Notes on the Republican Convention

I provided quite a lot of coverage of the Republican convention last week in my RealClearPolitics newsletter, The Daily Debate. See my comments on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

I want to draw your attention to a few highlights from that coverage that are particularly important, add a few points that I didn’t get a chance to write about, and then look at what the convention did to clarify the basic issues of the election.

The Libertarian Assimilation

The convention signaled the Republican Party’s attempt to bring the radical pro-free-market “libertarian” faction into the fold.

“Rand Paul tells a reporter how he thinks the Republican Party needs to integrate the ‘libertarian’ faction over which the Paul family has such influence.

I think a big part of sort of the libertarian Republican or the Ron Paul Republicans is that I think they can help the Republican Party. There are many places in New England as well as California where we’re not winning state-wide races; it’s very difficult for Republicans to win. So I think embracing and bringing these liberty-minded, Constitution-minded people and making them an integral part of the party is the way we might start winning races where we’re not winning races.

“One of the ways the party is appealing to that faction is by proposing a ‘gold commission’ to study the gold standard or some modified form of gold targeting for the dollar.”

I am not optimistic that we will be going back to a gold standard any time soon. There is just too much institutional resistance to it, from the mainstream economists to the regulatory and financial institutions. But as Brian Domitrovic recently pointed out at Forbes, the mere prospect of a gold commission can have a deterrent effect on the Fed and keep it from wantonly printing money out of thin air.

That, and firing Ben Bernanke. That would help, too.

The Race Canard

One of the big things that happened last week is that Democrats became more open and brazen about “playing the race card” and trying to find secret codes and “dog whistles” in everything Republicans say.

Literally everything. See Mark Steyn’s comments on how such words as “Chicago” and “golf” are suddenly racist code in the eyes of the left. He quotes James Taranto’s terrific dictum on the “dog whistle” metaphor: “If you can hear the whistle, you’re the dog.” That is, the left hears racist “dog whistles” everywhere because they are the ones who are obsessed with race.

The odd thing is that this was set against the backdrop of a Republican convention where the speakers including a steady progression of up-and-coming black and Hispanic Republicans—not to mention women, to give the lie to another Democratic catchphrase, the “war on women.”

“This convention showed us a lot of up-and-coming leaders from the party’s next generation, and many of them were black, or Hispanic, or women, or some combination. Yet the Republican Party is still reflexively labeled as ‘racist’ by the left-leaning press.

“Perhaps more to the point, Republicans still get a much smaller percentage of the black, Hispanic, and female vote than this week’s roster of speakers would suggest. Greg Sargent describes the paradox. [I’ll omit the quote here, since you can follow the link.]

“But it is very possible that this roster of leaders will eventually reach the critical mass necessary to reach out to more black and Hispanic voters and convince them of the Republicans’ small-government policies. And if that happens, it would precipitate a radical shift in American politics—and shatter the Democrats’ hope of a ‘permanent majority’ based on the minority vote.”

This isn’t just good for the Republican Party or for the cause of small government. It would be good for the country by removing a poisonous issue that distracts from the real ideological alternatives.

The Next Generation

Quite apart from the issue of race, a convention is always an opportunity to survey the up-and-coming young talent who are likely to be the next generation of leaders. There were a lot of good ones, including at top levels: vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, at age 42 and 41, have a lot of years left in their political careers. But the one I was most struck by was Mia Love, the 30-year-old mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, who is running for Congress against a six-term Democratic incumbent. Love is part of the trend of rising young black Republican leaders—she is the daughter of Haitian immigrants—but she deserves to be noticed purely on her own merits.

“Love has the makings of a serious rising star. She has a forceful, charismatic, energetic personality, she is extremely confident and articulate, and she’s pretty easy on the eyes—and let’s face it, that doesn’t hurt in this business. (Ask Mitt Romney.)

“And she is a rock-ribbed conservative of the ‘I built this,’ rugged individualism school. See a sampling of her comments.”

My parents immigrated to the United States with $10 in their pocket and a belief that the America they had heard about really did exist as the land of opportunity. Through hard work and great sacrifice, they achieved success. So the America I came to know growing up was filled with all the excitement and possibilities found in living the American dream.

Watching my father work odd jobs in order to provide for us and maintain his independence taught me valuable lessons in personal responsibility. When tough times came, he didn’t look to Washington, he looked within. Because the America he knew was centered on self-reliance. The America I know is founded in the freedom self-reliance always brings.

