Monthly Archives: August 2012

Live Blogging the Republican National Convention: 3rd and Final Night

Note: Due to my late arrival to live-blogging the Republican National Convention tonight, I will have a later update about tonight’s earlier Convention speeches.  I’ll start again with the updates…as soon as anything happens.  (Olympic Gold Medalist speaking at 9:34 pm.)

11:28 pm: Timothy Dolan, Cardinal-Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in New York, gives a closing benediction to the 2012 Republican National Convention.  He said that he took this position as a part of his religious mission rather than on a partisan basis; but his call upon his god to renew in us a yearning for liberty, and for religious liberty (an allusion to his fight earlier this year with President Obama over Health and Human Services’ ill-fated call for religious organizations to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees), and for God to call us to renew our faith in his moral order rather than to “set-up false gods of our own making” are all pretty transparent references to the rhetoric of the Republican platform.  Actually, this was perhaps the most contemporaneously-partisan benediction since Texas Governor Rick Perry held that massive prayer rally in Houston a year ago.  He told us that was about moral renewal rather than partisanship, too.

4 days later, he announced he was running for President.

11:17 pm: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: 2 hard-working, attractive, personally-decent men who were born into wealth and power, and really don’t know what it is to face deprivation.  Somehow they manage to embody both Republicans’ self-idealization and the unappreciable difference of being rich in a country where the fact of wealth itself generates even greater wealth without effort.  I respect these men–I really do–and I could say I trusted them if I didn’t believe that their wealth deprived them of a concept of poverty.  I give them credit for giving us such a clear self-representation, and presenting such a stark choice of both philosophy and policy between themselves and President Obama.  At the very least, they are worthy adversaries for the election.

11:14 pm: Governor Romney waxes grandiose on a number of assurances we have heard before, and the 2012 Republican National Convention draws to a close.  In all, they stayed on-message, and I really am impressed by the extent to which they took the high road, emphasizing their own appeal rather than finding a bunch of nasty things to say about their opponents.  (Oh, they took some cheap shots, and I’m really tired of the “You didn’t build that” misquote of the President, but if you saw the 2008 Republican National Convention, this looks like an act of penance.)

11:09 pm: Governor Romney just attacked President Obama for not being tough enough on Iran.  Talk about a back-seat driver: I’m serious about nuclear non-proliferation, too–but the sanctions on Iran are working, the President is the reason the pressure is still on Iran, and quite frankly self-styled “cowboy” George W. Bush never found a tact for dealing with Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.  Now we’re supposed to think President Romney’s loud declaratives will go somewhere?

11:06 pm: Governor Romney promises that “Unlike the President, I will not raise taxes on middle-class America.”  I’m really frustrated that Republicans continue to pretend President Obama raised taxes when he cut them.  I mean, yes, he has proposed raising taxes on the rich, but he gave us the payroll tax cut that gave an extra $1,000 a year to the average-income family.  Oh, and he wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for those middle-class families, too.

11:03 pm: OK, there we go: Governor Romney actually said during his acceptance speech that he would create 12 million new American jobs.  So much for the creative destruction of capitalism, the heroic individualism of the market producer, and spiritual discipline against resentment…

10:58 pm: Governor Romney offers the secret to success: It’s about getting back up and trying again, even in the absence of confirmatory evidence that one will succeed.  He’s got something there, but it’s a biographical account of people who have changed the World, not a social policy.  This is the problem with basing an economic policy on an idea of heroic individualism: It can’t make us into a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg.  There are only going to be a few Thomas Edisons; the audience is getting a contact high off a very expensive product.

10:54 pm: No, Governor, the warmest feelings I have towards President Obama are not from when I voted for him.  They are from when he overcame many vested interests and decades of policy fatalism and passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, striking a decisive blow against the greatest systematic injustice of our political system since segregation.

10:49 pm: Wow, when Governor Romney cracked-up a bit when he mentioned the passing of his father, I felt that.  In general, I agree with the opinion offered by a friend: “He’s such a ham.”  I don’t mean any personal aversion towards Governor Romney in saying that; it amounts to what I just said about the Republicans’ current pursuit of the “warm, fuzzy feeling.”  But when he briefly recalled the passing of his father, I felt it.

10:47 pm: “All the legislation in the world will never go so far as the loving hearts and arms of mothers and fathers.”  Again, I like a lot of Republican sentiments without seeing their necessary connection to Republican policies.  Sure, they have a plausible connection, but I see their impulse to a cold vilification of popular Democratic policies that are pretty straightforwardly for the benefit not only of the poor but of the middle class, their thirst to enumerate many incidental disappointments of current Democratic policies without context, and to follow-up with the vagaries of warmth, as if replacing Medicare with vouchers or letting insurance companies reject policy claimants with pre-existing medical conditions will somehow right the ship of state, just as the Founding Fathers intended.

10:46 pm: Governor Romney directed applause to the shade of Neil Armstrong.  I don’t know if that particular shade was invited to the Convention.

10:43 pm: For a minute there, I seriously thought Governor Romney was going to re-write The Wall.

10:42 pm: Governor Romney picks up the personal appeal where Senator Rubio left off: Our current generation of largely-unemployed high school graduates deserve better because they have worked hard.  I imagine such a combination of pathos and flattery will have at least a visceral appeal.

10:38 pm: A more-cynical man than myself would hear in Romney’s joke about how much Congressman Ryan loves his mom a passive effort to file the latter’s teeth down just a bit, coming off of last night…

10:36 pm: Governor Mitt Romney is on, and he accepts the Republican nomination for President of the United States.  This was supposed to get underway at, what, 10:30?  Clint Eastwood really put them back; good man.

10:31 pm: On night 1, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie asked how future generations would remember us.  On night 2, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued that challenge.  Tonight it’s Rubio.  They certainly want to put the burden on you, the voter, to feel the weight of this moment.  I remember feeling particularly enthusiastic about Senator Obama’s candidacy 4 years ago because I felt like I was playing a very small part in a great historical moment.  As someone who will support him without reservations in the coming election, I hope President Obama and his re-election campaign don’t underestimate the power of those sentiments if his political opponents seek to appropriate it.

10:25 pm: Senator Rubio is addressing himself to the 20-somethings who still live with their parents.  He assures us that “America is always a land of new beginnings.”  In a few minutes he is launching into a personal story of living with limited means.  He recalls having to be told by his father that he will succeed.  He characterizes his adult life as a journey from standing behind a bar to standing behind the podium at the convention.   The Convention audience is connecting with him; I’ll bet young adults who are bothering to watch this speech will identify with Rubio.  He is supposed to be the Republican ideal-type for the young, the contrast with Clint Eastwood (who can snark on the President, use craziness as an excuse to insinuate what he wants, and keep the young guy waiting until he’s done) was for the elderly.  This scheduling was good stagecraft.

10:19 pm: “Let me be clear: Our problem with President Obama is not that he’s a bad person.  By all accounts he’s a good husband, a good father–due to a lot of practice, a better golfer…Our problem with President Obama is not that he’s a bad person, it’s that he’s a bad President.”  Senator Rubio is 1 of the Tea Partiers who really could help the Republican Party with its image problem.  I said I wanted to see a Republican Party that stood on principle (even if I didn’t share those principles) rather than just launch nasty attacks against individuals.  “The Party” cannot prevent nasty invective like Primary debate-goers applauding Texas’ execution record or Rush Limbaugh calling a Georgetown University student a “slut,” but they can take the opportunity posed by a stage like this to set a good example.  They have made use of the opportunity, particularly with some of the darlings of the right.  This was a good tact, and I’ve wanted to see it for years.

10:14 pm: Clint Eastwood is a true individualist.  He kept Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) waiting for 9 minutes.  Clint managed to appeal to Clint Eastwood fans and senior citizens–both honestly–but in the end he equivocated rather than laid-out serious charges of disappointment against the President.  If that was all that Clint had, the Republican Party really is stuck with ideological charges against President Obama this fall.

10:08 pm: Oooh, it’s a crazy-old-man bit, I get it.  Clint is a professional retiree, being brow-beaten by his reptilian inner monologue.

10:04 pm: Clint just said that “Conservative people, in the nature of it, keep it close to the vest, and don’t go…hot-doggin’ it.”  I think Conservatives have done a great job of hot-doggin’ it, especially for the past 3 1/2 years.  Maybe Clint hasn’t talked to many of his fellow-Conservatives lately.

