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The Daily Debate - 8/30/2012

By Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

Brought to you by RealClearPolitics.

To read this newsletter on the web, go here.

August 30, 2012

1. "Let's Get This Done"

2. The Race Race

3. Switchers

4. Around the RealClear Universe


1. "Let's Get This Done"

Some are describing Paul Ryan's speech last night as a series of pungent attacks on President Obama. And yes, there were a lot of zingers in it.

But there was a lot more to it than that. Luigi Zingales points out that this was Paul Ryan's big national debut.

"Mitt Romney should be grateful that party nominating conventions have not been abolished, as some commentators argue they should be. Without the Republican National Convention, Romney would have lacked a national stage on which to introduce his campaign's greatest asset: vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan."

I thought Ryan's speech was very good—well written and well delivered, as we would expect from a polished, experienced politician. And it's theme was a little different from what I expected. Here are a few highlights.

Ryan basically confirmed my "rope-a-dope" thesis about how the Romney campaign is approaching the race. My thesis was that Romney was going to let Obama waste a hundred million dollars on negative ads early on when most voters aren't paying attention, only to seize back control of Romney's image after the Olympics. That is basically what Ryan boasts about in his speech.

"With all their attack ads, the president is just throwing away money—and he's pretty experienced at that. You see, some people can't be dragged down by the usual cheap tactics, because their ability, character, and plain decency are so obvious—and ladies and gentlemen, that is Mitt Romney."

In talking about Romney's character, he is no doubt foreshadowing what the convention has planned for tonight, with discussions of Romney charitable activities and testimonials from Olympic athletes about his stewardship of the 2002 games.

Ryan also indicated how he intends to help Romney make a pitch for voters in the Midwest.

"Mitt Romney and I both grew up in the heartland, and we know what places like Wisconsin and Michigan look like when times are good, when people are working, when families are doing more than just getting by. And we both know it can be that way again."

But the big marker Ryan laid down was his belief that Republicans have the better case on Obamacare and Medicare.

"The president has declared that the debate over government-controlled health care is over. That will come as news to the millions of Americans who will elect Mitt Romney so we can repeal Obamacare.

"So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the Left isn't going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate."

With all of the talk about Ryan being influenced by Ayn Rand, he expressed a pretty conventional altruist outlook.

"We have responsibilities, one to another—we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves."

I would say this is the opposite of Ayn Rand's view, but that's not quite right. Despite what you may have heard, Ayn Rand did not "favor the strong over the weak." She didn't talk in terms of the strong versus the weak, but in terms of the productive versus the unproductive, which is a different issue. Yet I think it's pretty clear that what Ryan said in his speech wasn't a page torn out of one of Ayn Rand's books.

On the other hand, when it came to his political goals, Ryan drew a distinct line.

"In a clean break from the Obama years, and frankly from the years before this president, we will keep federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, or less. That is enough. The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government."

Don't miss that line about a "clean break from...the years before this president." That's a subtle disavowal of George W. Bush's big-government "compassionate conservative" agenda.

This is consistent with what I think is the essence of Ryan's politics. He wants a welfare state, but he wants a limited welfare state, one that can't grow beyond a predetermined size. So note that while Ryan talked a lot about the size of the debt and the size of the deficits Obama is running, he is not merely a "fiscal conservative." He is primarily an advocate of smaller government, of a limit to government's size.

This leads George Will to conclude that Romney and Ryan are going to test out voters' real convictions about government.

"America's 57th presidential election is the first devoted to calling the nation's bluff. When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan, Republicans undertook the perilous but commendable project of forcing voters to face the fact that they fervently hold flatly incompatible beliefs.

"Twice as many Americans identify themselves as conservative as opposed to liberal. On Nov. 6 we will know if they mean it. If they are ideologically conservative but operationally liberal. If they talk like Jeffersonians but want to be governed by Hamiltonians. If their commitment to limited government is rhetorical or actual. If it is, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan suspected, a 'civic religion, avowed but not constraining.'"

But the wider theme of Ryan's speech was the promise to succeed and get results. To the Republican base, he promised that "we will win this debate." To the rest of the nation, he promised that they will turn around the economy.

"Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation's economic problems. And I'm going to level with you: We don't have that much time. But if we are serious, and smart, and we lead, we can do this."

Early in the speech, Ryan told us, "When Governor Romney asked me to join the ticket, I said, 'Let's get this done'—and that is exactly, what we're going to do." In the final line of his speech, he returned to that theme. "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."

By contrast, he described Obama as a president who is helpless, overwhelmed, and adrift: "It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new. Now all that's left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday's wind."

This is a big theme emerging from the convention. Last night, Ryan promised that he and Romney would "get this done." (In the South, he should probably change that to "git-r-done"—but only if he has an endorsement from Larry the Cable Guy.) Combine this with Ann Romney looking television viewers in the eye Tuesday night and vowing that Mitt Romney "will not fail." The big theme is that Romney and Ryan will be men who can get things done.


2. The Race Race

One of the emerging stories of this election is how the left is trying to magnify the role of race in the race. That includes the sometimes ham-handed way this is done by the press, which often ends up embarrassing itself.

Tim Carney describes how one reporter botched a story by completely misunderstanding why Republican delegates were shouting "USA!" at a Puerto Rican speaker with a heavy Spanish accent. It turns out that it had to do with a mini-rebellion at the beginning of the delegate count by disgruntled Ron Paul supporters.

"The Paulites began chanting 'Point of Order,' trying to stop the proceedings so they could have a roll-call vote or even a debate. They also chanted 'Seat Maine Now,' in this period.

"Some Romney backers from delegations near Maine responded—for better or worse—by chanting 'U.S.A.! U.S.A.!' over the Paulites' chants. [This is a standard chant used at conservative rallies to drown out hecklers.]

"Preibus, meanwhile, was just trying to steamroll ahead, and so he brought on Puerto Rican Republican Zoraida Fonalledas, who tried to speak over the parliamentary objections of the Paulites—and thus over the 'U.S.A.!' chants of the Romney backers.

"From this brouhaha, Harpers' Jack Hitt concludes it was probably a bunch of racist Republicans shouting U.S.A. at a woman with a Hispanic accent. Seven hours later Hitt added a footnote citing BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller explaining what actually happened.

"Miller's reporting so thoroughly debunks what Hitt wrote that I would have expected Hitt to retract it. But when it comes to charging Republicans with racism, the standards are different, I guess."

The bigger story is about David Chalian of Yahoo!, who got fired for opining over a live feed that Republicans are "happy to have a party when black people drown," a reference to flooding in one area of New Orleans caused by Hurricane Isaac.

Roger Simon lets him have it.

"The left/liberal need to think Republicans and conservatives racists is more than just projection. At this point, it is nothing short of a mental illness. It is so far divorced from reality, it has to be pathological. No longer are these people able to observe reality with anything close to impartiality. We are not in the world of politics, ladies and gentlemen. We are in the world of Freud, Jung, Adler, and people bouncing off walls."

The Washington Post's man on the media beat, Erik Wemple, is not much kinder. Citing a source who describes Hitt as a "top-notch journalist," Wemple replies:

"This top-notch journalist, I hope, finds a place to practice his craft again. Titles like Travel + Leisure, Outside, Maritime Executive, and Lego Magazine would be good landing pads. An outlet majoring in evenhanded political coverage, however, doesn't appear to be the right landing spot for Chalian.

"Then again, journalism is a big place. There are plenty of outlets at which he could stand up and take a bow for such a 'joke,' not apologize for it."

Meanwhile, at the actual Republican convention, Chris Frates and Josh Kraushaar point out how Republicans have been highlighting the racial "diversity" of their next generation of leaders.

"Tuning in to the Republican National Convention this week, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they had switched on the Democratic convention of yesteryear, what with all the up-and-coming women and minority politicians taking the stage. It's a contrast with Democrats, who will trot out a bunch of timeworn white guys next week in Charlotte to help make the party's case to the nation....

"As Republicans work to project the image of a party evolving with the country, they have tapped a diverse group of speakers: Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Senate candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who will introduce Romney on Thursday. Also notable is Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, who could become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.

"It was just 16 years ago that Colin Powell was the party's de facto minority liaison. In his 1996 floor speech, he urged Republicans to be 'the party of inclusion.' Now, there are so many elected officials fitting the bill that they couldn't squeeze them all into prime time."