What makes America great is the idea that when government is limited, people are free—free to work, free to live, free to choose, free to fail, and free to achieve. The America I know provides everyone an equal opportunity to be as unequaled as they choose to be.

What I find most interesting about Mayor Love is that she is an obvious political talent, but she is just in her first congressional race. So this is an opportunity to support the launch onto the national political scene of someone who looks like she could be a good spokesman and leader for the small-government cause. More on that in a future edition of The Tracinski Letter.

The Night of the Governors

The convention wasn’t just about up-and-coming young leaders who might rise into positions of power. The first night of the convention also featured a procession of Republican governors who are already implementing important reforms. The biggest unrecognized story of the 2010 election was the massive Republican sweep of state-level offices. The result is that while the federal government is cruising straight toward the “fiscal cliff,” many of the states have already turned their finances around.

There to boast about these achievements were, among others, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, and most prominently New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who gave the big keynote address on the first night of the convention. The theme of that speech was to name the underlying political meaning of the state-level Republican reforms.

Now we must lead the way our citizens live. To lead as my mother insisted I live, not by avoiding truths, especially the hard ones, but by facing up to them and being the better for it. We cannot afford to do anything less.

I know because this was the challenge in New Jersey. When I came into office, I could continue on the same path that led to wealth, jobs, and people leaving the state or I could do the job the people elected me to do—to do the big things.

There were those who said it couldn’t be done…. They said it was impossible to cut taxes in a state where taxes were raised 115 times in eight years. That it was impossible to balance a budget at the same time, with an $11 billion deficit. Three years later, we have three balanced budgets with lower taxes. We did it.

They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics, to take on the public sector unions and to reform a pension and health benefit system that was headed to bankruptcy. With bipartisan leadership we saved taxpayers $132 billion over 30 years and saved retirees their pension. We did it.

They said it was impossible to speak the truth to the teachers union. They were just too powerful. Real teacher tenure reform that demands accountability and ends the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance would never happen. For the first time in 100 years with bipartisan support, we did it.

This was the perfect message for the convention’s keynote address, because this is precisely what the Republicans are now betting on at the national level. By embracing the cause of entitlement reform and putting the chief advocate of those reforms, Paul Ryan, on the presidential ticket, Republicans are betting that they, too, can take on the third rail and win. They are confident enough to take on this risk because Christie and Walker and others (Kasich not so much, because he lost some of his reform battles) have already shown that it can be done.

Who Is Mitt Romney?

Christie’s speech also gave us an interesting and unexpected look at how Mitt Romney makes decisions. In my RCP newsletter, I noted that Christie’s speech was an unusual keynote because it was not an attack on President Obama’s record. This is the usual function of the keynote speech at the conventions, and many expected Governor Christie—a YouTube sensation because of his cantankerous confrontations with hecklers—to settle happily into the role of the “attack dog.” But as it turned out, his speech focused on government reform and didn’t mention Obama at all.

“Robert Costa notes how this departs from the traditional role of the first-night keynote address, and reports that this was a deliberate choice by the Romney campaign.

Christie’s approach was a marked departure from previous Republican keynote addresses, which have often featured a rising politician willing to blast the Democratic nominee. Christie, for his part, did not once mention President Obama by name. Instead, his 2,600-word speech introduced the country to his singular brand, which blends a brusque rhetorical style with a reform agenda….

“It was a conscious decision,” says former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, a senior Romney adviser. “When the keynote speaker, who usually assumes the attack role, doesn’t attack, that’s not an accident. It signals that the campaign believes that the country has a negative opinion of Obama and that it has to offer a different vision.”…

“There has been a lot of emphasis on how Romney is going to have to counteract his image as a heartless corporate raider. But it strikes me that he is working even harder to counteract another impression of him: that he is a facile pragmatist who prefers to mouth vague platitudes and coast to the presidency merely on the weakness of his opponent. Thus, he has made a series of decisions, from the selection of Paul Ryan to the focus of Christie’s keynote, that make him look like a man willing to make hard decisions and face the big issues head-on.”

But here’s the thing. I found Romney’s own convention speech to be a bit bland. It made a decent case that Mitt Romney will be a much better president than Barack Obama, but that’s not very difficult. It did not really make the case for an agenda of entitlement reform. That is why the real climax of the convention was the speech that did begin to make that case: Paul Ryan’s speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.

Ryan, Rand, and Limited Government

I was looking to Paul Ryan’s speech to advance our understanding of the principles behind his push for entitlement reform, and how he and Mitt Romney are going to deal with the basic moral and political issues that this agenda raises. And I found what I was looking for.