10:03 pm: I’m thinking, “Clint…Eastwood…”

10:03 pm: Clint Eastwood.

10:00 pm: A video about Governor Romney features a clip of Governor Romney on the campaign stump telling a crowd that he inherited a $3 billion budget deficit as Governor of Massachusetts.  Governor Romney’s record of fiscal parsimony in “Liberal Massachusetts” is well-known; what isn’t well-known is that Massachusetts had had Republican Governors for the 12 years preceding Romney’s administration of the Commonwealth.

9:46 pm: “USA! USA! USA!”  The speeches applauding Governor Romney’s salvaging of the 2002 Winter Olympics have heart, but all of Governor Romney’s real turnaround stories revolve around businesses.  The United States of America isn’t a business, it’s a large and complex country.  In fairness, Governor Romney had a lot more success as a businessman than George W. Bush did.  But this doesn’t change the fact that movers and shakers in business haven’t worked their way into the White House.

9:37 pm:  “USA! USA! USA!”  The nest Convention speaker puts a lid on the patriotic fervor.  We have a Convention schedule to stick to, you know.  The speaker–Mike Eruzione, of the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team–speaks favorably of Governor Romney’s administration of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

Correction: Our government boycotted the Summer Olympics, not the Winter Olympics which were held the same year.  Non-rhetorical question about the seeming strange omission from the Convention speaker’s speech withdrawn.


Live-Blogging the Republican National Convention, Night 2

Note: Tonight, after 2 mentions by readers last night, all updates will be submitted on top.

11:02 pm: “The work ahead will be hard.  These times demand the best of us – all of us, but we can do this.  Together, we can do this!  We can get this country working again.  We can get this economy growing again.  We can make the safety net safe again.  We can do this!  Whatever your political party, let’s come together for the sake of our country.  Join Mitt Romney and me.  Let’s give this effort everything we have!  Let’s see this through all the way!  Let’s get this done!”

This Convention, I think, will have a bounce.  The Republicans have held to their message.  They are playing to win.  They will attack the President for a lack of results, even if they are using the wrong metrics or are a part of the problem themselves.  But this is the most-substantive Republican appeal I have seen since the 2000 Convention–and unlike that year, rank-and-file Republicans between the Ranges have a platform they want rather than one crafted by political consultants mindful of our country’s changing demographics.  This is not an agenda I can get behind, and I think the public will come off of this high in time for the Democratic National Convention, but Republicans control a lot of State governments and have a substantial House majority and a lot of young Senators.  They have new lights communicating old ideas; some of them, like their Presidential running mates, even communicate those ideas well.  Thus far, this Convention has gone the Republicans’ way.  Tomorrow night, we will hear from the man himself; I’m already convinced the Republicans have a strong ticket.

Base and establishment are coming together.

10:59 pm: Congressman Ryan, who is a Catholic, defends the top of his party’s ticket, who is a Mormon.  He says “we share a common moral creed.”  We share a common moral creed…No, he has invoked “the Lord of Life.”  I thought he was going to go in the direction of civil religion, which is essentially secular in character, but no, it’s non-denominational.  As Stephen Colbert put it, “I believe in countless paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”

10:53 pm: Congressman Ryan condemns the Obama Administration for not fixing the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression in under 4 years.  I’d like to take this time to refer again to a broad opinion among economists that the Stimulus actually spared us a depression, turning a profound economic contraction into a “mere” multi-year anemic economy.

10:50 pm: “–and yes, you did build that!”  Even the Republican Convention’s signature half-quote sounds more-rousing in Ryan’s words.  It fits better into his speech–which also moves at a faster clip.

10:47 pm: “Mitt Romney and I have made (a choice): Before the math, and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation’s economic problems.”  The President has effectively balanced an extraordinary number of contending issues and handled them with competence and grace.  And the Republicans are going to try to take him down for borrowing money at negative interest–at a profit to the Federal Government–in order to pay for it.  Our deficits are actually small compared to some we ran during the Roosevelt years.

10:42 pm: Congressman Ryan mocked the President for saying, post-Midterms, that his problem was that he “didn’t get (his) message out.”  In fairness, at the time I thought that was a pretty silly thing for the President to say.  The Republicans had just had their best election night in generations; maybe it would have taken a while to come up with a statement about that, but the problem was not communication.  The problem was that people wanted a change of course on policy.  Oh, and they wanted more action on the economy.  He had some good ideas for stimulus since that election–the payroll tax cut, renewal of the highway bill, revenue-sharing for cash-strapped States–some of which have even passed through the Republican Congress.  But President Obama essentially gave this issue to the Republicans from June 2009 until September 2011.

10:37 pm: Ryan is talking about Medicare.  He has decried President Obama’s $716 billion in 10-year spending cuts to Medicare to help pay for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  There is loud booing from the audience.  My theory is that these Republicans haven’t heard about the Congressional Budget Office’s projection that Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare benefits with vouchers for seniors to buy health insurance would result in Medicare benefits having about 38% of their projected value by 2032.  That, or maybe the Republican National Convention is basically a pep rally.  Thanks for tuning-in!

10:34 pm: Ryan said “Our 1st warning sign (about President Obama) was the Stimulus.”  Congressman Ryan joined a virtually-unanimous Republican Conference in Congress in voting against the Stimulus.  There was a lot that the Conservative rump party in Congress really didn’t like.  Ryan calls it the “biggest 1-time expense in our history.  “But about 30% of the Stimulus was tax cuts, principally for small businesses.  Really.  So there.

10:32 pm: Ryan notes that President Obama won his State of Wisconsin in 2008.  It is certainly a swing State this year, though an ultimate Romney win is highly unlikely.  What he didn’t mention was that President Obama won his home district that year; that said, Congressman Ryan was re-elected, and it wasn’t close.

10:31 pm: There’s something about his piercing blue eyes.  I prefer to talk substance and try to stay away from campaign optics like this, but I frankly can’t tell if his direct gaze helps him or not.  It certainly looks confident.

10:29 pm: 14 years ago, Paul Ryan was 28 and running for the House of Representatives from southeastern Wisconsin for the 1st time.  That’s pretty impressive.  He could be a fixture or a candidate in Republican Presidential politics for the next 30 years if he plays his cards right, and he wants it.

10:26 pm: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), Governor Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential pick, is on.  Here we go…

10:22 pm: Governor Martinez attacks President Obama for failing to tackle immigration reform, failing to pass a budget, and failing to halve the deficit.  Charges 1 and 2 are wilfully-deceptive bunk: We don’t have immigration reform and the Democrats haven’t passed their own budget in 3 years because the Senate’s minority Republicans filibustered those measures and then said the Democrats couldn’t get their act together.  On charge #3–President Obama’s pledge to halve the deficit in his 1st term–the President does have to take some of the blame.  He turned his back on his own 2010 Bowles-Simpson Commission and farmed-out the 2011 Budget Control Act to Congress.  He hasn’t proposed a clear deficit-reduction plan since that controversial but binding compromise, which met half of the deficit reduction called for under Bowles-Simpson.

10:20 pm: Governor Martinez’ accent has alternated between thickly-Hispanic and a sort of a generic drawl.  It’s pretty hokey.

10:15 pm: “En America, iTodo es posible!”  New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez informs us that “Success is not built on resentment and fear!”  This is a durable Republican ideological trick: If you aren’t making out well for yourself, you should just keep trying.  If you think you need public assistance, that’s resentment and fear–resentment of those who can afford to provide for that public assistance through their taxes, and fear of your own future.  You don’t want to be resentful and fearful (like those currently on public assistance), do you?  It’s like taking a difficult and unpleasant job in sales, finding you feel miserable in that job, and once bringing your misgivings about your job to your boss, being told you “don’t want it enough.”  You aren’t cut out for sales (pushing undesired product) because you have a bad attitude, you see.

10:12 pm: Rice notes the securing on the homeland since September 11th, when “everyone thought” a further terrorist attack “foreordained.”  Fair point; a quick scramble by 2 Presidencies dealt with some very real security and strategic challenges.  We shouldn’t take the peace we have enjoyed since that atrocity for granted.  Both Presidents deserve credit for an accomplishment that seems smaller because it is felt only by the absence of disaster.

10:09 pm: Ms. Rice notes that “I can read your ZIP code and tell whether you’re going to get a good education.”  This is almost too good to be true!–but the problem, it turns out, is failing schools, not entrenched wealth or sprinting inequality in income.

Oh, Rice already warned us against resenting the wealth of others–you know, the people who benefit the most from Republican economic policies.

