Republican Convention, Day 2

Three speeches worth noting last night.

Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, gave a terrific speech. Once a Democrat, she talked about her change of parties and her vision of what the Republican Party is about. Really, one of the best speeches of the convention so far. Unfortunately I can’t find a video, but if I do I’ll post it.

Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in George W. Bush’s second term, also painted a visionary, almost post-partisan portrait of her party. The speech was more about domestic than foreign policy, and set the twitter-sphere alight with speculation that she might run for office herself someday. What do you think?

The main speech of the evening of course was Paul Ryan. The vice presidential candidate’s speech is supposed to rally the troops and prepare the way for the presidential candidate’s speech the next night. In addition, Ryan had to introduce himself to a public who didn’t know much about him. He did all three of those things, and did them well. He was earnest, funny, youthful, and engaging.

All of that presents a real challenge for a teacher, because I don’t want to downplay the successes of his speech, but I do need to point out that it contains some real inaccuracies and has been skewered by the fact-checkers. At least four major components of his attack on President Obama are based on claims he has to know are not true:

1) that the president walked away from a promise to save an automobile plant in Ryan’s hometown. Obama didn’t promise and he wasn’t president at the time. By the time he took office the decision had already been made to close the plant.

2) that the president walked away from the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission reduction plan. Ryan himself was actually on the commission and he voted against the plan, which failed to garner enough support to pass.

3) that the president presided over a credit downgrade. Our credit was downgraded, not because the crediting agency doubted our ability to pay our bills but because they feared politics would interfere with our ability to do so, and with our ability to raise taxes as part of a comprehensive debt reduction plan. As a Republican Party leader, Ryan was at least partly responsible for his party’s refusal to compromise in any way on the budget, leading to political pessimism and the downgrade.

4) That the president raided Medicare – taking more than 700 billion dollars intended to pay for the care of older Americans and using it to shore up his own health care program, Obamacare. In fact, the president took that money from a program called Medicare Advantage which had been adopted as a cost saving measure but which had proven to be more costly than regular Medicare, and he realized other savings by getting hospitals to agree to take less since they would face fewer losses for uninsured patients under Obamacare. He did not raid the program, and he did not change the benefits. What’s more, Ryan counts the very same savings in his own budget, but instead of returning them to health care as Obama does, he uses them to offset tax cuts for the wealthy.

5) Well, there are more. I’ll leave it to the fact checkers: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

There are others out there, but you get the picture. I hesitate to jump all over one party, and of course if the Democrats prove equally egregious next week, we’ll jump all over them too, but good critical thinking requires that untruths like these be highlighted so you all can make up your own minds about what you think.

All of this doesn’t mean that the speech may not prove to be very effective. Ryan spoke warmly and sincerely and that may count more in the long run than whether he was telling the truth. In fact, as New York Magazine writer Dan Amira says:

“Most of the millions of people who watched the speech on television tonight do not read fact-checks or obsessively consume news fifteen hours a day, and will never know how much Ryan’s case against Obama relied on lies and deception. Ryan’s pants are on fire, but all America saw was a barn-burner.”

So something to think about this. Given that people are already pretty cynical about politicians, does this kind of prevaricating (a nicer word than “lying”) matter? Why? How can we encourage our politicians to be more truthful?

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