The Real Problem (bullshit) with the Ryan Speech

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

There are a few critiques of Paul Ryan’s Wednesday speech that can now be defined as boilerplate. This does’t mean that they’re incorrect. Rather, it means that they don’t really go to the heart of the matter: sophistic manipulation. Juan Cole, for example, identifies the Janesville issue:

7. Ryan slammed President Obama for the closure of an auto plant that closed in late 2008 under George W. Bush. Ryan’s running mate, Mitt Romney, opposed Obama’s actual auto bailout, which was a great success and returned Detroit to profitability.

And here’s Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

It’s true: The plant shut down. But it shut down in 2008—before Obama became president.

Just an accuracy point: it didn’t shut down; it was shut down.

Both writers are responding to this Ryan segment:

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

While Cole and Cohn are factually accurate, Ryan never refers to the problem of a date, a segment of questionable time, or to cause and effect (on Wednesday, August 29, 2012). Ryan’s is a repetition, though less inaccurate, of another speech he gave in Ohio (on August 16th, 2012). In terms of cause and effect, the Ohio speech is more telling, as Ryan attributes the cause to Obama administration energy policies, which is demonstrably false, both anachronistically and in terms of factual policy effect (which, I assume, Ryan is well aware of. This is an example of a howler). In any event, the Ryan quote at the convention averts the date critique by concentrating instead on something else: the powerful accusation of betrayal. Ryan quotes Obama: ““I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.”” CNN has done a fact check of the “quote” and concludes:

The only thing Ryan appears to have gotten technically wrong in Wednesday’s version was saying that the plant didn’t last another year. It did last another year — more like 14 months — if the Isuzu line and its 57 workers count.
So, though Ryan might have been incorrect in the August 16 telling, he cleaned it up for Wednesday’s convention. Obama said what Ryan said he said.

They also miss the point, and I’m not referring to the 4 minus 2 algorithm. This example of fact checking is about as squishy as a slug. I love this part: “The only thing Ryan appears to have gotten technically wrong . . .” Otherwise, they miss the entire point. And just to push, CNN writes: “So, though Ryan might have been incorrect in the August 16 telling . . . ” What is the penchant for this passive form: “might have been incorrect . . . ” Just change it to: “So, though Ryan [was] incorrect in the August 16 telling . . .” Please.

Ryan has a method for using the quote that goes to Obama’s lack of commitment and trustworthiness to save a specific plant where school mates of Ryan worked. After all, Obama said the plant “would be open for another hundred years.” Well, not really, but my readers should grasp the point. Rather, Obama reneged on a promise because Obama said in his very words: “If the government is there to support you . . .” which necessitates a “then.” In programming terms this is an “if then” statement. The promise was: “I will keep this plant open for another hundred years.” This is not the meaning of Obama’s original expressions, though. Nor were the words meant to be understood this way. But no matter. In other words, if he had been in charge, even though Obama could not have known the plant was doomed to close by the “free market” Ryan would have used the power of the federal government to keep the plant open, even if the market for SUVs had soured, which is, of course, not what he intends to mean, but asserts nonetheless. When it was closed, when one knows it was closing, or why it closed isn’t treated in Ryan’s speech. The implication is that Obama is not as committed as he claims to be: he can’t be trusted. He did not “support” the plant as he promised. The basis for the accusation is non-historical.

The second part of the speech snip is important to study.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

“It didn’t last another year.” “It is locked up and empty to this day.” ” . . . the recovery as promised is nowhere in sight.” Read those sentences over and over again, please. Here we have Ryan making the typical apples, oranges, and conflation errors that in cynicism speech are mean to beat a drum rather than demonstrate a relationship or support an actual assertion. The answers to the quiz are: yes, yes, and “what promise?” The image: all over the country, plants are “locked up and empty” because Obama did not bring on the “recovery as he promised” will stick, whereas the obvious silliness of “all over the country plants that were supposed to stay open another one hundred years were betrayed by Obama,” which is what Ryan actually says, is couched in thick clouds written by word smiths probably paid to craft language not obviously falsifiable. This, to me, is obviously unethical and “immoral.”

That’s the real problem with the Ryan speech. Cole is right and Cohn is right. But their knives aren’t sharp enough. Even Republicans should be unnerved by this level of breech of trust.


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