10:04 pm: “The world knows that when a nation loses control of its finances, it loses control of its destiny.”  The last budget deficit George W. Bush left us with was as large as the ones we’re facing now; furthermore, when times were good George W. Bush voluntarily introduced multiple hundreds of billions of dollars in annual budget deficits.  His tax cuts cost us $1.7 trillion over a decade; the Iraq War cost us about $1.9 trillion.  What a strange messenger for the importance of setting priorities.  It’s as though the Republican Party chose her specifically in the hope that it would introduce enough confusion to obscure the Bush Administration’s enormous policy failures.

10:02 pm: Ms. Rice assures us that “Peace really does come through strength.”  The World was a much more-violent place towards the end of the Bush Presidency; strength is something you amass, not something you expend frivolously.  That much is clear to me; why does a former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State not see the difference between having power and using it?

9:58 pm: The Secretary of State who presided over W.’s hasty retreat in international politics in the midst of multiple boiling cauldrons has taken President Obama to task for not taking a principled stand in international politics.  Oh, and she has assured our war veterans that they have “our eternal gratitude.”  Thanks to her boss’s frenzied attempts at cost-cutting after the Iraq War went on for over 8 1/2 years rather than a few weeks, they also have a $250 co-pay.

9:55 pm: Former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who recalled the August 2001 President’s Daily Brief “Osama bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside US” a bit late, who was an architect of President W. Bush’s foreign policy, and who has an oil tanker named after her, strolls out.

She starts-up with September 11th.  Ugh, I guess they had to do this at some point, but what an inauspicious spokesperson for this message.

9:50 pm: Governor Huckabee has attacked “the Democrats” for not passing a budget in 3 years.  Well, that’s factually untrue, since the Federal Government currently has a budget, but he’s really referring to the Republican hogwash about how Senate Democrats haven’t passed a budget in their chamber since 2010.  That’s because, since Scott Brown won the special election in Massachusetts in January 2010, the 41 Senate Republicans have filibustered every attempt by Senate Democrats to pass a budget through their chamber.  41 Senate Republicans have prevented 59 Senate Democrats from passing any budget, and since January 2011 47 Senate Republicans have done the same to 53 Senate Democrats!  So, Republicans block any Democratic attempt to pass a budget in the Senate, then from the House they call the Democrats there ineffectual.  If you apply this dynamic to the current Presidential contest, you should notice something strange…

9:48 pm: Governor Huckabee are insisting that Evangelicals can support Governor Romney, a Mormon, for President.  He calls President Obama a professed Evangelical Christian who is pro-gay rights, pro-choice on abortion, and inclined to violate the rights of religious organizations in attempting to require them to provide contraceptives for their employees.  So, apparently religious affiliation isn’t such a big deal for Republicans anymore!  “I care far less about where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than about where he takes this country!”

9:41 pm: Governor Huckabee is taking his turn swiping at the President Obama the Republicans would rather run against rather than the one we have: “President Obama says, ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build it…'”  No, that’s not what he said, but go on.  “Translation: ‘You don’t own it!'”  President Obama isn’t a Socialist.  It’s weird that Republicans base their contemporary rhetoric on the premise that there is no difference between favoring a tax increase on anyone and holding all private property functionally forfeit.  Really, I think they have pretty-much abandoned any such distinction.

9:40 pm: Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is on.  Kevin Spacey could play him in a movie; he just needs to get the Baptist minister part down.

9:37 pm: Governor Pawlenty says that Mitt Romney’s “lifetime of service” convinced him to support the latter’s candidacy.  Actually, Pawlenty’s bad fizzle in the Presidential Primary, the fact that he is a Republican, and Romney’s obvious preferability as a candidate for the general election is the reason he is supporting Romney’s candidacy.

9:35 pm: “Just get the government…off…my…back!”  I feel suspicious of where politicians are going when they have to slow down for emphasis.  Do they think we’re having trouble following what they’re saying, or are they trying to fill-up the time?  This speech is a bit hammy, something I haven’t noticed since the Attorneys General of Florida and Georgia spoke.

9:33 pm: “Sorry, Mr. President–You’re out of time, and we’re out of money!”  Question from a friend: “How ’bout that Iraq?”

9:31 pm: Governor Pawlenty just said “The President takes more vacations than the guy on that bizarre food show!”  Wow.  Just…Wow.  This is the party that defended George W. Bush’s literal summer vacation, more or less on the grounds that governing is stressful…

9:29 pm: Tim Pawlenty, Governor of the Collapsing Bridge, has come to tell us about reducing government spending.

9:06 pm: Senator Portman has called for more free trade agreements.  President Obama concluded 3 free trade agreements about 10 months ago, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.  The holdup on those 3 free trade agreements were over disagreements on labor relations requirements for Colombia (where some labor organizers have been killed–conditions that rightly have no place in a free trade agreement) and compensatory job-retraining programs for displaced workers in our country.  Senate Republicans didn’t think that was important.

9:02 pm: Senator Portman tells us of how we’ve supposedly suffered due to 4 years of President Obama.  He says we won World War II in 4 years.  That’s funny, not too long ago Senator McCain was decrying President Obama’s “political timetables” for President W. Bush’s wars.  President W. Bush initiated 2 wars (3 if you count the “War on Terrorism”) without concluding any, while President Obama has concluded 3 wars and has done far more damage to al-Qaeda than W. did.  So, if I were a Republican rhetorician I’d want to stay away from war as a talking point right now, especially where President Obama is concerned.

Senator Portman has told us that we can’t spend our way out of our current economic morass.  Actually, that’s what we did to get out of most recessions since the Great Depression.  On-balance, it has worked.  Unemployment declined significantly in 2010, but economic gains sputtered significantly in 2011 in the face of Federal and State budget cuts.  Senator Portman’s solution is to liberate business.

OK, business, it’s all on you.  You can thank the Republicans for all the attention.

9:00 pm: Senator Rob Portman, of the All-Important State of Ohio, is on.  The Senator introduced himself the same way I just did to a friend–as a factor in Governor Romney’s Vice Presidential short-list.  Hah!

The Senator has a bit of a Captain Zapp Brannigan thing going on.

8:45 pm: A Wyoming oilman asks, “Mr. President, where is the Keystone Pipeline?”  Seriously, take it up with the State of Nebraska.  Very-Republican Nebraska wants the Keystone Pipeline re-routed in its territory because of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is a crucial water source for the entire State.  It sounds like the pipeline could be approved outside of Nebraska 1st, with a re-route in that State to come later, but Congressional Republicans have tried to force approval of the entire project without modifications–again, against the wishes of Republicans in Nebraska.

Oh, the speaker also said that the Keystone Pipeline would allow us to exploit American oil.  Actually, the Keystone Pipeline would import oil from Canada.  That’s no quibble, considering Republican wishful-thinking about “American energy independence.”  Again, every time Republican Governors talk-up all the great oil and natural gas drilling going on back in their States, just remember that the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of the Interior must have approved that.

8:42 pm: An Indian-American civil engineer on the Convention floor has been given the mic.  He is excited to be a Wisconsinite, given Governor Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate.  He hijacks the interview for a bit, talking about Ronald Reagan when he was asked to talk-up small business.  The crowd is supportive.

All these off-point attacks on the President as somehow alien to the Framers’ dreams for America aside, I really do appreciate seeing the consistency in the Republicans’ message.  I even kind of appreciate the greater attention given to the Republicans’ Congressmen, Senators, and Governors and their policy achievements.  It really is more-serious than their past 2 Conventions.

8:35 pm: Senator John Thune (R-SD) opens with a basketball joke: “People ask: ‘Do you think you’d be able to take him 1-on-1?’  I say, ‘I don’t really know, I’ve never played him.  But you know he’d be easy to defend, because President Obama always goes to the left!'”

Oh, Senator Thune’s grandparents did build their farm.  That’s great–but they didn’t build Interstates 90 and 29, which pass through South Dakota, so this quip is also irrelevant.  Oh, and a celebration of the family farm against the statism of the Federal Government is especially strange now, since it’s mostly Democrats who are fighting farm subsidies today, and mostly Republicans who are trying to maintain them.  Farm subsidies and redundant Defense weapons procurement: the secret socialism of rural Republicans.

