Watching Paul Ryan’s speech from inside the Tampa Bay Times Stadium, it was clearly a huge success with the party faithful. The crowd of delegates roared their approval and jumped to their feet energized by his delivery and his message. The convention hall was not quite as electrified as by Sarah Palin’s combative speech in 2008, but it was still buzzing.
The personal stories and the conservative platitudes were all well done. But the substance was a let down. Sure, all political speeches contain some exaggeration and smoke and mirrors, and the Obama campaign and its allies have run some misleading ads in this election campaign. But this speech was a flat-out taunt to fact-checkers. For a guy who has assumed the role of the Republicans’ egghead policy wonk, promising to give bold solutions to tough problems and to make the campaign about “big things,” his speech was a disappointment.
One of the most egregious segments was about Medicare. Aware that one of the biggest vulnerabilities he brings to the ticket are his controversial proposals to transform Medicare for future retirees, Ryan played offense on the issues. Ryan accused Obama of “funnelling” $716 billion from Medicare“at the expense of the elderly” to pay for his health care reform. This is only partly true. Moreover, Ryan’s own budget – the Republican budget he proposed as chair of the House Budget Committee – proposes to keep the very same cuts that Obama has proposed – but rather than using the money to expand health care coverage, Ryan would use it to cover the budget gap caused in part by his proposed tax cuts.
Then there are Ryan’s own plans for Medicare, the government health care program for seniors. He said in his speech: “Medicare is a promise, and we will honour it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.” He made this statement without mention of the fact that he has proposed turning it into a voucher-based (or “premium-support”) program for future retirees.
Then there was this line: “Obamacare comes to more than two thousand pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees, and fines that have no place in a free country.” Funny, those same mandates and taxes were part of Romney’s mandatory health insurance reform back in Massachusetts in 2005.
Many of his biggest applause lines had to do with the urgent need to reduce federal government debt. But Ryan has yet to explain exactly how he would balance the budget while still offering the large tax cuts and military spending increases that he proposes.
The credibility of his speech also suffered when he blamed Obama for not preventing the closure of an auto plant that closed in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin – since the plant closed under Bush. Others have pointed to other inaccuracies, but you get the picture.
That said, Ryan had some memorable lines:
“College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”
“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new. Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.”
His slogan, “Let’s get this done,” and constant declarations that “We can do this,” were rousing. If only he’d be more straightforward about what “this” is.