every day to get more cooperation from them on issues like Iran and Syria.  Mittens wasn’t helping.

Ryan Threw Away His Carefully-Cultivated Reputation with That Speech

I’ve been reading so many excellent take-downs of Paul Ryan’s speech last night.  But I especially like this one.

From “Paul Ryan fails — the truth,” Jonathan Bernstein, The Plum Line, Washington Post:


It was, by any reasonable standards, a staggering, staggering lie.  Here’s Paul Ryan about Barack Obama:

He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report.  He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.

“They.” “Them.” “Them.” Those words are lies. Because Paul Ryan was on that commission. “Came back with an urgent report.” That is a lie. The commission never made any recommendations for Barack Obama to support or oppose. Why not? Because the commission voted down its own recommendations. Why? Because Paul Ryan, a member of the commission, voted it down and successfully convinced the other House Republicans on the commission to vote it down.

That wasn’t the only bit of mendacity – lazy mendacity, incredibly lazy mendacity – in Ryan’s speech. Twitter lit up as soon as he started telling the story of the Janesville auto plant that Barack Obama didn’t save – a plant that, it turns out, closed before Obama was president. And of course there’s the infamous cuts to Medicare that Ryan lambasted Obama for without happening to mention that those very same cuts were in Paul Ryan’s own budget. Yes: absolutely everything in Obamacare is an abomination, says Paul Ryan, except for (as he forgets to mention) the cuts to Medicare that he supports – and yet he still singles that part out to use as an attack.

It isn’t even true in some symbolic or abstract way. The real truth is that Paul Ryan completely rejects the approach of that commission – because it includes tax increases along with spending cuts – while Barack Obama has, while not endorsing the exact plan that Ryan shot down, basically endorsed the commission’s approach.

And then there’s the logic of the whole thing. As Seth Masket said, it all comes down to arguing “we must cut entitlements! Obama cutting entitlements is un-American.”  There’s also, as many were pointing out, the plain fact that until January 2009 Paul Ryan faithfully supported all the tax cuts and spending increases which created the deficit problem he’s been so concerned about since January 2009.

But really, the proper response to a speech like this isn’t to carefully analyze the logic, or to find instances of hypocrisy; it’s to call the speaker out for telling flat-out lies to the American people. Paul Ryan has had what I’ve long thought was an undeserved good reputation among many in the press and in Washington. It shouldn’t survive tonight’s speech. 

Italics in original; emphasis added.

Ryan’s “Factual Shortcuts”

From “Departure From Usual:  Traditional Media Call Out Ryan For Factually Dubious Speech,” Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo:

“But the Wisconsin congressman’s speech strained facts on multiple occasions.  And that has rankled more than just the usual suspects.  Several mainstream outlets that have praised him in the past pointedly went after his misleading portrayals of critical issues at stake in this election.

“The Associated Press took on Ryan’s misleading assertions in an article headlined,’FACT CHECK:  Ryan takes factual shortcuts in speech,’ which included a point-by-point refutation of various claims he made.

“The AP article took on his claims about Medicare, the stimulus package, an auto plant in his home state and the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission, among others.

“Other takedowns of the House budget chief’s claims were published in CNN and ABC News.

“The pushback could damage Ryan’s reputation for sincerity among members of the media establishment, which has been key to his identity as a reformer.  It might also escalate tensions with reporters who are already pressing the Romney campaign for its inaccurate attacks on Obama’s welfare policy, and his remarks about entrepreneurship, that the GOP has taken out of context.”

I think the fact that Mitt has gotten away with the untrue welfare and “You didn’t build that” stuff emboldened his campaign to have Ryan keep the whoppers coming.  I was taken aback by all the flat-out lies in his speech.  

There’s garden-variety spinning, and then there’s jaw-dropping shameful.  Ryan was the latter.