8:29 pm: Attorney Generals Bondi and Olens are so obviously perfunctorily offering partisan rhetoric to an eager base that they sound like ready-made characters for Saturday Night Live.  Really, the odd combination of melodrama and dullness in their lines sounds like self-parody.  Ugh, every time Attorney General Bondi quips “That’s right!” to her rhetorical partner, I grimace involuntarily.  These 2 were not right for the prime time.  Their hearts are not in this; the party of individualism have offered us 2 office-holders who are literally acting on orders.

8:28 pm: Attorney Generals Pam Bondi (R-FL) and Sam Olens (R-GA) talk of defending the Constitution against our supposedly power-hungry President, and of the latter’s refusal to come clean with buckle under the naked partisanship of Congressional Republicans about the disastrous ATF Operation “Fast and Furious.”

8:26 pm: “Small businesses are the fuel our economy needs!”  Well, before those small businesses can hire, they are going to need purchasing orders–either by employed consumers, corporations, or by government.  We’ll all lose a lot of time if we continue to wait for the 1st of those.  What troubles me about current Republican economic policy is that it seems to be based on the idea that small businesses that are primarily hobbled by a lack of consumer demand because of high unemployment are going to save us by hiring all those unemployed people in an absence of both capital and demand.

8:24 pm: Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers asked the assembled Conventiongoers to spare a thought for residents of the Gulf Coast currently being belted by Tropical Storm Isaac.  She sounds much more-serious than Mrs. Romney did last night.

8:23 pm: Republicans are rocking-out to “Green Onions.”  What can I say?  It has a groove to it.

8:15 pm: Governor Romney has made his speech in support of Israel.  I want to take this musical interlude to clarify that both candidates support Israel; every US President since Harry Truman has supported Israel, though to varying extents.  Republicans have cynically tried to “clean up” with the American Jewish vote by promising to offer unqualified support to every security, foreign policy, or military action of the Israeli Government.  Today, this means unqualified support for Likud, whose leading lights in reality neither want to grant citizenship to Palestinians living under occupation nor to allow them to emerge from IDF occupation to forge their own state in the Occupied Territories.  What Republicans are promising in US foreign policy towards Israel is simply, “Israel, right or wrong”–an abdication of any strategic or moral distinction in the policies any Israeli government–any Likud government–may elect to take.  George W. Bush’s benign neglect of Israel and the Palestinians following the Palestinian elections was vastly-preferable to this proffered blank check.

8:12 pm: “People don’t want less of America; they want more!”  Actually, I’d say President Obama’s foreign policy has mostly been a big success.  True, I wanted us to intervene in Libya faster and I have long hoped we would take a role in Syria, but we are probably giving clandestine aid to the Free Syrian Army already.  Our thaw in relations with Russia and China has only been partial, but tough talk isn’t going to bowl these powers over.  Improved relations with Europe, with Brazil and other Latin American allies, with our old allies in East Asia, and with beleaguered Middle Eastern allies are a positive improvement after the tyrannical revanchism of the 2nd Bush term.  President Obama’s foreign policy hasn’t been full of gimmicks; it is a foreign policy based on enduring partnerships, and it has done far more good than President Bush’s foreign policy.  On the latter subject, one might be able to say quite a lot without much trouble, but so much of it would be bad, a story of conceits, violence and failure.

8:09 pm: Senator McCain has decried our inaction against regime violence in Syria and Iran.  In the case of Syria I sympathize; in the case of Iran no Republican has presented a serious plan for how we could have aided the 2009 uprising in that country.  Our sanctions against Iran (for their continued pursuit of weapons-grade uranium) are clearly working; George W. Bush was prepared to do no more, years after his tough talk led to disaster in Iraq.  This vacuous bluster is not encouraging.

8:07 pm: Senator McCain has attacked President Obama for subjecting our operations in Afghanistan to a “political timetable;” that timetable was set by President George W. Bush.  It’s been 4 years, but Republicans are still mostly attacking President Obama either for things no one did, or for things President W. did.

8:04 pm: “We face a consequential choice–and make no mistake, it is a choice.”  Senator McCain gives us more talk about a trajectory of economic decline vs. renewal of American values.  I find it interesting that Republicans talk of the economy in material terms as all grim portents, while when they talk of what they have to offer, they more-often promise a “renewal of values” rather than actual economic progress.  So, material threat on the one hand versus values in a vacuum on the other; more on that later, maybe.

8:00 pm: Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican candidate for President in 2008, takes the stage–to audible booing.  I’m not sure whether the Conventioners are angry with McCain for his (relative) moderation or his poor electoral performance in 2008.  His was a Republican Presidential candidate’s most-embarrassing performance since Barry Goldwater’s in 1964.

7:57 pm: “We need a leader who won’t play chicken with our nation’s defense!” a veteran says.  Sounds good to me–but then why did Congressional Republicans force the President to cut Federal spending by an equivalent amount to the increase in the debt limit he was requesting?  Their demand was entirely arbitrary, based upon picking some large number rather than an amount demanded by the Bowles-Simpson Commission.  The only reason the emergency “sequester” cut so much Defense spending was because Congressional Republicans agreed to cut Defense before they agreed to raise taxes on the rich.  No, that’s literally the reason.  The President didn’t want the sequester at all–but he also didn’t want to cut food stamps.  Since Congressional Republicans took it upon themselves to hold-up what should have been a routine increase in the Federal debt limit (since they had already passed the budget that necessitated that increase in the debt limit), they were the ones playing chicken.

Note on Rand Paul’s speech: I missed the initial opportunity to note his attack on the Supreme Court.  Considering the scope of the response an attack by an unqualified ideologue on the majority on the Supreme Court was probably unnecessary.  Why exactly should Senator Paul muddy the waters, anyway?  He was elected on a platform of restricting Federal power; fair-enough; he can vote with his party for the umpteenth time in an unsuccessful and irrelevant gesture for the repeal of Health Care Reform!  To take an issue with National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius during the Convention is good red meat for the party base, sure, but it shows a telling lack of regard for the separation of powers and a rather hard-headed attitude towards the role and thinking of Justices.  But then, who knows more about the Constitution–the majority of Justices on the United States Supreme Court, or a doctor who got elected to the Senate by default by attacking the establishment Republican Senate hopeful for his lack of ideological purity?

7:46 pm: Touchy subject time: A video featuring Bush Sr. and W. Bush.  Amusingly, it’s focusing on the fact that father and son were both President.  I would think this would evoke a sense of dynastic reinforcement between wealth and power that the Republican Party would seek to avoid, but there you are.  W.’s recollections are surprisingly-poetic–not that this sense of poetry helped us while he was President.

7:32 pm: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has referred to the President’s “…you didn’t build that” quote in context, noting that the President was talking about infrastructure, not business.  Senator Paul then claimed that the business success of Americans is what made our infrastructure possible, not vice versa.  Actually, if the Senator were being serious he would have to acknowledge that private enterprise and government-built infrastructure are mutually-reinforcing…but I’m not expecting Senator Paul to think about anything very seriously.

He also said that “Anyone who so fundamentally misunderstands American greatness is uniquely unqualified to lead it!”  This is coming from a man who wants us to go back on the gold standard, and who, while being a wealthy doctor, thinks that mandates for service-provision under Medicare and Medicaid makes him a slave.  He sounds uniquely-unqualified to be a Senator to me.

Appraising The Republican National Convention Thus Far

So, tonight the Liberal Ironist will be trying the live blogging thing again, but I thought I’d take a few moments in advance of tonight’s big speeches–including the man who would be Vice President!–to offer a general appraisal.

I think that the tone and focus of the Republican National Convention is a big improvement over 2008.  No, really.  Actually, while I’m saying things that might be a surprise to those who read my live-blogging last night, I might as well double-down: From what I recall of the latter, the current Republican National Convention has thus far been less one-note and exploitative than the 2004 Convention.  Are those fighting words to use with President George W. Bush, who protected us from terrorism after September 11th?  Well, Bush also took responsibility for having the…judgment needed to involve us in an unnecessary, extremely costly and (for those who care) tragic debacle in Iraq.  President Obama has made greater strides against terrorism by relying on intelligence rather than misdirected and poorly-executed wars, and he succeeded where W. failed in actually finding the mastermind of the September 11th terrorist attacks and having him killed.  Unlike George W. Bush, he won’t carry on about it to the exclusion of other issues in the belief that his party convention and message should dwell entirely on the fact that he appears to be meeting the most-basic obligation of government.  So there.

