Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Republican Convention Day One: Job One is to Mislead, Vaguely

Mitt Romney tried to the get the prime time he wanted by eliminating coverage of the delegate vote.  Although all the networks say he won, none of them so far are reporting the official vote totals.  Given the penchant for Republicans of saying shocking things, Romney tried to herd the speakers into a single theme, "We Built It."  This refers to a "gotcha" moment when President Obama fumblingly said business owners did not build their businesses by themselves.   The problem with the choice of this theme is that Obama has not done anything anti-business, so it left the speakers without a handy stock of false statistics to report  In 2004, when I reviewed the Republican speeches, I found hundreds of lies.  Tonight, there were certainly lies, but without the specificity and statistics one has come to expect.

The first speaker was Delaware lieutenant governor candidate Sheri Valenzuela, presumably chosen for her Hispanic name and business ownership.  However, it turned out her husband is the Hispanic, and it is not clear if Sheri is.  She shocked delegates when she said her husband started the business because they couldn't afford the best medical care for her autistic son, which reflects poorly on the American health care system Republicans are so quick to defend. Democrats looking into her background found that she had gotten government loans for her business, suggesting she exaggerates if she claims to have built it without help. She also admitted to having government contracts with Israel, and the fact that her current products are not those she and her husband set out to sell suggests she had some real struggles staying afloat.  Her big complaint with the president? She says he has instituted 106 new regulations (an infinitessimal percentage) that would cause 190 billion lost hours in paperwork (a nonsensical number capable of no possible factual support).   And that was it. That was all she had against President Obama in the way of "facts."  Her reception was lukewarm.

Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire was next up.  She told the hurtful story of her husband the pilot returning from war to unemployment.  He started a landscaping and snow removal business, in which she apparently worked.  This was the second woman whose business turned out to be started by her husband, not herself.  Again, they had loans for their business, which makes them rare in the United States, since under Republican Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan banks stopped lending to small business, Bush cut the Small Business Administration budget multiple times, and instead the financial system was oriented towards real estate speculation.  When the Federal Reserve Act was passed last century, one of its instructions to the Federal Reserve Board was they not let commercial banks secure more than 25% of their assets in real estate.  Under Greenspan, 60% of banking assets became secured by real estate, a problem of misinvestment that continues today.  Ayotte survived and prospered, she said, and then she fabricated a story that a restaurant owner said he wanted to open a second restaurant in New Hampshire, but decided not to because Obamacare would penalize him if he did.  Her voice lowered, grew softer, and she looked to the side as she delivered this obvious fantasy.  She called Obamacare a "Success Tax."  Under the old system, small businesses already had a "success tax" where larger business had greater requirements, and the Obamacare program actually has a credit for small businesses that started in 2010, meaning small business have so far  saved money on health care under the new law and it cannot be said to have curtailed employment..

She then introduced Jack Gilchrist, a New Hampshire metal fabricator (his father's company), who was supposed to give scary examples about how Obama was preventing his success in business.  He did not give a single concrete example of how Obama hurt his business.

Ohio Governor John Kasich was the next speaker, the best speaker of the night, and he came prepared with the most lies.   He started with the usual puffery, claiming Ohio lost 400,000 jobs before he became Governor, and now it had a 100,000 jobs gain.  This is a dilemma for Romney, because if state governors are responsible for jobs, then Obama isn't. And if Obama is responsible, then Kasich isn't.  Kasich claimed he went from 48th worst in jobs to 2nd best, but the statistics don't seem to bear this out.   It turns out jobs gains and losses in Ohio don't seem to be related to who is governor. Kasich did his part to slam Obama by claiming the president "doubled" the national debt, which isn't true.  Reagan tripled the national debt, and Bush almost doubled the national debt, both Republicans.  Obama's contribution has been more modest despite the more challenging economic conditions he inherited, and only so large as it is because it continues Bush tax cuts. The only scenario where Obama "doubles" the national debt is the one where Obama wins a second term and Republicans keep the Bush tax cuts.

