Drinking the Kool-Aid

29 08 2012

The Republican Convention is full of rhetoric and cliches that sound fabulous and preach well, but so many of them (“the promise of America,” “success is the American dream,” “It’s not where you came from but where are you going that matters,” etc. etc.) are simply meaningless. Even the statistics are misleading. Ryan bemoaned that 23 million people are unemployed (or underemployed), or about 8% of the population. Indeed, that is an awful statistic. But what was that number in 2009, just a few months after Obama took office and way too early for any of his decisions to take effect? Over 30 million, or nearly 10%. So to simply make that bald statement without context is misleading.

But who am I kidding? This is a political convention, otherwise known as a religious revival, wherein a lot of opinions are voiced, promises are made, and challenges are thrown down with no chance for dissent. This is a dog convention assessing the merits of cats. But let’s be straight: all conventions were not created equal, and this one in particular is loaded with more smoke than most I’ve seen in my lifetime. Paul Ryan was quite possibly the worst offender when it came to misleading statistics, blustery rhetoric, and tired slogans. Ryan would be a disaster for this country for the simple reason that he doesn’t seem capable of self-criticism. He strikes me as the sort of person who has his opinion made before he’s heard the issue. And whoever disagrees with him is not only wrong but morally culpable. He appears to be every bit the quintessential Monday morning quarterback. He can critique every move, every decision, every play, without offering a single substantive idea of his own. It’s open hunting season in Tampa this week, and the Game Warden has gone on vacation.

Obama inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and what he’s done has been nothing short of heroic. Has he made mistakes? Of course he has. He chose to die on the hill of healthcare, and though he won that battle, he may have lost the war. Too early to tell if it was a Pyrrhic victory. But this much is sure: for all the goals he sought to accomplish, only a fraction were realized, due in large part to a Republican-controlled Congress whose main goal was to challenge his every idea and stonewall every opportunity to see any of them actually come to fruition. And that isn’t me saying this. The Republican leadership has explicitly admitted as much. Nevertheless, most economists believed that Obama’s ideas to salvage the train wreck of an economy he inherited (due to 8 years of unencumbered Republican policies) likely saved us from an even more disastrous outcome. As the Economist magazine stated in an article in 2008:

“AS THE financial crisis pushes the economy back to the top of voters’ concerns, Barack Obama is starting to open up a clear lead over John McCain in the opinion polls. But among those who study economics for a living, Mr Obama’s lead is much more commanding. A survey of academic economists by The Economist finds the majority—at times by overwhelming margins—believe Mr Obama has the superior economic plan, a firmer grasp of economics and will appoint better economic advisers.”

In fairness, many economists had changed their opinions two years later about Obama’s policies, but there is no loss of irony in this, given that Obama had implemented many of the same policies these same economists had advocated for two years earlier.

And so the political banter continues unabated in Tampa. The conservatives are having their day in the sun (or hurricane, as the case may be) and having their fill of the Republican Kool-aid, and they best enjoy it while they can, because political conventions are notorious for being unhampered by one pesky little detail: the truth.

Paul Ryan (the ultimate ideologue attack dog) says he welcomes a debate of the issues. I don’t know if that’s mere bluster or a sincere invitation, but either way, that’s one thing we completely agree on. Exit the echo chamber of your adoring fans, Romney and Ryan, and see how well your ideas — among the great mysteries of this election year — hold up under close scrutiny. Obama and Biden’s political honeymoon ended years ago. They are battle-tested and would relish, I’m sure, the opportunity for a good debate.

May the best men win the race.

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