About 2008: There was a tone of genuine nastiness in the 2008 Republican National Convention.  I don’t know how many readers watched it or whether they recall this, but I really couldn’t tell at that time what was binding the Republican Party together aside from resentment against educated elites (whether real or imagined), oddly well-developed animosity towards then-Senator Barack Obama as a person, and anger or frustration about…something.  One of the big applause lines came from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani encouraged people to refer to the terrorist threat we face by the term “Islamic terrorism.”  “Who are we insulting with the term ‘Islamic terrorism’?  We’re insulting–terrorists!” he said, to gasps and loud applause from the audience.

I recall feeling that Fred Thompson’s speech positively assumed the stupidity of the Republican base it was directed towards.  Mayor Palin’s acceptance speech as Vice Presidential candidate attacked Senator Obama for serving as a community organizer, then in the next breath celebrated herself for not being a career politician.  (We knew better, even if she wasn’t a serious-enough politician to finish a single term as Governor of Alaska.)  So, I give Republicans credit for advancing actual politicians who have the decency to admit that they want to lead this year, and for taking issue with the President’s policies (if obtusely) rather than continuing to insinuate on their convention floor that the problem with President Obama is that he is from the inner city.  Republicans actually want to talk about what they’re doing out in the States this year, and about their plans for the Federal Government.  Those plans may tend towards the catastrophic, but at least they are fed by something other than a vague and expropriated patiotism (as in 2004), or anger and (dare I say it?) hatred (as in 2008).  So, after years where Republicans shrank from their own ideas, it’s at least encouraging to see them participate in a debate over principle.  Their message in 2008 (“We’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”) was both disturbing and sad to see in a party that had engineered all of our troubles at their leisure; this time, they are going on-record, taking responsibility for what they stand for.

Live-Blogging the Republican National Convention

READ FROM THE TOP-DOWN!  (Thanks to a friend for raising this point of confusion.)

8:24pm: Ohio Governor John Kasich talks re-building America.  “We are setting people free, in order to build success.”  Last year, he lost a ballot initiative to break public-employee unions’ collective-bargaining power by 68%.  He notes the loss of 400,000 jobs in Ohio before he took office.  “Tonight, the greatest moral issue in our country is the creation of jobs.”  He touts the balancing of Ohio’s budget without a tax increase.  He calls for elimination of the estate tax: “No one should have to visit the undertaker and the tax man on the same day.”  He invokes small business owners and family farmers…That’s so quaint, it’s almost like the beneficiaries of elimination of the estate tax wouldn’t be millionaires and billionaires.

8:30 pm: Kasich protests the President’s proposal to raise taxes (again, principally on millionaires).  He decries the undemonstrated effects of tax increases that haven’t happened.  (President Obama has actually cut taxes, including on small business and very substantially when he cut the payroll tax, granting an average annual tax cut of $1,000 to middle-income families.)

8:33 pm: Governor Kasich has called the Vice President a bad golfer, and by implication, a liar.  The Vice President may want to rethink golfing with a person who personalizes the political like that.

8:34 pm: The Republican National Convention has made a campaign video out of the President’s famously out-of-context quote about how a business is built.  When he said public services and infrastructure such as public schools and highways prepared the human capacity and ease of transport that allows businesses to prosper, he said of public schools and highways, “You didn’t build that.”  The ad edits the speech down to “If you own a small business…You didn’t build that.  Someone else built that.”  That’s not what the President said.  But the ad features a small business owner indignantly asserting that the President was claiming that small business owners didn’t build their own business.  He didn’t say that, but the Republican Party today is apparently willing to campaign on disembodied strings of quotations.  I thought it was low when some Democrats mocked Governor Romney for the “Corporations are people, my friend” gaffe when all he was saying was that only people really pay taxes, which is true.  I certainly think it’s low when the RNC tries to paint the President as being in denial about the independent nature of entrepreneurs.  He wasn’t.  All he was saying was that businessmen benefit from public goods provided by government.  Do Republicans actually believe that isn’t true?

8:40 pm: Governor Mary Fallon of Oklahoma has just trotted-out the the out-of-context “If you own a business…You didn’t build that.” line.

8:43 pm: I’m starting to remember how insulted I felt on behalf of Republicans during the 2008 Republican National Convention.  We’re on to another campaign video with the whole “If you own a business…You didn’t build that” edit yet-again.  Any small business owners want to come forward and tax responsibility for giving their own future workers a primary education? how ’bout building their own highways?  Bob Sakada and his family built their own farm.  Fair-enough.  One thing they haven’t done is set-up their own medical research institute.

8:46 pm: Governor McDonnell just took a cheap shot at the President: “Maybe we’ll soon have a President who knows what State he’s in.”  That’s funny; I let it go when Governor Romney accidentally introduced his running mate Paul Ryan as “The next President of the United States…”

8:48 pm: Governor McDonnell has also invoked the “If you own a business…You didn’t build that” misquote.  “Government didn’t build America,” he says.  OK–outside of almost all of its infrastructure at all periods in its history, that’s true.

8:50 pm: Governor McDonnell notes that 7 out of the 10 States with the lowest unemployment rates have Republican Governors, and that 12 of the 15 States rated “best for business” have Republican Governors.  In fairness, 29 out of 50 States have Republican Governors (which makes predominance in any rankings more-likely), and States with Republican Governors tend to have lower average and median incomes, lower rates of the insured, and lower rates of high school completion and standardized test scores.  Just sayin’.

8:57 pm: Wow, I think the RNC is going to have a “If you own a business…You didn’t build that” interlude after most speakers.  They are really doubling-down on obscuring what the President really said.  The people who set this up know exactly what he said, and that it’s true.

8:59 pm: Scott Walker is on.  His message is that “people control their own destiny.”  He happily reports that “on June 5th, the hard-working taxpayers won!”  He is, of course, referring to his own survival of a recall election following his breaking of Wisconsin’s public employee unions (excluding the police unions, of course).

9:02 pm: Walker is celebrating Governor Romney as a turnaround man.  Saving small companies through private-equity, 2002 Winter Olympics, holding taxes down in Massachusetts…nominating Paul Ryan as his running mate.  “At moments of crisis…what makes America amazing, is that there have always been men and women of courage, who have thought more about the future–about what’s best for their children and grandchildren, than about their own political careers.”  It’s pretty strange to suggest that about Mitt Romney, and I’m not even intending this as a dig.  I don’t personally dislike the guy–really, I don’t–but does anyone think of him as having made difficult but far-sighted choices as a public figure that could compromise his political career?  The clearest example I can think of by far is the institution of health care reform in Massachusetts that included the individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

9:05 pm: If the Republican National Convention were made into a movie, Viggo Mortensen could play the country music singer.

9:09 pm: Tonight is Governors’ night.  (Say what you will, the Republicans have made full use of their control of so many States.)  Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval says “I watched my State’s economy falter…”  He blames President Obama for “the same tired strategy of more government.”  He touts his “tough decisions, like (on) education, economic development, and reforming the operations of government.”  Brian Sandoval is very popular–but like the equally-popular Chris Christie he has to work with a Democratic State Legislature.  Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was very popular until his party took complete control of the Commonwealth Legislature by a tie-breaker following the 2011 elections; then it was all trans-vaginal ultrasounds.  Sometimes the current crop of Republicans seem like moths hell-bent on flying into flames if not for the glass partition of divided government.  Governor Sandoval probably won’t see his party take control of the Nevada Legislature in this election, so we won’t have to see if he has a completely-immoderate and ideological “real Brian” side to himself.

9:17 pm: Small businessman “Phil Archuleta” says “Now, I’m just holding on with orders from the State of New Mexico, thanks to Governor Susanna Martinez.”  Applause from the audience.  Orders from the State Government keeping his business afloat?  Wait a second–President Obama proposed Federal revenue-sharing to State Governments so they could moderate steep spending cuts a year ago almost to the week!  This wasn’t just so public employees like teachers and police could keep their jobs, it was so government could continue existing purchases of small businesses’ goods and services.  Studies by economists have confirmed that government spending is a major revenue source for many domestic businesses.  This man just admitted State spending is keeping him afloat?  He got applause for saying that?!  What, specifically, does he think the President is doing wrong?  What spending did Governor Kasich cut in Ohio? What small businesses did he put under?  I thought the Republican Party was supposed to care more about consistency than politics.  (In practice that’s nonsense, of course, but this is the Convention!  Are they being polite, or is the irony lost on almost everyone in that room?)

