Paul Ryan's speech last night was pretty predictable in most ways. It had all the usual Republican taglines, talking points and standard bluster. As is traditional, he showed his human side by featuring the wife and adorable kids and the ode to his mom. Nothing too surprising about that -- I can't think of any VP or Presidential nominee convention speeches that haven't done all that. There were, however, two really revealing moments in last night's speech.
The first was when Ryan puffed out his chest and said:
So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the Left isn't going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.
And then he moved right on, lickity-split, not even hinting at what their side of the debate was. He wants the debate, but well, not right now. He is eager for the debate, but let's just pass it by for tonight. He is so excited about the debate, but he doesn't want to mention the substance of it.
Like many political junkies who have actually been following the Medicare debate and think it is incredibly important, I was really looking forward to seeing what the intellectual leader of the Republican party would say about the issue, how he would frame things up for the fall. But instead of saying anything about the policies or underlying philosophy on Medicare, instead of even building a framework around the discussion, instead he just said he was excited about having the debate. It was like the decoy devices submarines send out when they are being targeted by a missile.
It's a fascinating strategy: instead of actually engaging on the issue -- talking about it, taking on the debate -- they just keep saying they are looking forward to having the debate. Sure, they keep throwing out the line about Obama cutting Medicare, but that's not engaging in a policy debate. They aren't explaining what they want to do, or saying why it is better than Obama's plan. They just keep saying they want the debate, and then move right on -- quickly, quickly now, kids -- to the next topic. It's like when they say we will be the truth tellers who will get things done, but never tell you what it is they actually want to do.
The other remarkable moment of the speech for me was when Ryan was building up to his big closing moment, talking about the timeworn values our founding fathers fought for, and came out with this:
"We have responsibilities, one to another -- we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves."
For a candidate on the ticket of Bain Capital and anti-welfare ads, for the Ayn Rand disciple, for the man who has spent his entire career (and much of his speech that he was concluding) talking about how we need to cut spending on entitlements because it leads to a culture of dependency, to utter these words is astounding.
Ryan has preached for his entire career that helping poor people creates dependency. And the Ryan-Romney budget attacks programs for the poor like the Visigoths attacked Rome. There were in that budget devastating cuts for nursing home coverage for seniors, for health care coverage for seniors and the disabled and low-income children, for Pell Grants for poor and working class students, for education spending in poor and middle income neighborhoods, for Head Start and school lunch programs, for Section 8 housing programs, for prenatal care for low income women, for early childhood services for low income kids... Well, I could go on and on and on for a very long time, but you get the idea. The fact is that the Ryan budget destroys programs for the poor and working class, and that these programs are overwhelmingly for people who are elderly, disabled and children. They don't much impact all those able-bodied adults Ryan is so worried about becoming dependent on government programs, because that is not who these programs mainly help.
Paul Ryan said many misleading things in his speech last night, and other writers have done a good job of compiling all his factual errors and in some cases blatantly inaccurate talking points. But those lines about the strong protecting the weak, those were the most blatantly misleading words of all. The entire Romney-Ryan philosophy, the history of Romney at Bain Capital, the Ryan-Romney budget is all predicated on the idea of letting the powerful have the freedom to do what they will and letting the devil take the hindmost. In saying those words about the strong looking out for the weak, Ryan is fundamentally lying about what his and Romney's core values are.
So why does Ryan say he wants to have the Medicare debate and then immediately change the subject? Why does he want to deny his core values and beliefs about helping others leading to dependency? Simple: because the Romney-Ryan team know very well that if Romney and Ryan actually spell out what they want to do and what their core values are people would find them repulsive. The American people do not want to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid, and they don't support a society based on the "may the strongest always prevail, selfishness is good" values of Ayn Rand and Bain Capital. Romney and Ryan's only hope to win this election is to hide their proposals and their values, and hope that if they do the media will go along.