Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Building It

My wrap on Chris Christie and Ann Romney's speeches is over at Greg's place. Short version: she was pretty good, he was okay, but what a substance-free party they are.

To add on to that a little, after a long day of convention watching...

Quite a few people noted during the day noted how remarkable it was that they build the entire day around an out of context quote from Barack Obama; they spent the day asserting that, yes, indeed, we did build that.

Only they didn't, really. The best one was the guy from Nevada whose entire business, apparently (according to him, that is) was getting government contracts...I think it was for road signs. And how disappointed he was when the stimulus didn't give him any new business. But all day long, we heard speaker after speaker start to explain how they, alone, had built their business, only to eventually credit their family, their workers, their communities.

Well, actually my favorite was the talk-show host who scolded Obama because God, it seems, was really the one who built America. Which, you know, is actually a lot more consistent with what Obama said than what the GOP theme of the day is, but never mind that. It sounded like a good rebuke.

Which really was all they had today. And, for what it's worth, is probably okay, as far as WH 2012 is concerned. You don't convert people through clever arguments at the conventions; you furnish those who really are inclined to vote for you but haven't quite accepted it yet for whatever reasons with acceptable reasons to do do what they want to do anyway. So really a day full of substance-free nothing may be suboptimal, but it sure beats culture war or Tea Party crazies.

That said...it really was an amazingly substance-free day. I know, I know; Republican policy planning shouldn't be expected to necessarily have the detail that liberals have. But there's just nothing there. It's Father Guido's five-minute university, GOP version. Foreign policy? Exceptionalism. Economic policy? Deficits are bad. Anything else? Energy? Drill. Anything else? Nope, that pretty much covers it. Again, for most voters, that's not going to matter. The problem is that it's all they have, as far as I can see.

The other question, I suppose, is whether basing the convention on lies (such as the welfare thing) and out-of-context scare quotes really works with undecided voters. It sure seems to me that the previous idea that Barack Obama is a good man who just isn't up to the job should play better than the idea that Obama hates America and, in particular, is actively hostile to small business. On the one hand, anyone inclined to vote for Republicans should respond to either. On the other hand, any really undecided voters who check out both conventions are just not going to hear anything at all next week that will confirm what they're hearing this week, and it doesn't strike me that they're hearing a message that they could believe even if they leave next week finding Obama to have good intentions. But that's extremely speculative; it seems to me it should work that way, but who knows if it will.

One last thing before I let the first day go. I know it doesn't matter at all -- at all -- whether convention days have coherent themes or not. But for whatever it's worth, the one thing that would have really capped off the day and made the GOP look a lot more intellectually energetic would have been a strong, sane, argument for small-government capitalism. A speech like that would have very much appealed to centrist pundits. Would it play to voters? Only a very well-written one (not that they would object to it otherwise, but it runs the risk of being dull). So, who knows, maybe platitudes and cliches from Christie was a safer path. But for whatever it's worth, it would have tied together the whole day a lot better. And, again for whatever it's worth, it would fit a lot better with the actual Mitt Romney than cliches about leading even when your ideas are unpopular, which just doesn't match the way most people think about Romney at all, and is unlikely to change anytime soon.

I suspect I'm going to duck more of the second day, but we'll see. I should mention, for those who read my earlier item:: a terrific rendition of the nomination roll call of the states, and I totally nailed South Dakota, Corn Palace and all. So I got what I wanted out of this convention.


  1. And as I said elsewhere, I think Scott Walker would have been the best choice to give that "strong, sane, argument for small-government capitalism" keynote. He'd have the benefit of having the record to back it up (from their perspective). He's not as natural a speaker or politician as Christie, or even Ryan, but he can make up for that in focus and bridled intensity. Instead he was just one of six in tonight's mid-evening parade of governors. Perhaps they thought he would take some of the luster off of Ryan tomorrow.

  2. Ann Romney's dentist trumped Chris Christie's dietician.

  3. This gets me wondering about the old saw that undecided voters are "low information" or "low engagement": might it rather be that such voters don't want to be played, they aren't reinforced by being 'on this team' (or the other)? Keeping in mind that even the most hardened partisans recognize the value in not being an ideological hack, might the 20% that are 'true' independents actually walk the walk, as opposed to paying lip service to it, the way the other 80% do?