For Objectivists, here is the disappointing part.

“With all of the talk about Ryan being influenced by Ayn Rand, he expressed a pretty conventional altruist outlook.

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.

“I would say this is the opposite of Ayn Rand’s view, but that’s not quite right. Despite what you may have heard, Ayn Rand did not ‘favor the strong over the weak.’ She didn’t talk in terms of the strong versus the weak, but in terms of the productive versus the unproductive, which is a different issue. Yet I think it’s pretty clear that what Ryan said in his speech wasn’t a page torn out of one of Ayn Rand’s books.

“On the other hand, when it came to his political goals, Ryan drew a distinct line.

In a clean break from the Obama years, and frankly from the years before this president, we will keep federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, or less. That is enough. The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government.

“Don’t miss that line about a ‘clean break from…the years before this president.’ That’s a subtle disavowal of George W. Bush’s big-government ‘compassionate conservative’ agenda.

“This is consistent with what I think is the essence of Ryan’s politics. He wants a welfare state, but he wants a limited welfare state, one that can’t grow beyond a predetermined size. So note that while Ryan talked a lot about the size of the debt and the size of the deficits Obama is running, he is not merely a ‘fiscal conservative.’ He is primarily an advocate of smaller government, of a limit to government’s size.”

The Republican convention accomplished a number of its political goals, including getting out the real story about Mitt Romney’s business accomplishments and personal character, beating down the personal smears launched against him by the Romney campaign.

But if we’re looking at this in ideological terms, Paul Ryan’s speech is the main event of the week. It clarified his vision of the limited welfare state. So my next task will be to revisit Ryan’s entitlement reform plans and the rationale behind them, before turning to the Democrats and their convention on Tuesday.—RWT


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3 Responses to Notes on the Republican Convention

  1. Victor Rudy September 5, 2012 at 4:40 PM #

    For all their soaring rhetoric, the Republicans at the RNC failed tor reject
    the philosophy of Altruism and once again laid claim to their superior ability
    in governing the Welfare State.

    Politics is not a primary but is derived from ethics. The Republicans (according
    to Paul Ryan) regard taking care of others as the most important action that an
    individual can take. The Republicans will not succeed in defending Capitalism,
    property rights and the profit motive if their moral philosophy is based in religion
    and guided by the “Light of the Lord”.

  2. Sharpshooter September 7, 2012 at 6:08 AM #

    (Regarding Jeffry Anderson’s numbers: Don’t fall for the bogus arithmetic: the “Stimulus” was signed by Obama, but it is “credited” to Bush 43. The Dem;s sat on it in Congress (they had both houses of Congress including a super-majority in the Senate) until OhBambie was sworn in.)

    I was impressed by Mia Love until she went all squishy about being altruistic in the extreme. Crash & Burn!!

  3. dymphna September 9, 2012 at 10:43 AM #

    The Republican Convention lost my interest when the Rules Committee shoved their decision to destroy the Tea Party’s influence on grass roots candidates with that fake “voice vote”. It was even more of a farce than the one the Dems pulled later, but it was far more serious.

    This is a short, clear explanation of what happened:

    And some of the Tea Party groups seem to have folded as a result. I don’t think this is permanent, but it’s worrying…here is Ann Corcoran’s report – one of three Potomac TP reports:

    That was such a clear top-down killoff that the rebound after the election is sure to be strong. The RNC seems to have forgotten that much of the local success is due to the activism of the “populists”. There would be no GOP left in WIsconsin had they not fought toe-to-toe against the unions’ strong arm tactics. It was their enthusiasm and work which carried the GOP candidates to victory. The candidates themselves -except for the Governor – had long since given up.

    This power move for centralized control of WHO gets to the Convention in 2016 was not only an obvious head fake that got the RNC around their problem with conservatives having too much influence over decisions, but it put the reins firmly in the hands of the central cabal in the RNC. I hope Reince Preibus realizes the extent to which he will be Minced Preibus ONCE THE ELECTION IS OVER.

    If we are ever to limit the overreach of federal government it will have to be by means other than Romney. This ugly violation he permitted – even approved – let us see that it doesn’t matter who gets to sit in the Oval Office. Thre same permanent cabal will run things.

    So our choice this time is between an incompent community organizer and a hedge fund salesman who moves companies around. I would say “God help us all” but I realize Objectivists object strenuously to mentions of religion, even though a substantial majority of America stands behind that reference.

    I will hold my nose and vote for the salesman only because I *think* his foreign policy may be more coherent.