On convention stage, Republicans obscure their plans

Republicans arrived in Tampa with tropical weather threatening and promises of boldness and left having repeated rhetoric, failing fact-checks and obscuring their plans for the country.

When House Budget Chair Paul Ryan was picked as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, pundits said he was a serious man who would be able to explain the plan passed by House Republicans.

And when Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey gave his keynote speech, he promised that Republicans would not flinch from telling people “hard truths.”

Then Republicans declined to share their plans.

Whether it was Republicans’ plans on taxes, budgets or Medicare, Republicans didn’t argue for or even explain their policies. They didn’t tell Americans how Romney and Ryan want to reshape the federal government.

And on Medicare, they repeated the focus-grouped rhetoric (developed by Frank Luntz nearly twenty years ago) that Republicans will protect the program.

If Ryan and Romney think it’s such a good idea to replace the guaranteed program with vouchers that are worth less and less and time goes on and to raise Medicare’s eligibility age to 67, why didn’t they take the opportunity to promote it?

Not only didn’t the candidates make a principled argument for their budgetary, tax, and Medicare plans, they repeated repeatedly debunked falsehoods about the impact of Obamacare on Medicare. (See Ryan and Romney fact-checks.)

On abortion, Republicans used code words but never defended what’s in their platform — a total ban — and what Republicans have passed or tried to pass in Congress and the states. Nor did Gov. Romney take Olympia Snowe’s advice to “vigorously, not timidly, disassociate himself from the extremes” in the Republican party.

At a time when midwest and southwest farmers are seeing crops destroyed by drought and hundreds of houses burn in Colorado, Romney ignored their travails, opting instead to make a joke out of the climate change that fuels this damage and making an odd distinction between health of the planet and health of one’s family.

The convention speeches said almost nothing about foreign policy. The speech that focused the most on foreign policy was delivered by Condoleeza Rice, who was part of the Bush team that produced the Iraq war and initially gave little focus to terrorist threats.

Gov. Romney didn’t even mention the war in Afghanistan, which continues to claim Americans’ lives, yet he has proposed to continue that war indefinitely and criticized President Obama for ending the war in Iraq.

Opportunity was a key theme of their rhetoric

Speaker after speaker told stories of families that rose from modest circumstances and praised the key idea of the American dream, that anyone can work hard and achieve.

Not surprisingly, the opportunity argument was used as a weapon against Obama, as it was coupled with the absurdly clipped sentence from a speech the president gave about the contributions of both hard work and public endeavors to achieving success.

Many personal stories were striking, but the entire presentation was deeply contradictory.

Over and over again, speakers mentioned government programs that helped them or others achieve, while proclaiming success doesn’t involve help from government.

Chris Christie praised the G.I. Bill and other speakers talked about people who received scholarships and took the bus to work.

But the biggest contradiction was between the policies Republicans propose and their emphasis on opportunity.  Although they obscured their plans on the convention stage, Romney and Ryan want to reduce the federal government to such an extent that the programs that promote opportunity would be devastated.

They would slash programs for the poor (to the extent that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the Ryan budget) and cut programs and tax deductions going to the middle-class. This is a choice made while simultaneously putting in place additional tax cuts that mostly go to the wealthy.

Perhaps Republicans don’t wish to defend these proposals. In any case, they ducked an opportunity to make their case for what they say they want to bring to America.

Clint Eastwood addresses a chair, as if Obama is sitting in it

Clint Eastwood’s bizarre conversation with an invisible Obama may stand as the most memorable moment of the convention and as a metaphor for the convention’s broad, content-less rhetoric.

Well, at least we have the four debates in October coming, with an opportunity for real discussion of different policies. Perhaps then all the candidates will get beyond rhetoric and talk about their plans.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.