As Frates and Kraushaar point out, this is partly an attempt at counter-programming. President Obama is doing well with black and Hispanic voters, and with the young, but he's tanking with whites, men, and older voters. So the Democrats are loading their convention's speaking slots with old white guys. For the same reason, Republicans are loading their convention with blacks, Hispanics, and women in order to counter their disadvantage with these groups.

RCP's Sean Trende writes about how the campaigns are looking at the racial composition of the vote and specifically the turnout level for racial minorities.

But there is also a long-term story here, one that goes beyond this election. The story here is about the number of black and Hispanic candidates who are part of the next generation. If Republicans can start to recruit enough leaders and gain a larger following among blacks and Hispanics, they could defang race as a political issue and make the political debate primarily about ideology—and that could have a transformative impact on future elections.


3. Switchers

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez represents part of the Republican Party's outreach to Hispanic voters, but she also represents something else: its attempt to convert former Democrats. Martinez described her own conversion.

"Before I ran for District Attorney, two Republicans invited my husband and me to lunch. And I knew a party-switch was exactly what they wanted.

"So, I told Chuck, we'll be polite, enjoy a free lunch, and then say goodbye.

"But we talked about issues—they never used the words Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal.

"We talked about many issues, like welfare—is it a way of life, or a hand-up? Talked about the size of government—how much should it tax families and small businesses?

"And when we left that lunch, we got in the car and I looked over at Chuck and said, 'I'll be damned, we're Republicans.'"

Beth Reinhard describes the pitch Republicans are making to what a web ad calls "switchers." (Or as the caption for Reinhard's article refers to a female Obama voter who has defected to Romney: "witchers." Freudian slip, anyone?)

"Meet Mitt Romney's new best friends: ex-Obama voters.

"These ordinary, plainspoken people can make a better case for the Republican nominee than some of the prominent speakers on stage at the convention—and maybe even Romney himself. The campaign calls them 'switchers,' and three of them are showcased in a video released by the Romney campaign. Obama-turned-Romney supporters are also starring in multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns broadcast by the Republican Jewish Coalition and Americans for Prosperity....

"'There are times you want a soft sell and times when you need a two-by-four. This is a soft-sell message,' said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. 'We're trying to appeal to the folks in the middle, and we didn't think that browbeating them was the effective way to do that.'"

Josh Kraushaar has an interesting article about how Romney-Ryan's increasingly ideological campaign might actually help this outreach to swing voters, in contradiction to the convention wisdom.

"Critics have scratched their heads, wondering why he would appeal to the conservative base when he badly needs to win over the remaining undecided voters in the middle. Why, when the economy is by far the biggest issue for voters, is the Republican ticket focused on secondary issues? But by running on charged ideological issues, he has the potential to fit the missing piece of the puzzle—connecting voters' vague dissatisfaction with the president's performance with a series of unpopular policies he's pursued."

The idea is to turn dissatisfaction with the economy into rejection of the Democrats' policies and philosophy. Which, by the way, would make it a lot easier for Romney and Ryan to govern if they are elected.


4. Around the RealClear Universe

There's much more on the main page at RealClearPolitics, and here are some highlights and sidelights from around the RealClear universe.

RealClearMarkets links to a reminder that as Europeans return from their August vacations, so does the Eurocrisis.

RealClearWorld links to Minxin Pei's warning that instead of obsessing about China's rise, we should be worrying about its fall.

RealClearTechnology links to a description of Facebook as a whole swing state unto itself, as social media becomes more and more important in elections.

At tonight's convention, Republicans will highlight Mitt Romney's history of charitable activities through his church. So RealClearReligion links to a Utah newspaper's overview of the charitable activities of the Mormon church.

It also links to a profile of the Republican convention's other Mormon candidate, congressional candidate and rising star Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants who married a Mormon and became mayor of a small Utah town.

RealClearScience links to a report on a new study which casts doubt on the theory that a calorie-restricted diet—25% below what is usually considered healthy—can extend longevity. But you can still rely on the other claim that is usually made for a calorie-restricted diet: your life may not last longer, but at least it will seem longer.


—Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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