Kasich then claimed he converted an $8 billion prospective deficit (these are always exaggerated) into a $500 million surplus by attacking public sector unions and pensions.  In fact, he gained most of his surplus from privatizing state functions, one offs that will not continue, leaving the state in a structural deficit.  Meanwhile, his budget cuts to local governments caused them to have to raise taxes so that the Ohio citizen's tax burden increased.

He then went on to float lies of a similar character about Mitt Romney. Romney raised taxes as Massachusetts governor, cut programs, and left the state with the same size structural deficit he inherited of around $1 billion annually.  That was not the case in Kasich's speech, where Romney miraculously turned a $3 billion deficit to a surplus and turned job losses to job gains, even though Mass.  ranked among the worst in the country.  In truth, little could be blamed or praised for Romney because he faced a Democratic supermajority the entire time that overrode hundreds of his vetoes.  Kasich then went on to tell how Romney "Fixed" the Olympics, a story we've already debunked on this blog.  Kasich then sort of admitted he was lying by saying Joe Biden took issue with his facts, but that Joe Biden lied about being a good golfer, and so no doubt lied about everything else too.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell then threw in the usual Republican insults toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, or Employment Prevention Agency, he said), Entitlement Society, and claimed that states with GOP governors had unemployment rates fully 1% less than states with Democratic governors.  This was interesting to me because I actually did a study of states with Republicans and Democratic governors in the 1980s and 1990s and found that states with Republican governors increased public payrolls more than states with Democratic governors.  I didn't try to check McDonnell's math, but I did take a straight average of the average life expectancy from birth in states with Democratic governors (20) and Republican governors (29).  I did not bother weighting them for population, just an average.  The result? States with Democratic governors had an average life expectancy of 78.9 years, and those with Republican governors 78.1 years.  In other words, every person can expect to live more than nine months longer in states with Democratic governors. How can Republicans claim to be "pro-life" with this record?  Of course this is silly: there is no direct causation in either case, but one could argue that Republican budget cuts have typically been in the area of nursing homes or reduced medical care, and so there is a certain logic to it and it makes as much sense as Kasich's claims about unemployment, even if they turn out to be true..

They were followed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who got the biggest cheer of the evening for his antiunion struggles.  He had little to say except to reiterate the supposedly greater probity of republican governors that the others had already asserted with greater specificity.  The fact that Republicans have such a violent attitude towards public sector unions should not surprise: of course union pay and pensions seem high when the private sector gave up its unions and pensions long ago.  But this is a race to the bottom and harmful to the economy, to cut the pay and pensions of millions of workers to preserve tax cuts for the rich.

"The rich" was a term that was very conspicuous by its absence tonight.

Rick Santorum weighed in, asserting that marriage is under attack and that people who graduate from high school, marry, and work have only a 2% chance of being in poverty.  Well, obviously if you exclude the unemployed, you are going to have good numbers for whatever group you describe. What any of this has to do with defending marriage against gays is not clear.  Married gays probably have lower poverty rates than single gays, for that matter.  Santorum accused the president of mounting an "assault" on marriage and family, and attempting to "nationalize" educational curriculum and student loans.  Odd, I thought it was George Bush who boasted of his education funding and his education standards under No Child Left Behind.  This would hardly be the first time Republicans blamed Obama for something Bush (and they) did.  No speaker mentioned Bush by name.  Santorum actually made a very serious charge, accusing the president of ignoring the laws passed by Congress regarding immigration and welfare to work.  If so, they should have impeached him, but then it would be hard to do since they let George Bush get away with a "signing statements," "interpreting" bills as he liked without reference to what Congress wanted in 2001-2009.  On his first day on the job in 2001, President Bush said he would no longer comply with the Presidential Records Act, which would have required him to start declassifying papers from the George H.W. Bush administration. Congress did nothing. If Obama can get away with this, said Santorum, we have no Republic.  Since Bush got away with it for eight years, I'd say the facts have already established that there is no Republic.  Santorum then went into an antiabortion tirade, after falsely implying doctors recommended infanticide for his special needs daughter. This got him a standing ovation and demonstrated that the GOP was more interested in this issue than the night's theme.  Anyone watching would know that the Republicans do not intend to make the economy Job One next year.

