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The Daily Debate - 8/31/2012

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 31, 2012

1. Romney Redefined

2. Minorities and Majorities

3. The Death of the "Fact-Checker"

4. Around the RealClear Universe

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1. Romney Redefined

Mark Halperin gives some pretty cynical advice to the Obama campaign on how to stave off defeat. It includes such enlightened tips as:

"Ride the wave of identity politics, now one of the strongest forces in presidential elections. Communicate nonstop with Hispanics on the Dream Act, women on reproductive freedom, young people on Pell Grants, African Americans on health care, and upper-income, educated voters on a balanced approach to deficit reduction and social issues."

But his last piece of advice is the one that is actually essential.

"Never deviate from the core message that was set in place even before Romney secured his nomination: Obama can't win if he can't swing the conversation away from the economy and render Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat, an unacceptable alternative in the Oval Office."

I regret to inform Mr. Halperin and the Obama campaign that this ship has already sailed. It left the dock on Thursday night.

If one of the jobs of the convention was to "humanize" Romney, it worked. See the videos embedded in an overview from Garance Franke-Ruta, who is hardly sympathetic to Romney but is compelled to acknowledge the effect of these sketches of Romney's biography and personal character.

"It was a program intended to provide America with a more personal view of Mitt Romney, his Mormon faith, his large family, and his good works as a man and businessman. And it did that quite successfully, as Grant Bennett, a former assistant to Romney when he served as a Mormon bishop in Massachusetts, and Pam Finlayson, a friend of the Romneys from their Massachusetts church whom he helped through a difficult time with a premature daughter, spoke to Romney's personal commitment to his co-religionists.

"Their prim, plain, formal manners and subdued but deeply felt endorsements of Romney's character did perhaps more than anything else all week to give insight into a lifelong source of strength and values for Romney, as well as the operations of a faith community largely unfamiliar to most Americans. And the speeches also, critically, showed him as a man capable of not just relating to but having deep friendships with people from different walks of life, after a week that relentlessly drove home the message that he is a successful elite, surrounded by other people of achievement."

These presentations on Romney emphasized four main points.

First, they emphasized how his father worked his way up from poverty, and then how Mitt Romney built his career through his own effort and not just by coasting on the family name.

Second, they emphasized his career at Bain Capital and the Olympics, where he was responsible for successful turnarounds of failing ventures. This particularly emphasized what it meant for the employees whose livelihoods were saved.

Third, an overview of his time as governor of Massachusetts left out a few less popular measures (most notably his "Romneycare" health-care law) but emphasized his record as a government reformer who turned around the state's finances without raising taxes.

All of that was already known before the convention. What was not as well known is the fourth point: Romney's personal generosity and charitable activities through his church. There are two crucial aspects of these stories that make them very effective and relevant to the campaign. First, the examples of his generosity are not primarily about money. They aren't about writing million-dollar checks, which the average person couldn't relate to. They are mostly about Romney being generous with his time and consideration: making frequent hospital visits to a terminally ill boy, preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for a family that has been too busy visiting their daughter in the hospital to cook for themselves, or taking time from his campaign to call and offer his condolences to that same family when their daughter passed away. That's the sort of thing most people could imagine themselves doing, and which they would hope they would be good enough to do for their friends and neighbors.

But what is more important is that these things were done privately and without public show. I am always wary when a politician tries to demonstrate to me his compassion and altruism, because all too often that means he is even more eager to demonstrate how generous he can be with my money. But these examples are important for a different reason. The reason people are reticent about Romney is the fear that he has no core values. They look at his various ideological flip-flops, they see his polished manner and perfect hair, and they wonder if everything about him is just for show. So it is important for them to hear that he has values that he takes seriously when the world isn't looking.

As Ted Oparowski, the farther of the terminally ill boy, put it—rather pointedly, I might add:

"You cannot measure a man's character based on the words he utters before adoring crowds during times that are happy. The true measure of a man is revealed in his actions during times of trouble. The quiet hospital room of a dying boy, with no cameras and no reporters, this is the time to make that assessment."

In short, the question on most people's minds is: does Mitt Romney have a soul? And the answer is clearly "yes."

In fact, not only did these stories "humanize" Romney; they set a standard that Barack Obama would be hard-pressed to match. As Jennifer Rubin points out, "You wonder if they can scrounge up someone Obama visited in the hospital or to whom Obama brought Thanksgiving dinner. Probably not."

This message was stepped on by an odd, rambling speech given by the evening's surprise guest, Clint Eastwood. Some thought his speech was a "train wreck" while others thought it would connect with the average viewer. I'm not sure what to think of it myself. But I certainly think it was questionable to allow an unscripted wildcard to lead off the one hour of live coverage that the big networks gave to the final night of the convention.

Yet this distraction won't matter too much, because the convention is just the beginning of the effort to redefine Mitt Romney. What we saw Thursday night is the raw material, which will now be packaged into ads and be broadcast with a couple hundred million dollars' worth of air time. With stories like this, the negative campaign attacking Romney's personal character is doomed.

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2. Minorities and Majorities

Now that the Republicans have had their say, the Demcratic Party's convention is next, and Russell Berman gives a preview. While the Republican convention highlighted people that Mitt Romney has personally helped, it looks like the Democratic convention will highlight people who have been helped by the government under Obama's administration. Such is the difference in outlook between the two parties.

Will Romney get a "bounce"? It looks like the race is already tightening. We won't know for sure for a few more days. But there are also longer-term prospects at stake.

