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.)

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