Ryan, Romney need to learn the art of frustrating opponents
Kathleen Parker has an unfortunately titled opinion piece (Romney , Ryan running against themselves) that does make an important point about the crafting of speeches.
Ryan, too, has tried to avoid being who he is. The budget guru to whom most Republicans defer on everything from debts and deficits to health-care reform has been tentative in defending his record and, in some cases, pretended it doesn’t exist. In his speech Wednesday night, Ryan denounced Obama policies and maneuvers that closely resemble some of his own and made several not-quite-complete statements that resulted in a day of criticism and gave Democrats an opportunity to question both his credibility and his intellectual honesty.
In one instance, Ryan criticized Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission. What Ryan didn’t say is that he served on the commission and voted against its proposals.
There’s nothing wrong with either of those facts except their omission. His criticisms would have carried more weight had he mentioned these things and elaborated. What’s wrong with saying, “I served on the commission and while I had problems with it and voted against it, it was the right approach. We just didn’t go far enough and the president simply looked the other way”?
Instead, Ryan ignored his role in the process, essentially deleting his participation and his past. Whom does this serve? Certainly not the Romney-Ryan ticket, which risks being perceived as less than straightforward. This is crucial given a recent Gallup poll that found Obama leading Romney (48 percent to 36 percent) on the question of who is more trustworthy.
In another example, Ryan criticized Obama’s plan to cut $700 billion from the growth of Medicare. Ryan’s own plan also calls for $700 billion in cuts, though with different details. Why not acknowledge this? Everyone knows it — unless Ryan believes that his audience isn’t up to speed — so why not set the record straight?
Why not say, “Look, I want to cut $700 billion too, but there are ways to do this without hurting people. Here’s how.” It’s as though he wants no one to remember “that guy.” Now he’s this guy, the one who wants to protect Medicare.Speeches need to be crafted so they are unarguably true. Otherwise you spend a day explaining rather than being on point. While the conservative media responded to the attacks on Ryan's credibility and batted down most of the assertions, there are ways to present your argument so that effort is not required and your opponent is kept on the defensive. While I think he weathered the storm and the Obama campaign lost credibility with their accusations that he was lying, his speech writers need to tighten their craft. The idea is to make your opponents have to explain, not to put yourself on the defensive. The same goes for opposition fact check organizations who like to nit pick to find away to attack.
To be clear, the Obama team has been quick to throw around unsubstantiated allegations that Romney and Ryan are lying. This is going to hurt them in the long run because voters don't like people who call their opponents liars. One of Romney's most effective ad was where he instead asked "What does it say about a President that he would use the unfortunate death of a women as a political attack?"
Ryan's speech also had some strong elements that should become a staple of the campaign such as his statement about graduates who are back in their childhood rooms because they cannot find a job. That was a well crafted charge taht Obama would like to ignore and he used the other attacks to do so.