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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Recapping the Republican National Convention

Although I was reluctant to add my voice to the cacophony of reactions to this week’s festivities in Tampa, I noticed that there were some aspects of the convention on which no one seemed to share my perspective, so here's a brief rundown.

Much criticism has been heaped on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—from both the Right and the Left—for his keynote address. Most all the negative reactions I’ve heard are some version of this: He didn’t mention Mitt Romney until 15-20 minutes into his speech, and even then, barely at all. He talked too much about himself. It sounded like he was setting himself up for a future presidential run. Other rising stars who spoke at the convention, particularly the governors, received similar criticism: They were too boastful of his own accomplishments and mum on Romney’s, the meme goes. While I believe the organizing committee could have done a better job emphasizing Mitt Romney’s character and accomplishments and values/beliefs, I do not share this view that the other speakers should have spent less time on their personal records. The electorate needs to hear these Republican success stories; they need to know about these Republican governors who balanced their budgets without raising taxes; they need to know about their education reforms and their courageous fights against politically-charged lawsuits filed by an oppressive federal government. Voters who are still on the fence need to be confronted with the sharp contrast between the Democrats’ failed policies and our party’s success.

They also needed to hear New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s anecdote about realizing she and her husband were Republicans, and they needed to hear Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval's rise from (excuse the cliché) humble beginnings to the federal judiciary (and now the governor's mansion). Ted Cruz’s impassioned, podium-less appeal to Hispanics, especially immigrants, was head-and-shoulders above anything we can expect to hear from San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who will be keynoting the Democratic National Convention next week, or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who mused on Tuesday that Republicans "can't just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname" and expect Latinos to vote Republican. (Sour grapes, anyone?) Other speakers’ personal narratives were less salient components of their addresses but no less significant. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s personal story was confined to a single sentence at the end of her speech, but it may have been the most potent. It took the normally apolitical academic 23 seconds to recount her journey from Jim Crow-era Birmingham to U.S. Secretary of State, but the standing ovation she received lasted at least twice as long. (Dr. Rice is too classy a woman to have added what some of us inferred and every educated person familiar with the history of the deep South knows: that the Jim Crow laws under which she grew up were all passed and enforced by Democrats.) I also think Rick Santorum’s speech was underrated. I’d never been a big Santorum fan, but on Tuesday night, he gave one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard, at a convention or anywhere.

Paul Ryan's acceptance speech irked the Left in a way I've not seen since...well, I suppose I've never seen them react the way they did to the eye-pleasing Congressman's Wednesday night address. It was clear that the Obama campaign was incensed by Ryan's ability to disembowel their case for re-election without telling a single lie. No surprise the only response they could muster was to accuse him of--that's right--lying. I'll spare you a laundry list of examples, but if you've seen the speech, then you know there wasn't a single lie in it.

I had my own list of things I was hoping to hear Mitt Romney say during his acceptance speech, and I got some of what he wanted. (I wasn't expecting him to do anything as jaw-dropping as Ronald Reagan's silent prayer at the end of his convention speech in 1980, but I was surprised that he didn't include a sentence or two about the flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi or make hey of the president's ill-conceived "We tried our plan, and it worked." comment.) He did well to run down a list of specific policy proposals he had for addressing our economic woes. I agree with those who called this "a workman-like" address, as opposed to something heavy on soaring rhetoric and light on substance (Any guess which kind of speech we'll hear from President Obama next week?); still, I wouldn't have minded a little more bluster. It also would have been nice to hear Romney--or anyone at the convention--reassure supporters with something along the lines of, "Remember, we have the easier argument to make in this election. All we have to do is convince people of the truth. We need not lie or distort our opponents' records. Victory for them requires getting enough people to believe things that aren't true. It necessitates keeping voters in the dark." However, since I did not take care to write all this down and publish it before Thursday night, and because after-the-fact criticism always has that tinge of second-guessing someone without having been in his position, I will go no further on this point, except to offer this defense of Mitt Romney and whoever wrote his acceptance speech: When previewing something you’ve written—especially something intended to be delivered orally—it’s fairly easy to spot things that probably shouldn’t be in there or that should be changed, but it is typically very difficult to recognize everything that was left out; spotting the omissions means looking for things that aren’t there, a very tough task.


  1. A laundry list and a defense of Paul Ryan's points is a must (or at least a source defending him is a must) if you're going to blanket statement his speech as 100% true. Here's my source.
    Also, I called you out on your La Pierre/La Jeunesse/Jon Stewart post from last year. Not sure if you want to respond.

    1. I normally don’t reply to people who comment on the blog unless they ask me a direct question, but I read the article you linked to because, to date, no one has pointed out an actual lie in Paul Ryan’s convention speech to me.

      Dylan came close, but he could not prove that any factual statement Paul Ryan made in his speech was false. (I only consider a statement a lie if (1) it is false, and 2. the person making it knows or should know that it’s false. You may have a different definition.)

      However, after reading the post you referenced, I was moved to write a new blog post about the Washington Post’s sorry excuses for “fact-checkers.” I was pretty disgusted with Dylan Matthews’s evident laziness in “fact-checking” Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick’s speech in Charlotte last week, but the post you cited was pretty sloppy too. I noticed you commented on our post about Patrick’s lies; if you’re interested, then I recommend reading my post from last Friday entitled "The Washington Post Needs Better Fact-Checkers."