9:23 pm: “Massive debt…Anemic growth…Millions more unemployed…Graduate high school, work hard, and get married before you have children, and your chances of living in poverty are just 2%.”  From his favorite statistical correlation, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) tells us that the traditional family is under assault.  (I’ve always found it strange how blithe he is about his party’s rather-obvious assault on middle class institutions.  The irony is more-poignant in his case than it is with other Republicans.)

9:29 pm: Rick Santorum’s champion of the working-class hero trope is charming, in a performance art kind of way.

9:31 pm: Santorum is recounting his decision to keep his daughter Bella, who doctors told him in advance was disabled.  He claims the doctors told him her life wouldn’t be worth living, but that he and his wife were determined to keep her.  He says that Bella now has a life that’s worth living, and has made other people’s lives better.  Mayor Palin, of course, said much the same about her own disabled child “Trig.”  I have to admit this would be more-touching if Republicans weren’t ready to cut government assistance for the disabled of all ages.

9:34 pm: Quiet!  Candidate for the US Senate Ted Cruz (R-TX) is talking…

9:36 pm: “The Framers understood that our rights come not from government, but from God…”  Oh, God…Actually, the premise that our rights come from government is empirically-demonstrable: Just try insisting on a single one of them in an environment in which government is too weak to provide basic services.  Political theorists as divergent as Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke offered as much as premises.

9:41 pm: Cruz says “President Obama is immensely talented and a man of deep convictions.”  The audience is politely-silent.  I will say I like the caliber of this audience better than that of 2008; maybe 2010 nourished their spirits?  Even the “but” was comparatively policy-focused–too much deficit-spending, unsustainable and complex entitlements…I’ve said before, the Tea Partiers can elevate the discussion if they try.

9:48 pm: Former Democratic Congressman Artur Davis strolls out to fill the role of “The Democrat who just can’t take it anymore!”  This role was filled by Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) in 2004, and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in 2008.  In the former case, it owed to the Conservative ideology and the big-government moderation of the (also Southern) Republican President in question; in the latter case, a personal relationship and a shared Neoconservative foreign policy ideology in the US Senate brought Lieberman to support Senator McCain’s failed Presidential bid.  I haven’t heard anyone characterize Davis’ conversion as motivated by anything other than political ambition.

9:54: “This current crowd guts the welfare-to-work requirement in the dead of night and won’t tell the truth about it!”  That’s funny, 1 of the Congressional Republicans who worked on Welfare Reform with President Clinton in 1996 said last week that this was a lie; Artur Davis really is either a self-seeker or a fool to accept this role at the RNC.

9:57 pm: Nikki Haley addresses President Obama directly: “…with all due respect, don’t tell me my parents didn’t build their business!”  He didn’t.  Who writes these speeches?  How much say do the speakers have in their composition?  Does anyone protest cheap shots or actual falsehoods in the text?  I know some of these speeches could have more substance than they do.

Oh, Haley–a child of Indian immigrants–is protesting President Obama for having the Department of Justice sue her State for requiring voters to present photo IDs.  Well, that will have to do for substance, I guess.

10:01 pm: Haley’s Southeastern accent is getting stronger.  She recalls the National Labor Relations Board trying to stop Boeing from opening a plant in South Carolina–a “right-to-work” State that inhibits union organization.  I’ll admit I don’t see the rationale for preventing Boeing from being able to open a factory in South Carolina.  I remember former House Speaker Gingrich touting South Carolina’s and Alabama’s labor markets approaching cost competitiveness with South China; I suppose it’s fair to say that Republicans want to run on South Carolina’s and Alabama’s economies.  But with low labor costs come high social costs; there’s a difference between wanting to send your business assets to South Carolina from Washington State, and whether people of means would choose to move to South Carolina from Washington State.  The Republicans are celebrating places of poor public goods provision and growing environmental degradation where low wages are offset by the low cost of goods–for now.

10:10 pm: Ann Romney is coming on, having been introduced by the 1st Lady of Puerto Rico.  (There’s a small irony in that.)

10:12 pm: Mrs. Romney just mentioned Hurricane Isaac making landfall in southern Louisiana.  I’m inclined to think that was inherently a mistake; in any case, it was certainly a mistake given her perfunctory delivery.  (In fairness, a public address like this has to be trying for many spouses of politicians who may not want the limelight themselves.)

10:15 pm: “I’ve seen and heard how hard it is to get ahead now…”  This is too good to be true; this is how Ann Romney is supposed to “help Mitt connect” to the average person?  Oh, update: She just shouted “I love you women!”  I’m getting a message here, but it’s definitely not the one they were trying to send.

~10:19 pm “Michigan!”  Ann Romney has celebrated her father’s business–which she insists he built himself–and his upbringing in Wales.  I’m sorry, but…Wait, I’m not sorry: This is one of the phoniest speeches I’ve ever heard in my life.  Again, Ann Romney is doing this because she has to, and I’m not saying she’s a bad person or anything, but this speech is so transparently an assemblage of “necessary notes” that the Republicans were counting on her to strike that I feel better-disposed already to all the speakers before her with their regular refrains.  At least several of them–John Kasich, Scott Walker, Nikki Haley–hit on substance you could tell they cared about, in their tenure thus far as Republican Governors.

10:27 pm: “This is important: Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he’s helped others, because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.”  I like that sentiment, and I’ll buy it.

10:35 pm: Chris Christie is on.  He is a big guy.  He has introduced himself as a New Jersey Republican.  He calls himself a walking implausibility.  I’ll agree with that when he is his party’s Presidential nominee.

10:37 pm: Christie is a son of immigrants from Ireland and Italy, children raised in poverty.  His father was the 1st of his line to get a college degree; his mother’s mother was a single mother.  He says he got his bluntness of speech from his mother.  Strangely, his incidental mention of the Jersey Shore (the region, not the reality TV show) got about as much of a cheer as anything he has said.

10:45 pm: “They said it was impossible to touch the 3rd rail of politics–to take on the public sector unions and to reform a pension and health benefit system that was headed to bankruptcy.  With bipartisan leadership we saved taxpayers $132 billion over 30 years and saved retirees their pensions.”  Christie has been brought-on to tout the Republicans’ tactical advantage: At a time of chronic budget deficits–not just Federal, but also State and local–a party with constituencies ideologically-opposed to government programs (including, as with social Conservatives, those opposed to or at least suspicious of the public schools) has an easier time calling for the “tough choices” to cut public spending, particularly on public employees.  The “tough choices” are actually the easier choices for many Republican officials to make.

10:51 pm: “If a Blue State can do this with a Conservative-Republican Governor, Washington, DC is out of excuses!”  Actually, in the 2009 and 2011 elections, Democrats padded their majority in the State Legislature.  Governor Christie was elected specifically for the purpose of restraining public spending, particularly on public employees’ pensions, which really have grown far past sustainability in New Jersey.  New Jersey is a special case where a predominantly Liberal and Democratic electorate was looking for an executive who would make the “hard decisions” to plan significant cuts to future State government spending.  Again, the times have made Chris Christie as much as Chris Christie has made the times.  If you look at redder Ohio, where more-aggressive attempts to attack public employee unions (made possible by Ohioans’ rather-imprudent decision to turn over the entire State Government to Conservatives in 2010) met with 68% rejection by ballot initiative at the polls in 2010, you see the strategic vacancy in the Republicans’ abstraction from their episodic successes with radical reforms.

10:58 pm: Governor Christie has called on the assembled Convention to stand up–literally.  I can personally attest that in New Jersey, politics is not a spectator sport.

11:04 pm: For what it’s worth, Sammy Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, sounded much more-serious than Ann Romney when taking a moment to remind Convention-goers of the threat posed to the Mississippi Delta region by Hurricane Isaac.  Of course, his prayer, including the closing “God is not done with America, and America is not done with God,” takes pains to remind us that the Republican Party is a Christian party.  (Non-Christians and atheists are of course welcome, as long as they support the same wishful-thinking policies plausibly-enjoined by the theology and theodicy of the faithful, and politely remain quiet during the unrelatable expressions of zeal, applauding when expected.)

What Paul Ryan Takes out of Congress With Him

“OK, Paul Ryan is my running mate. Does he have your attention, everyone? Good…” Reuters photo by Darren Hauck.

“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent p***ing out, than outside the tent p***ing in.”  So President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a champion of the Civil Rights movement, justified retaining J. Edgar Hoover, 1 of America’s worst oppressors of America’s various minorities, as Director of the FBI.  Such was probably part of the kaleidoscopic calculus that went into Mitt Romney’s decision to nominate Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee and architect of Congressional Republicans’ Conservative budget blueprint, as his running mate.