The other big star of the night was Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Felicia Sonmez describes how his speech was received.

"Among the rising stars who took the stage here at the GOP's national convention this week, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida may have been the brightest of them all.

"Rubio, a tea party favorite and national GOP luminary who first won election to the Senate in 2010, captivated the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday evening with a prime-time address in which he cited his parents' journey from Cuba to the United States as proof that America is an exceptional country....

"With his speech, he was clearly being presented as a future of the party."

And that leads to an interesting observation. This convention showed us a lot of up-and-coming leaders from the party's next generation, and many of them were black, or Hispanic, or women, or some combination. Yet the Republican Party is still reflexively labeled as "racist" by the left-leaning press.

Perhaps more to the point, Republicans still get a much smaller percentage of the black, Hispanic, and female vote than this week's roster of speakers would suggest. Greg Sargent describes the paradox.

"It almost goes without saying, but the most striking thing about this line-up—especially when you include Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who didn't speak at the convention [because of Hurrican Isaac]—is its racial diversity. In 2016, the Republican Party might have the most diverse presidential primary roster in American history.

"This is a genuine achievement; the GOP has made a conscious effort to elevate talented nonwhite politicians....

"But while Republicans deserve credit for broadening the image of their party, it's important to recognize the extent to which diversity on the stage isn't reflective of diversity in the party itself. Some 87 percent of self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning voters are white; this includes the vast majority of activists, volunteers, staffers, and political professionals. The GOP has made few inroads into minority communities, and is substantively out-of-step with the large majority of nonwhites who hold center to center-left views on most issues....

"Overall, this leaves the GOP in an unusual position for a major political party—remarkably diverse at its highest levels, but unable to make gains with the people those politicians are supposed to represent."

But it is very possible that this roster of leaders will eventually reach the critical mass necessary to reach out to more black and Hispanic voters and convince them of the Republicans' small-government policies. And if that happens, it would precipitate a radical shift in American politics—and shatter the Democrats' hope of a "permanent majority" based on the minority vote.

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3. The Death of the "Fact-Checker"

The Democrats met Paul Ryan's speech Wednesday night with the claim that is was full of lies. Which would have just been the usual politics of claim and counterclaim, except that these Democratic talking points were picked up by several supposedly impartial media "fact-checkers."

But then the fact-checkers got fact-checked. Stephen Gutowski of the Media Research Center examines one claim in particular. Ryan cited a campaign speech in which Obama promised workers at an automobile plant in Ryan's home town that with government support, their plant would be open for another hundred years—only to have the plant close once Obama got into office. Politifact challenged this story, but Gutowski replies:

"Politifact is just plain lying about when the Janesville plant closed.

"They claim it 'effectively' closed in December of 2008. That's simply false. While the SUV line in the plant was shut down in December of 2008 the plant's truck line remained up and running until April 23rd 2009.

"There's just no way around that. Throwing in a weasel word like 'effectively' doesn't change anything. The simple fact is that closed factories don't build trucks."

But it gets worse. Reason's Shikha Dalmia adds that the decision to close the plant occurred after government had bailed out GM and taken over its management, so that the decision to close the plant was made when the Obama administration was in control of that decision.

"What's more, the administration actually did consider keeping the Janesville plant alive after it nationalized GM by commandeering the bankruptcy process. According to Shepardson's story: 'In June 2009, GM considered three sites to locate a small car: its Orion plant in Michigan; Janesville, Wis.; and a Spring Hill, Tenn., plant slated to close in November. GM picked Orion and later reopened Spring Hill.'

"Now why would Obama choose to close the only plant he had actively 'suggested' he'd keep open? Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that it was in Ryan's (Republican) hometown? Just askin…"

This incident might just be the last gasp of the recent phenomenon of the "impartial media fact-checker."

For years, the big newspapers and big networks, largely dominated by left-leaning reporters, enjoyed a kind of ideological monopoly on the news. They promoted an image of being strictly neutral and non-partisan—while actually being biased. Everyone on the right knows this, because it is why we all used to shout at our televisions.

But then came the rise of the right-leaning alternative media, first on talk radio and cable television, then on the Internet, which made it possible for people like Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart to quickly build their own media empires.

The supposedly independent "fact-checker" website was the mainstream media's last attempt to re-establish its old position as the arbiters of fact—their old ability to tell us, in Walter Cronkite's famous phrase, "that's the way it is." And it is succumbing to the same fault: a pretense of neutral objectivity, masking a consistent leftward bias.

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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 report on growing anticipation that Ben Bernanke will launch a third round of money-printing "quantitative easing."

RealClearWorld links to a piece of unexpected good news: Amir Taheri's analysis of how Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi slapped down Iranian theocrat Ali Khamenei, rebuffing an attempt to absorb the Arab Spring into an Iranian-led "Islamic Awakening."

RealClearPolicy links to an analysis of Paul Ryan's convention speech, focusing on how Ryan's moral philosophy—as expressed in that speech—is opposed to that of his favorite author, Ayn Rand.

RealClearTechnology links to a report on how computer technology is now starting to target automobiles for transformation.

If you've ever taken a college philosophy class—and believe me, I took more of them than any human should be able to withstand—you've probably encountered the whole useless speculation that maybe you're just a brain in a vat, being manipulated by a mad scientist.

RealClearScience links to an article that asks whether it is actually possible to keep a whole, intact brain in vat, and what it would require. The bottom line, for the speculative philosopher, is rather disappointing.

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—Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

Follow me on Twitter.

Send comments or suggestions to tracinski@realclearpolitics.com.

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