Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Blog

Wednesday Night’s Speeches

Last night's convention program had two goals: presenting a stinging critique of Obama's foreign policy and introducing the nation to the vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Senator John McCain took the podium to attack President Obama's foreign policy as weak, and accused him of betraying American values. Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, echoed some of these same sentiments. Rice’s role in the Iraq war and unpopular Bush administration seemed all but forgotten, as she received rockstar treatment at the convention. Though she adamantly denies any ambitions for higher office, her speech seemed to indicate otherwise; she did not stick to matters of foreign policy, but rather waded into domestic issues such as education and immigration. Rice's speech was well-received by the crowd, despite its lack of conservative red meat or Obama-bashing applause lines. She laid out a subtly moderated GOP platform – more lenient on immigration and focused on poverty. Rather than bolstering the Romney message, she used her speech to try to shape the party's message.

Unlike the potential 2016 aspirants, Paul Ryan didn't focus on himself. He not only attacked President Obama, he also made a strong case for a Mitt Romney presidency. He delivered a powerful address, served as a cheerleader for the cause and made it clear that in choosing him, Romney made a good choice. Ryan's speech received far and away the most enthusiastic reactions from the convention crowd to date. His delivery was powerful and earnest, full of quips and meaningful anecdotes. He also seemed to join Ann Romney in the attempt to "humanize" Mitt. His joke about his and Romney's generational battle over music on the campaign bus was met with rousing laughter.

Paul Ryan’s speech was effective in accomplishing its aims of self-introduction and firing up the crowd. The content of the speech however, had enough distortions and falsehoods to keep fact-checkers busy for days. The Romney-Ryan campaign seemed to be counting on the enthusiasm generated by the speech to drown out questions about specific claims and charges leveled. So far, they seem to have pulled it off. While Ryan might be skewered in editorials and fact-check columns in the back pages of the newspaper, the front page headlines are that the speech was a rousing success.

Thursday Speeches Preview

Florida Senator Marco Rubio will address the convention tonight. Senator Rubio is widely regarded as a rising star in the GOP, so much so that the Romney campaign was worried that he would overshadow Romney at the convention. However, since Rubio will be introducing Romney to the stage, he will be forced to talk about the nominee rather than give his own 2016 pitch like many of the earlier convention speakers.

The only speech that matters tonight is that of Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. His address to the GOP convention will be his chance to wrest attention from the distractions of 2016 aspirants, the unruly Paul-ites, and even the hurricane. His task is a daunting one, as he must succeed where he has failed before in generating enthusiasm for his candidacy. Ann Romney did an excellent job of humanizing him, and Paul Ryan did an excellent job of firing up supporters. In order for Ryan and Ann Romney’s speeches to have any lasting impact, he must appear to be likable, personable, and electrifying on his own.

Asking the Tough Question on Islamophobia at the RNC

Opposition to mosques in various states, a resurgence of the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tone of the 2010 campaign season, anti-Sharia legislation in multiple states, calls for Muslim loyalty oaths and public attacks on American Muslims and Arab American public servants, have all culminated in a vilification of Arab Americans and American Muslims by certain elements of the Republican Party. To address this issue heading into the pivotal two months before the elections, AAI set up a panel with two prominent Republicans who both served in the Bush Adminstration, Suhail Khan and AAI Board Member Randa Fahmy Hudome. Randa and Suhail addressed concerns relating to the Arab American and American Muslim role in the Republican Party, especially in light of recent AAI polling which highlighted that Republicans have an overall negative view of Arabs and Muslim. AAI livestreamed the event, which was held down the street from the Convetion at the Tampa By Times Forum. 

Post-Truth Politics?

“Fact-checker” is in many ways the buzzword of this convention. The GOP convention has shed light on the growing impotence of those who take leaders to task for their distortions of the truth. The prevailing theme of convention has been “We Built This,” a reference to an out-of-context Obama quote that has been roundly criticized by independent fact checkers. Heading into the convention, the Romney campaign had been running an attack-ad accusing Obama of “gutting” welfare reform, a charge which earned a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact. When questioned about the ad at the convention, Romney’s pollster said “We aren’t going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Then, to cap it off, Paul Ryan’s speech contained a plethora of cavalier distortions including blaming Obama for an auto-plant closing that was closed in 2008 before he took office, and for walking away from the Bowles-Simpson debt talks, which Ryan played a large role in torpedoing. These charges are verifiably false even without much effort on the part of fact-checkers; however, the Romney-Ryan campaign has seemingly discovered that with enough repetition, fact-checkers are easily drowned out and distortions can be incredibly audacious without consequences.

Some argue that hyperbole and distortion of the truth such as the “We Built That” theme is acceptable, because it is rooted in a real arguments. Indeed, the quote is out of context, but the two campaigns actually have different messages on collectivism vs. individualism. As Buzzfeed’s Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith puts it, “the context is out there.” This convention shows the severe slippery slope that this argument allows. Once campaigns realize they can get away with continuing with dishonesty even after an attack has been proven false, the distortions escalate to the point where the voters are no longer getting accurate information on the records of the candidates. 


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