I’m not trying to say Romney and Ryan are enemies; their chemistry appears to be genuine.  I’m saying they won’t be policy adversaries now; if Romney is elected President Paul Ryan will depart from Congress, leaving a gap in Conservative leadership that cannot be filled behind him.

I think that was the idea.

On Sunday Governor Romney clarified on 60 Minutes that “I have my budget plan as you know that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.”  So, Romney-Ryan 2012 will be running on Romney’s fiscal plan, not on Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity“. You know what that means?  If Romney were to be elected President (granted, a dubious prospect before his controversial Vice Presidential pick) the advocate of the most-coherent budget plan to his right would not only be removed from his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, but would then share the burden of promoting his plan with him.  Romney’s choice of Ryan, then, is a gamble by a desperate candidate with a further payoff given success.  Interesting, no?

True, Congressional Democrats as much as President Obama are still eager to run against Paul Ryan, the “Path to Prosperity,” and “Ryancare.”  Ryan’s 2011 plan to replace Medicare’s complex “defined benefit” entitlement of various medical services for seniors with a Federal voucher system for seniors to purchase from a menu of health insurance plans was extremely unpopular because of the limitations and risk it would impose; Republicans soon thereafter lost special elections in Congressional Districts in Upstate New York and Arizona, apparently on this issue alone.

It’s true that Romney needed a running mate who could help breath life into his campaign–but he didn’t need Paul Ryan in order to do that.  Ryan is a hero among American Conservatives, but Romney didn’t need to win-over Conservatives, either.  (Republicans and Conservatives are highly-motivated to vote in this election, as well they should be.)  Romney needs broader, not deeper, interest in his candidacy; taking-on Ryan as his running mate is a gamble in that regard.  It could be he felt his other running mate prospects were at least no more-likely to deliver their home States than Ryan was, or were just as likely to be controversial (Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal) or underwhelming (Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty again).  But then you still have Marco Rubio and Bob McDonnell, who have Conservatie bona fides and potentially broad appeal–and who have a shot at delivering their home State (or Commonwealth, as the case may be).  (Chris Christie is very popular in true-Blue New Jersey, but no one could make it vote Republican in this Presidential Election.)  So, really: Why would you embrace a public figure who is more controversial than other running mate choices and no more-likely to deliver his (smaller) home State, at the cost of ceding control over domestic policy to your running mate?

1 possible explanation would be Ryan’s greater exposure to national politics, though I really think such concerns would be overblown.  (Neither Rubio nor McDonnell are Sarah Palin.) Chemistry is a plausible explanation.  I’ve already said trying to shore-up the base implies the Romney campaign is either unaware of what the polls are saying or that they don’t believe them.  How rational is it to try to squeeze the water out of a stone?

I find it more-plausible that Romney wanted to take the controversy off of himself, and that he figured a gamble that the public would move-on from Ryancare was worth a shot.  Having been nominated to serve as Governor Romney’s running mate, he has to toe Romney’s line or else he could embarrass the ticket and ease President Obama into a 2nd term; having defended Governor Romney’s domestic policy proposals during the election, if elected Ryan would then have to defend President Romney’s budget plan.  At a time when Congress’ approval rating hovers in the mid-teens due to its (very recent) inability to get much done, Ryan is a Conservative Republican who is broadly-recognized for his integrity and his deep engagement in policy.  This is a remarkable achievement, and a political asset he shouldn’t be willing to leverage for anything.  Ryan is only 42; he could be a Republican Presidential prospect himself for the next 30 years.  Having accepted Romney’s offer, if he appears only shallowly-committed to a Romney Presidency he will have compromised this reputation in an unprecedented way.

Was it rational for Ryan to accept such a subordinate role?  Sure; as a Conservative Republican, why should he want a Liberal Democrat like President Obama to win a 2nd term?  If he has faith in his abilities he should consider himself an asset to Romney’s ticket.  In the House, Ryan would constitute both the broadest and most-articulate challenge to a President Romney’s domestic agenda from the right; as Romney’s running mate, he will share the Republican candidate’s burdens.  Ryan must know he’s conceding a great deal of independence in joining Romney’s ticket, but that’s perfectly rational partisanship considering the stakes.  So, while Romney picked a lightning rod for a running mate, that running mate could draw a lot of lightning that would otherwise strike the top of the ticket; he also hails from a conventionally-Blue State that has recently gone Conservative down the ballot, he’s plenty charismatic and he is intelligent enough to keep the discussion focused on policy and principle rather that calling people names.  Yeah, he could have posed quite a challenge if he continued to write his own budget proposals in Congress.

Fair-play to Mitt Romney: That’s kinda brilliant.

“I got you right where I want you…”
“Yeah, I know…”
Associated Press photo by Mary Altaffer.

Federal Spending Scary-High? Well, Let’s Look Under the Hood

Mitt Romney’s choice of Congressman Paul Ryan as his Presidential running mate effectively doubles-down the Republican rally against President Obama’s taxing and spending policies.  “Federal spending is too high,” they say in near-unanimity, “and President Obama is to blame for it.”  But what can we say about current spending levels–their substance, who is responsible for it, and how to fix it?

The biggest drivers in spending growth are way the entitlements, especially the very-popular and successful entitlements for the elderly, and spending on Defense.  Defense spending is programmed to come down, partly due to prudent reductions programmed under our drawdown from the War in Afghanistan and through the 2011 Budget Control Act, and partly due to Congress’ (and the President’s) failure to strike further budget compromise to avert the doomsday scenario of further budget cuts under the immoderate “Sequester.”  In terms of other government spending, the biggest driver of future Federal spending growth is way, way Medicare; nothing else comes close.  Over the past 10 years, Republicans have actually been far greater offenders when it comes to Medicare spending growth than Democrats, 1st in adding a popular but expensive Prescription Drug Benefit to Medicare in 2003 (which Congressman Ryan voted for, and on which he explicitly modeled his proposed Medicare reforms), then in opportunistically campaigning against the $500 billion in 10-year Medicare spending cuts the Democrats passed in the Affordable Care Act in 2010–the largest Medicare spending reform achieved to date.

Other spending increases of the Obama era include temporary increases in mandatory spending, according to criteria often programmed before the President began crafting budgets and which he doesn’t want to cut because, well, people are relying on them right now.  The overall level of spending remains high in part because of recent discretionary budget increases, but in very large part because of increases in outlays for income security, Defense spending, and yes, entitlements for senior citizens. You can see these outlays disaggregated and in constant dollars on pages 54 and 55 of the President’s FY 2013 budget proposal.

Medicare outlays rose from over $375 billion in 2007 to over $484 billion this year, in constant dollars. At the same time Social Security outlays will have risen from $586 billion to nearly $779 billion. That’s a $302 billion increase in real spending on just Medicare and Social Security–28% of the total increase in Federal outlays over that period. In contemporary form, the 2 parties are mostly responsible for any of this spending only in creating the Prescription Drug Benefit (mostly George W. Bush and his Republicans in 2003) and then tweaking it (Barack Obama and his Democrats in 2009-10). So if we’re keeping score, current Republicans can take at least as much credit for these rising costs as current Democrats, and we all know very well that this spending is not what the President was talking about when he proposed “investments in America’s future.” I’m not saying we should short-change grandma or anything, but to be fair President Obama invited Congressional Republicans to engage him on entitlement reform during summer 2011’s debt-reduction standoff, and they folded their arms and took the easy way out.

There has been a near-$48 billion increase, to $139 billion in “education, training, employment and social services” outlays from 2007 to the projection for 2012. This spending increase is also principally because of ameliorative services, not new programs.

Income security including unemployment benefits rose from $366 billion in 2007 to about $580 billion this year, an increase of almost $214 billion. Needless to say, the extension of unemployment insurance has something to do with that, but Congressional Republicans were more than willing to consent to that to extend the George W. Bush tax cuts for the rich. Furthermore, cutting skilled but chronically-unemployed workers off of unemployment insurance is bad policy (and even if you don’t agree with that, you *have* to agree that it’s bad politics). In any case, those outlays will fall gradually with time, concurrent with the end of the extension and the (slow) fall of the unemployment rate.

General Federal health spending, including Medicaid as well as Federal employee health benefits, amounted to about $266 billion in 2007 and almost $362 billion for 2012, about a $95 billion increase.

Total Defense spending has risen from $551 billion in 2007 to $716 billion in 2012–a $165 billion real increase in 5 years.