    Because Christie was right, as far as it went, about sacrifice over love. Not inconsistent with the Navy SEAL credo, come to think of it. So when a few SEALs publish a book, at the height of election season, making the outrageously inaccurate and disrespectful claim that Obama is taking credit for "building" the Osama raid (which, as an aside, the President is absolutely entitled to do!!!), perhaps a non-ideological independent sees those SEALs for the total assholes they are, jingoistic memes notwithstanding?

    Coming full circle, I fully agree with the argument that "nice guy, not good at the job" should have been a much better strategy vs. Obama. The culture war stuff is challenging, since while the nonreflective partisans eat it up, I suspect the don't-want-to-be-played independents realize these issues are complicated, and that therefore all sides share blame, from which the finger pointing makes them uncomfortable.

    1. Nobody WANTS to be played. The biggest ideological hack in the world is hackish because they think their side is right, so right that it's worth a few shortcuts.

      The question is whether undecided voters are actually exposed to all this information and reject it, or whether they just don't know about it at all. IIRC, though I'm certainly no expert, the numbers run more toward reinforcing the latter view...

    2. I think it's fanciful that the 80-85% who vote for their favorite tribe every election are "high information voters". In fact, in my experience, most of them are low information drones, whose "high information" is merely confirmation bias. They're sole concern is a letter of the alphabet, "R" or "D".

      And yeah, many of us in the remaining 15-20% ignore much of what the political hacks and "high information" types say... because they're not providing anything of value.

  4. Dr. Bernstein, your continuing to call "the welfare thing" a lie does not make it a lie. Why in your view did they change the policy at all with no consultation with Congress in an election year? Requiring work as a condition of receiving welfare was a Republican idea from the start, President Clinton vetoed Republican welfare reforms twice before signing it the third time in 1996 under campaign pressure, and State Senate candidate Obama in 1996 was vehemently opposed to it. If you read the actual July 12 document from HHS, it cites as an example of flexibility Nevada's request to "exempt those families hardest to employ from the work requirements for six months while officials worked with them to stabilize their households." That's a weakening of the requirement to work on the face of it: six months of welfare with no work requirement if you are "hard to employ."

  5. @anonymous- "So where did the notion of a major welfare reform overhaul come from?
    Where it didn't come from is Washington but rather from Utah, Nevada, California, Connecticut and Minnesota.
    These states, some with Republican governors, asked the federal government for more flexibility in how they hand out welfare dollars. Their purpose was to spend less time on federal paperwork and more time experimenting with ways to connect welfare recipients with jobs.
    The Obama administration cooperated, granting waivers to some states from some of the existing rules.
    The waivers gave "those states some flexibility in how they manage their welfare rolls as long as it produced 20% increases in the number of people getting work."
    In some small way, the waivers might change precisely how work is calculated but the essential goal of pushing welfare recipients to work -- something both Democrats and Republicans agreed to in the 1990s -- remains the same."

  6. "...but the essential goal of pushing welfare recipients to work -- something both Democrats and Republicans agreed to in the 1990s -- remains the same."


    That's a false statement, on multiple levels. At least HALF of the Democrat party, and all of the Left, voted down the original 1996 reform bill. And they squealed like stuck pigs over it. Clinton only signed it because they made him an offer he couldn't refuse, in Summer 1996, complete with Luca Brazzi Bob Dole standing there with the revolver and contract, prior to the presidential election.

    No, let's not kids ourselves, lefties. This was NOT "bipartisan". Let's put aside lefty attempts at misty water colored memories of the way we were. That was Newt Gingrich's bill, and perhaps that will clear the misty water colored memories, and the Left can get back to hating welfare reform like they did back then.

    "Work first." That was the essence of that reform, and the Left knew it, and fought against it. No exceptions. Work first. Not "training".



    That seems to be ending now. Fair enough. Obama responded to his leftist base, who hated this from the beginning, and now he's gotta face the music. Politics ain't beanbag, kids.

    I can't believe the Obamabots went down this road, after the ObamaCare disaster. And he did it unilaterally, too. This is an own goal beyond comprehension. This alone may wreck his chances, and to a lightweight like Willard, too.

  7. I just read the Christie speech--truly bizarre! He keeps going on about how you have to make the hard decisions, do the unpopular thing, not follow the polls, and I keep thinking, "Hey, who pushed through the ACA when folks like you were screaming about it? And who is running on the fiscally necessary but unpopular promise of cutting taxes in the face of mounting deficits?" And then there's the admonition to stop tearing each other down! Which party is he talking to?


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