Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 10, 2012

Some convention claims ring hollow when put to test


— So are you still feeling that post-convention euphoria?

Are you able to contain your excitment, your sense of exhilaration?

If not, join the club. As expected, this year’s Republican and Democratic national conventions were long on rhetoric, while short on substance.

I imagine that’s how it’s supposed to be. After all, the main purpose of the conventions is to rally the troops, the party faithful who will take their marching orders and proceed toward that hoped-for victory in November.

This is a time of passion, not policy.

But because of the widespread publicity they receive, conventions also represent opportunities for the parties to reach out and try to grab the attention of the larger population, the folks who aren’t necessarly enthralled by one party or the other.

Indeed, public opinion polls record “bounces” in polling data for parties and their presidential standard bearers immediately after conventions. But typically, that bump in the polls quickly fades, suggesting that by the time Election Day rolls around, the impact of conventions is non-existent.

Today’s national politicial conventions are little more than showpieces for the main candidates and their supporters. The goal is to present a unified front, with no controversy or dispute.

It wasn’t always that way. Conventions used to come with uncertainty, including floor flights over planks in party platforms, and roll call votes involving candidates.

Today, however, having Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair constitutes convention drama.

The predictable nature of conventions helps to explain why a declining percentage of the population bothers to watch. And it’s probably why many of the speeches included partisan declarations that were decidedly lacking in the truth. Such statements rouse the folks on the convention floor, but they run afoul of those now ever-present fact checkers.

For example, in his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination last week, Barack Obama declared his intention to use the money the nation “is no longer spending” on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to “pay down our debt and put more people back to work.”

That sounds good, until you remember that Democrats for years have criticized the Bush administration and congressional Republicans for fighting the Afghan and Iraq wars on borrowed money. So if the funds didn’t exist to begin with, how can they be directed elsewhere, particularly toward lowering debt?

The simple answer: They can’t. Obama’s statement defies fiscal logic. But that’s not the only example. In his speech to the Republican National Convention, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacked the Obama administration for cutting $716 billion from Medicare.

We can debate the significance of those cuts, as supporters say they don’t reduce medical services to the elderly. But the real issue is that Ryan oddly failed to mention he created a Medicare reform plan of his own. And it included the same cuts that Obama ordered. So how could Obama’s move be “the biggest, coldest power play of all,” according to Ryan, when he wanted to accomplish the same thing?

While the glow of the conventions quickly fades, the questionable claims made by candidates in their acceptance speeches will linger. They ought to be a bit more careful with their words.


Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.