So, where are we? That’s $824 billion of a $1.066 trillion increase in Federal spending 2007-12, or 77% of it. That’s mostly mandatory or military spending; military spending is slated to fall by either about $500 billion or $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years, depending on whether Republicans and President Obama (that order was intentional) can get their act together to negotiate deficit reduction. Of the mandatory spending, I’d definitely like to see responsible reform of Social Security and Medicare the most, even if that means raising the benefits collection age and moving Medicare towards–*towards*, mind you–a defined-contribution rather than an unwieldy defined-benefit entitlement. But I do not buy this argument that the high spending that followed TARP was “locked-in” through some unclear mechanism, nor that the Stimulus (about 1/3 of which consisted of tax cuts) is responsible for relatively-high Federal spending, nor that Democratic policy priorities are simply to blame. Defense spending can be lowered somewhat, and we *need* to reform seniors’ entitlements.

On page 35, note that total Federal tax receipts have fallen from 18.5% of GDP in 2007 to a projected 15.8% of GDP for this fiscal year. We’re overspending–not always in ways that are properly-stimulative–and we are undertaxed, thanks to certain special interests that contribute to certain political campaigns as well as a piece of paper that Grover Norquist wrote when he was a 7th grader, and to which all Congressional Republicans have subordinated their judgment.

This is not to say that the President has no responsibility for current high levels of Federal spending.  I’d even agree that he has dropped the ball on deficit reduction, having walked away from the recommendations of his own Deficit Commission faster than its Conservative detractors (which included Congressman Ryan).  But the Republican motion that President Obama took Federal spending to its current heights as part of a plan, and that all of the inflated spending must be handled proactively, and that Democrats have done nothing of late on their own motion to rein it in, is a falsehood.  Medicare reform will have to be bipartisan; that is the biggest piece of the puzzle by far.

What Paul Ryan Adds to the Romney Ticket

“There are a lot of people in the other party who might disagree with Paul Ryan.  I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t respect his character and judgment.”  Late last night there was almost universal buzz that Governor Romney had decided on Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate for this year’s Presidential Election.  This morning he made the announcement in the Navy town of Norfolk, Virginia, in front of the battleship USS Wisconsin.

The Democrats, from the President on down through the Congressional trenches, have met the prospect of a Romney-Ryan ticket with relish.  They see in Congressman Ryan an embodiment of exactly the kind of policies they are trying to defend the country against.  Indeed, Paul Ryan’s rather-naive plan for Medicare, dubbed “Ryancare” by Democrats, will probably continue to be a liability not just for Congressional Republicans but for Governor Romney as well.  Paul Ryan’s 2011 proposal, simply, was to replace Medicare’s traditional defined-benefit program of Federal funding for a variety of medical services for the elderly with a voucher to buy insurance that would grow on an annual basis of GDP growth plus 1%.  Because this growth rate would be well behind the rate of medical services inflation (which is a rapidly-growing share of our overall economy), the value of this voucher would steadily decline over time.  Ryancare would go into implementation in 2022 for new Medicare beneficiaries that year; the Congressional Budget Office found that in 10 years the dollar value of Medicare benefits would be only 38% of what they would have been under traditional Medicare.  Republicans took this as proof that Ryan’s plan would control Medicare’s rapidly-ballooning costs; Democrats took this as proof that Ryan’s plan would gut an immensely-popular entitlement.  (Oh, and let’s not ignore the fact that Congressman Ryan was proposing putting all new Medicare enrollees starting in 2022 into private health insurance plans at the same time that he was proposing repealing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.  Thus, he proposed funneling all Medicare funds to insurance companies that would retain the right to deny senior citizens policy coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” of which they would have many.)  Polls have consistently shown that Ryan’s proposal was very unpopular with the public; in fact, a special election in a very-Conservative upstate New York Congressional District was apparently lost to Republicans last spring for this reason alone.

Ryan’s proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act (which he shares with almost all Republicans) may be aimless, his proposal to limit and block-grant Medicaid spending to States may be bad, and his proposal to shift future Medicare enrollees into private insurance plans may be worse, but no one can deny that he is a serious policy wonk, about as intellectual and policy-oriented as any Congressional Republican.  When Governor Romney introduced him, he focused on the Congressman’s character and judgment.  Character and judgment are things the Republican Party could use more of today.  During the 2008 Republican National Convention, then Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin denied she was a career politician (She isn’t a good career politician) then in the next breath sneered at then-Senator Obama for having once been a community organizer; Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle suggested armed violence against the government might solve Americans’ problems; Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who is a doctor and rich, said that making doctors comply with Federal health care entitlements (which pay part of his salary) amounts to “slavery;” Texas Governor Rick Perry implied that if Chairman Ben Bernanke ordered the Federal Reserve to print more money, he would be subjected to vigilante justice if he visited Texas.  Finally and most-deplorably, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, each once the front-runner in the Republican Presidential nominating contest, both said they could not appoint a Muslim to serve in the Cabinet because American Muslims’ loyalties were in question; Congresswoman Michele Bachmann recently alleged that 1 of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Muslim employees is a radical Islamist in a conspiracy theory that even received a sharp rebuke from Senator McCain (R-AZ).  Through all of this, Congressman Paul Ryan has remained focused on his “Path to Prosperity,” a right-wing document to be sure, but a document–not a screed, not a conspiracy theory, but a budget plan.

Ryan Lizza has written a fair account of Governor Romney’s running mate for the New Yorker.  For those of you not familiar with him, he has been the Republicans’ most-important idea man since early 2010.  I don’t share his principles, but he is not mean-spirited and he is not a fanatic.  His proposals often have not been as detailed as his champions claim, but when so many in his party have just issued nihilistic refutations of everything President Obama has done, Congressman Ryan has actually offered a program, saying “This is how I propose we remake our government and change our society.”  As a Democrat I acknowledge a Romney-Ryan ticket as a worthy adversary for such an important election.

Congressman Ryan is as vulnerable to the charge that he doesn’t appreciate the struggles of ordinary Americans as Governor Romney is.  While he is unlikely to make gaffes to the effect of “I love American cars–my wife has several Cadillacs!” or “Sure, NASCAR is great–I’m friends with some franchise-owners!” Ryan does come from a wealthy and influential family in Janesville, WI.  While he is undeniably hard-working, like Governor Romney he doesn’t have personal experience of deprivation.  They are both self-made men who enjoyed every opportunity as a birthright–hard-working aristocrats.  Ryan seems to be an un-self-conscious one.

Expect the Democrats–not just President Obama, but the Democrats–to hit the Romney-Ryan ticket hard on this narrowness of perspective.  This campaign will probably reveal just how nasty an election over matters of principle can be.  The Republican ticket will accuse the President of frittering away our fortune to make this country like Europe, and the President and the Democratic Party will accuse their challengers (and now, the Republican Party generally) of financially undermining senior citizens, the poor, women and an increasingly-insecure middle class to make it easier for the rich to stash more money overseas.  (Well, actually, that looks like an objective statement to me.)  Even the word “opportunity” means something different to the incumbent and the challenger in this election.  With Paul Ryan on Romney’s ticket, the Romney campaign has chosen to take the high road in proposing policies without much gimmickry–but it has promised to remake the Federal Government in a very-Conservative form as well.  What Romney and Ryan are proposing is a “not-since-Fraklin-Roosevelt” re-sizing and reshaping of the Federal Government, and unlike Roosevelt’s realignment this one will not emphasize income security and national infrastructure development.

If I were to try to read Romney’s thinking into this decision–which apparently was made, with great campaign discipline, on August 1st–I would have to say it is an act of desperation.  By “desperation” I don’t mean to say that Ryan is a weak Vice Presidential choice or that it was an imprudent decision, but that it is what we in political science call a “gamble for resurrection.”  If a political actor believes the end of his career is in prospect (look to Bashar al-Assad in Syria right now for an extreme version of the same situation), the usual reasons to avoid a high-risk high-reward gesture become less-relevant.  Governor Romney has chosen to double-down and go for broke (as his Presidential wager has consistently left him behind in the polls in almost every swing State).  Paul Ryan can renew the enthusiasm of the right, and perhaps revive Republican electoral efforts in Blue Wisconsin.   Governor Romney has chosen to go deep rather than wide to get to an Electoral College majority.  Shooting from the hip I’d say I don’t think it will hold up under Democratic criticism, but Paul Ryan must not be underestimated.  He is serious about his plan, and he is serious about winning this election.