Ted Cruz and Artur Davis then gave the token minority speeches, and Davis represented as well the Democratic apostate of the night, following in the footsteps of Joe Lieberman in 2008 and Zell Miller in 2004. Neither speech had any specifics at all although Davis alone of the speakers sniped at the health insurance mandate of Obamacare.

Finally we got to the two main speakers, Ann Romney and Chris Christie.  Ann Romney said her speech was about "love."  She said women care just a little more about the problems of the family, and women work just a little harder than men.  This sexist rant was probably supposed to deliver women for her candidate, but it just highlighted the fact that she isn't running for president, and her husband is.  She also undercut it by saying women "don't want easy."   That was intended to compliment women on their work ethic, but she exposed her belief in the laziness of women at the very end of the speech when she promised that nobody would work harder as president than Mitt, "so we can work just a little less hard," essentially promising a reduction in work if Mitt were elected president, about as pure a case of demagoguery as you will ever see.  She also mentioned his great achievement in giving out scholarships to high performing students in Massachusetts, a new entitlement that was neither his idea nor unique to Massachusetts, while ludicrously claiming Massachusetts had the best schools in the country.  The message of educational entitlement directly undercut the message Kasich and Santorum had established that Republicans would get the federal government out of education and reduce entitlements in general.

That was hardly her only attempt to mislead.  In speaking of her marriage she said there were obstacles because "I was Episcopalian, he was Mormon."  Later she mentioned "our church" but did not indicate what it was.  In other words, she was encouraging people not to see her as Mormon, when she actually converted to Romney's Mormon faith long before marrying him.   This was likely a shameless, slimy attempt to fish for voters who were uncomfortable with Romney's Mormonism by adjusting her personal story.  Her father, we know, was actually an atheist that they baptized Mormon after he died.

She laughably claimed "Mitt was not handed success,"  "Mitt doesn't like to talk about how he helps others," and "You can trust Mitt."  In truth, when Romney took over Bain Capital, Bill Bain promised he could go back to Bain Consulting if it failed, and he was guaranteed salary for a certain period too. He didn't take over the Salt Lake Olympics until they were on track for success. Mitt is always talking about how charitable he is, and also about how honest and trustworthy.  Your mother warned you about trusting such people, and she was right. The convention was positive about her speech, but I don't think they were comfortable with the love theme.

Then, to the amazement of all, the keynote speaker Governor Chris Christie attacked love as a theme. After reminding everyone of his Sicilian heritage, he said his mother told him to value being respected over being loved, directly insulting Ann Romney's just concluded speech about love and managing to sound like a mafia don wannabe.  Christie accused the president of seeking such love overseas instead of demanding respect, but there were no specifics. Indeed, Christie's speech was rambling, repetitive, and obsessed with parochial issues like teachers' unions.  His anger at unions won him his only standing applause from the candidate, who otherwise looked disgusted with his keynoter.  Christie also said Romney was someone who would tell the truth and not duck the hard questions, a laughable claim about a man noted for his flip flops and telling people what they want to hear.  It may well be that Christie wants Romney to lose so he can run for president in 2016.  His performance was not good enough to justify such a hope.  If Romney picked Christie to keynote as a "moderate" voice, Christie's anger and bombast defeated the purpose.  If Romney picked Christie to rouse the rabble, the rabble was uncomfortable with the trashy ethnic style.  Kasich would have been a far better choice.

In summation, it was striking that all the speeches were more about attacking Obama than promoting Romney, but they were all unspecific and lacking substance and with a much reduced battery of false statistics. It was rather telling that the last two speakers concentrated on telling us to trust Romney and believe him, an apparent problem with his poll numbers. Ann Romney's attempt to corral the female vote did not seem very exciting.  It would have been better if she could have promised them something, anything, other than the patently ridiculous "just a little less" work.  The speeches were probably intended not to offend people as the number one goal, and to paper over differences over things like education, but Romney will not get a bump if speeches over the next few days do not improve.  In the meantime, the tendency of speakers to undercut each other did not speak too highly of Romney's control over the process, theme or no theme, Bush or no Bush, rich or no rich.


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