Paul Ryan’s Convention Speech Analysed
by Benjamin Studebaker
Paul Ryan’s convention speech went over pretty well on the right in the United States. Jim Geraghty of the National Review had this to say about it:
This speech, and his warmth and sense of connection when delivering it, almost unnerved me. I started worrying that I was seeing what I wanted to see, that I was hyping a pretty good speech delivered pretty well in my own mind. Except my Twitter feed was exploding. The delegates were going nuts. And it just seemed to be getting better and better as it went on. Conversational, direct, funny, detailed . . . this was Reaganesque, guys. I was a kid when Reagan was president, so I got lulled into a false sense of what American presidents were — I thought they were all that good. This felt like that.
You can read his full post here. Perhaps this was indeed the case for Mr. Geraghty. I myself was struck by the sheer number of untrue, openly fallacious claims in it, and today I would like to highlight them.
This post will consist of a series of quotes from Paul Ryan’s speech, and an explanation of what is factually inaccurate about them. Here’s the full speech for confirmation of quote and context accuracy.
There are a few factual assertions in the speech, surrounded by lots of anecdotes and padding. We’ll be focusing on the substance. The first trouble comes with this:
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.
There are two problems with this. Firstly, the particular plant in question shut down most of its lines on December 23, 2008, before Obama took office, and the remaining line closed in April of 2009, just a couple of months into Obama’s term. Source here. Secondly, while Obama publicly supported a bailout of the auto industry, Mitt Romney, at the time, was staunch opposed. He wrote a column entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” for the New York Times. You can read that here.
The next troubling segment in the speech comes here:
[the stimulus money] went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.
There are again two problems with this. First, despite saying this, in fact Ryan himself sought stimulus money for companies in the state of Wisconsin, and some of them did indeed receive federal money. The second, much larger problem is that, when Ryan declares the stimulus a corrupt waste of money, he is contradicting independently verified data. The CBO verifies that the stimulus created 3.3 million jobs, and 4 out of 5 economists agreed or strongly agreed that the stimulus created jobs. There are certainly critics like Krugman who claim that the stimulus was too small, and I have agreed with these critics in the past, but to argue that what stimulus money that was spent amounted to nothing is in flagrant contradiction with both the data and expert analysis.
There are more problems, however. Ryan also said this:
And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.
You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.
This is also problematic on two levels. First, Ryan himself supported the very policy he’s disparaging–the Ryan budget included the same $700 billion in cuts to Medicare reimbursements (he implies the cuts are to benefits, which simply isn’t true), and Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget in the past, saying:
I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan. It’s a bold and exciting effort on his part and on the part of the Republicans and it’s very much consistent with what I put out earlier. I think it’s amazing that we have a president who three and a half years in still hasn’t put a proposal out that deals with entitlements. This president’s dealing with entitlement reform — excuse me — this budget deals with entitlement reform, tax policy, which as you know is very similar to the one that I put out and efforts to reign in excessive spending. I applaud it. It’s an excellent piece of work and very much needed.
Secondly, the reforms that Ryan himself has proposed, the voucher system, will in fact reduce benefits for seniors because the private sector has historically been less effective than the public sector at keeping down health care costs.
There’s more trouble, however, when Ryan says this:
He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.
Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing – nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue.
So here we are, $16 trillion in debt and still he does nothing. In Europe, massive debts have put entire governments at risk of collapse, and still he does nothing. And all we have heard from this president and his team are attacks on anyone who dares to point out the obvious.
They have no answer to this simple reality: We need to stop spending money we don’t have.
Two key issues here, once more. First, Ryan himself was on the debt commission and voted against its report. More importantly, however, Ryan is comparing apples with oranges when he compares US debt to European debt. As we’ve discussed in the past, the US controls its own currency and can enact its own monetary policy, while countries on the Euro cannot. In addition, interest rates on US debt remain below 2% and the rate of inflation frequently exceeds the interest rate, making inflation-adjusted US borrowing actually profitable for the government.
The rest of the speech is, regrettably, a series of anecdotes and efforts to get listeners emotionally, rather than intellectually, invested in the campaign, a stratagem that is a form of propaganda. Of course, the American political left do that as well, so that criticism is not particular to Ryan, but of the American political system more broadly.
There are several other zingers from other speakers at the convention besides Paul Ryan, but this post is already too long as it stands. There are many people writing about this subject today, some of them no doubt list more. The Christian Science Monitor has a particularly well-constructed one.
I’ve said this before and I’ll likely say it again before November–the amount of blatant misinformation being thrown about in American politics these days is extremely dangerous to the country and should concern everyone every bit as much as any of the problems or imaginary problems any of the political candidates are themselves emphasising.