A lot of the commentary on Paul Ryan’s speech has focused on the inaccuracy of much of what Ryan said. So let me get it on record: I don’t think the debt ceiling crisis, which caused S&P to downgrade America’s debt, was Obama’s fault (unless it’s his “fault” in the sense that he underestimated just how serious the GOP was about playing chicken with America’s creditworthiness). I don’t think the stimulus was “cronyism at its worst,” and it plainly wasn’t the biggest expenditure in government history by any rational measure. And so forth. If you want a rundown of false or misleading statements in the speech, go here.
But I still thought the speech was effective, because I don’t think the Obama campaign will get anywhere saying that Paul Ryan is lying, at least not if that’s all they say. Whose “fault” was the debt ceiling debacle? I dunno – James Madison’s, for not giving us a parliamentary system? Obama is the President. Everything that happens is his fault – including the insanity of the opposition party. Them’s the breaks in our crazy system.
The only really important falsehood in Paul Ryan’s speech was: “we will keep federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, or less.” The Romney Administration will not even attempt to do this over the next four years, and if they do they will fail. You can view that as a good thing or a bad thing, but the only positive action Paul Ryan promised – something they would actually do, not merely something Obama did that they promised to undo – is one that will not happen.
That empty box where policy is supposed to be is the Obama Administration’s proper response to Romney and Ryan. Not the only response, but the central one. If the Republicans have any real plans for how to combat the lingering economic crisis, they are not campaigning on them. The right-wing bunting is all there is. Whining that the recession, or the debt, or policy gridlock isn’t really Obama’s fault, and that the Republicans are really to blame for this or that – even if true (and I think it’s more true than not) – is a losing message, because it implicitly concedes Ryan’s main argument that Obama isn’t really in control of events, isn’t really a leader, is a failure. And the American people won’t reelect a failure.
It’s a chutzpadich argument, sure. If you believe that the economy would be significantly better were it not for Republican opposition, then basically the Ryan argument boils down to: Obama is a failure because he couldn’t stop me from torpedoing his agenda, so vote for me and you won’t have to worry about that problem anymore.
But you can’t can’t win an argument by saying, “how dare you say that!” And you can’t get elected by claiming your opponent is being unfair.
Which the Obama campaign understands perfectly well, which is why they have not been ashamed to go relentlessly negative on Romney, and why they are always pleased when the Romney campaign complains about unfair attacks. Because when that’s your only response, you lose the argument. And when that happens often enough, you lose the election.