Fast And Loose With Facts – The Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney Convention Edition

Now that the Republican convention in Tampa has concluded, it’s a good time to assess the speeches of the nominees, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney.

While I am not cherry picking from the speeches, I will focus on what are shaping up to be the bigger themes of Republican campaign strategy.

And as always, just the facts.

 

Paul Ryan

  • Mr. Ryan accused President Obama’s health care law of funneling money away from Medicare at the expense of the elderly.

Fact: Medicare’s chief actuary says the law “substantially improves” the system’s finances. Mr. Ryan himself proposed keeping most of these same spending cuts in his most recent “Path to Prosperity” budget. Yes, that budget. The one that would end up privatizing most of the program.

  • Mr. Ryan accused Obama of doing “exactly nothing” about recommendations from a bipartisan Presidential Commission to reduce the deficit.

Fact: Mr. Ryan himself was among a minority of commission members whose opposition scuttled the plan and prevented it from being sent automatically to Congress for action.

  • Mr. Ryan claimed the American people were “cut out” of stimulus spending.

Fact: more than 25 percent of stimulus dollars went to provide tax relief for workers. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that about $230 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided tax relief. Much of that money, about $116 billion, funded the Making Work Pay tax credit for workers. (more on that in Romney’s speech below)

  • Mr. Ryan said the closing of a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin was evidence of Mr. Obama’s failing to deliver on promises made in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Fact: Here’s what Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail: “And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years”

However, the plant closed before Obama even took office. The government of the day apparently did not support them – in time.

  • Mr. Ryan blamed Mr. Obama for the loss of the US AAA credit rating by Standard & Poors.

Fact: Standard and Poors were nonpartisan in their criticism saying: “The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.”

However, anyone who followed this at the time, should easily remember that it was House Republicans, led by Mr. Ryan, who flirted openly with default and refused to endorse any “new revenues” from tax increases. I note this not to be partisan, but to highlight the absurdity of including this in Mr. Ryan’s speech.

  • Mr. Ryan said that while governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney balanced the budget without raising taxes.

Fact: Mr. Romney did balance the budget as was required by the state constitution. He did not raise personal income taxes, but did increase government fees by hundreds of millions of dollars, and he closed loopholes on some corporate taxes.

Finally, this remark caught my attention:

“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”

A lot of people have commented that this was a cheap shot at President Obama.  I disagree.

This was a cheap, condescending shot at voters who support the Democrats, who would be the only ones with Obama posters in their rooms.  Couple this with speaker after speaker at the convention who talked about how they “built their success from nothing” and with “no government help” and you can see how Mr. Ryan was painting a picture of lazy young Democrats lying around at home waiting for a government handout.

Instead of this cheap shot at voters, I was hoping he was going to talk about the penalizing and unfair student loan system in the US that makes it impossible for a lot of those young Americans in their twenties to make a go of it.

I thought he might acknowledge the burden that is placed on middle class students and their families, and even more so on students with less financial support from which to draw – students who are all burdened by the crushing debt of student loans. How, if in default, these same students are saddled with that debt until death – unlike virtually any other debt in the country and unlike any other country in the western world.

I thought instead of a cheap shot, he might offer them a solution.

But, he did not.

 

Mitt Romney

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Romney was able to avoid as many of the outright “factual inaccuracies” displayed by Paul Ryan. He was however, prone to the usual unconstructive puffery I have mentioned here before and certainly was no stranger to some “misleading” statements.

Mr. Romney said President Obama has crushed the middle class. Here is each assertion he made to support this claim:

  • Mr. Romney said that under President Obama, family income has fallen by $4,000

Fact: A study by Sentier Research, measured a drop in family income starting in December 2007, when the recession officially started, and ending in June 2012. The study notes that income has fallen more since the economic recovery officially began in June 2009 than during the recession itself, but no $4000 figure is noted. And whatever the actual amount, they stress that it did not all happen in the last 4 years.

  • Mr. Romney said that health insurance premiums are higher

Fact: Premiums have risen, but they always do. For example, between 2001 and 2011, family premiums for employer-sponsored plans went up 113 percent. From 2010 to 2011, the average cost of an employer-sponsored family insurance plan went up 9 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey, with rising medical costs the main culprit. President Obama’s health care law was responsible for between 1 and 3 percent of the 9 percent increase.

  • Mr. Romney said that under President Obama, food prices are higher

Fact: Food prices are higher by 6.2 percent.

  • Mr. Romney noted that gasoline prices have doubled

Fact: True. However, it is fair to note that gasoline prices were unusually depressed when President Obama took office due to the recession and financial crisis. It should also be noted that the average price exceeded $4 a gallon for eight weeks during the summer of 2008. It has not yet reached $4 during Mr. Obama’s term.

  • Mr. Romney declared that President Obama has raised taxes on the middle class

Fact: President Obama has not raised taxes on the middle class. In fact, many of his tax incentives targeted the middle class.

These incentives include the “Making Work Pay Tax Credit”, part of the stimulus plan Paul Ryan mentioned above. When it expired President Obama convinced Congress to replace it with a payroll tax cut. (an annual maximum savings of $2200) And also part of that stimulus package Mr. Ryan mentioned, the “American Opportunity Tax Credit” for college tuition, offering a tax credit of up to $2500 for families earning less than $150,000.

 

Lessons learned

With Mr. Romney, his assertions are at once partially correct, and partially incorrect. And when they are correct, they are very difficult to blame the current occupant of the Oval Office with any facts-based evidence.

With Mr. Ryan’s speech, it is much clearer that his statements are factually inaccurate and deliberately misleading.

And in these actions, both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney are treating voters with a lack of respect, and also as if those voters were young children who don’t know any better.

Unfortunately for both men, even young children know that what adults may call “factually inaccurate” or “misleading” is really something else. Something quite simple to recognize.

Lying

 

UPDATE:

Republicans are becoming very uncomfortable with articles like this.

Romney pollster Neil Newhouse told an ABC News-Yahoo forum in Tampa on Tuesday: “Fact-checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs and you know what? We’re not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Dear Neil – facts are non-partisan. Facts are facts.  Period.

 

Note: Following the Democratic Convention I will assess Mr. Obama and Mr.Biden the same way.

Following that, I will take a look at the platforms offered by the parties.