Project Wonderful

Friday, September 7, 2012

Conventional Rhetoric: Race, Class and Welfare

The Republican convention played heavily on the issue of entitlement reform and as result there is a lot of information (and misinformation) floating around. Unsure of what to believe myself, I did some research and tried to synthesize what I learned below.

One challenge to the Republican ticket is separating their stance on things like Food Stamps and Medicaid from that on Medicare, particularly now that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as a runningmate. Ryan, as you may remember, gained prominence on the national stage after proposing an austere budget that, among other measures, would cut Medicare. This is a problem for Republicans because their plan for victory is predicated on winning a large majority of older white voters, many of whom rely heavily on the program. Republicans are aware of the risk they run by running Ryan, as is evidenced by a leaked memo from the National Republican Campaign Committee instructing Congressional offices on how to deal with the issue.
“Do not say: ‘entitlement reform,’ ‘privatization,’ ‘every option is on the table,’” ...Do say: ‘strengthen,’ ‘secure,’ ‘save,’ ‘preserve, ‘protect.’”
The contributer who wrote about the leaked memo seems to be critical of this strategy, which I think is unfair. (Not surprising however, given the lack luster journalistic ethics employed by some former contributers.) Sure it's spin, but that's how the sausage is made. Republicans have every right to attempt to frame the debate as they see it. For the record, I checked to see how successful the memo was at controlling the convention rhetoric. Here's how they did:
Words to Say:
Strengthen 6:2, Democrats
Secure 5:3, Democrats
Save 6:4, Democrats
Protect 8:6 Democrats

Words Not to Say:
Entitlement 2:0, Republicans

Words listed in the memo but not mentioned did not come up at either convention.
What I found striking about the memo was not its mere existence, but its advice to steer clear of the word "entitlement" since the crux of the Republican attack plan seems to be linking Obama with Reagan's "Welfare Queens." According to common sense and many in the media, both of these terms, as well as much of the other rhetoric used at the conventions and by the Romney Ryan ticket, are "racist dog whistles." While there is no explicit mention of African Americans, these terms are purposefully being used to conjure up a specifically racially biased image for those older white voters on whom the Republicans rely. The Reagan reference is particularly interesting since both sides are piggybacking off the former President's legacy, Republicans with their Welfare Queens and the Democrats with "Morning in America."

I said above that I don't mind Republican efforts to frame the debate, but I do mind lying--something the Romney Ryan tickets seems to relish. Paul Ryan's argument that the Republican budget plan would actually protect Medicare while the Affordable Care Act stripped it seemed to the GOP's strategy at last week's convention. Except it isn't true. As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein reports:
Ryan and Obama include the same cuts to the Medicare program itself. So if you’re an insurance company participating in the Medicare Advantage program, you’re getting the same cut no matter who wins the election. So the answer to the question [how much does the Romney plan cut Medicare?] is, “the same amount as the Obama administration.”

What Romney/Ryan are saying is that they then take the money saved from their cuts to Medicare and put it toward deficit reduction while Obama takes that money and spends it on health care for poor people. The argument here is that by using the money to cut the deficit, Romney/Ryan make future cuts to Medicare less likely.

But Romney/Ryan also add a trillion dollars to the defense budget. And they have trillions of dollars in tax cuts they haven’t explained how they’re going to pay for. So those decisions make future cuts to Medicare more likely. Meanwhile, Obama cuts defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, raises about $1.5 trillion in new taxes, and puts all that money into deficit reduction. So that makes future Medicare cuts less likely.

In addition, quoting Time's Kate Pickert, cuts made by the Affordable Care Act will not reduce benefits for Medicare recipients, but instead by are achieved "eliminating a massive subsidy to private insurers and gradually reducing the rate of growth in payments to some providers." Not reducing payments to those providers simply the growth rate of those payments.

In an even more blatant example of Republican misinformation on the issue, a Romney campaign ad claiming that Obama cut work requirements for Welfare has been proven patently false. Criticism of these falsehoods prompted Romney pollster Neil Newhouse to respond, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." Oh, okay.

Ronald Brownstein puts it succinctly in a National Journal Article where he points out that the Republican answer to the Democratic accusation that Republicans are raiding the middle class in favor of the rich is that Democrats are raiding the middle class in favor of the poor. Republicans know they need to hammer away on this because as it stands now, swing-state voters trust Obama over Romney to handle issues of Medicaid and Medicare. So far, the middle class seems to know better.

To quote former Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, "I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them." Of course, he lost.

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