RNC jumps right on the Ryan budget plan

On Friday, the RNC sent out an email calling for supporters to sign a petition in support of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.  Quick, huh?

Speed kills, and this RNC email came over a month after Ryan uploaded his YouTube video outlining the problem with continuing government spending.  That gave the Democrats a month to complain that the GOP budget proposal would strip old people of their medicine like a starving robot.  The RNC is a little bit late to the party on this one.

On the plus side, the email does direct activists back to a petition, where they can register their support and send their own brief message.  If the RNC is doing things right, that means the folks on the email list who respond to this email will be tracked and identified for the upcoming Presidential races.  If those people live in some place like Ohio, they should be on the extra-special, “we need these people to go to the polls and I bet they’d drag four people” list.

The spending issue isn’t going away, and there’s plenty of time to re-frame the debate.  For the RNC it’s better late than never.

Video killed the… uh… video star?

In 2007, the use of YouTube to announce exploratory committees (all by Democrats) was hailed as revolutionary.  In 2011, it’s par for the course.  Online video has cemented its place in the campaign communications toolkit.  In recent weeks, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and President Obama have all announced their 2012 campaigns or exploratory committees.

But all online videos are not created equal, and it’s interesting that this rash of announcement videos comes right around the release of Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity video.

Watching Ryan’s video again, it’s striking how well done it is, stylistically.  Between the appropriately serious music, the superimposed charts, and even the way shots are framed, the technical minds behind it clearly had an intelligent vision and the skill to carry it out.  Just as important, Ryan appears completely at ease.  He makes his points directly, yet his tone is conversational; if he is reading from a teleprompter he does a good job of making it seem like he isn’t.  He interacts well with the graphics – notable because they probably weren’t there during filming.

Ryan does such a good job explaining a complex issue in a concise and engaging way that it calls to mind previous media revolutions.  Other Presidents appeared on television, but John F. Kennedy was out first “TV President.”  Could Paul Ryan be America’s first made-for-YouTube politician?

The Budget Battle’s Missing Links

Paul Ryan fired an opening salvo in the budget battle last week – but will anyone be there to back him up?

Against the backdrop of a federal budget dispute, the predictable refrain has started: Ryan’s proposal to slash federal spending is “cruel” and “unfair.”  Groups like Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS will provide some support by reinforcing the dire debt situation and the need to take action.

That line of response is necessary and true – but misses a major point.  It buries the best line in Ryan’s excellent explanatory video – and the best line that any Republican has had in about 30 years:

Washington has not been telling you the truth.

For the last 80 years (give or take) politicians have been running for (and winning) office based on the idea that they’d take care of you.  Washington, they explained, could feed the hungry, enrich the poor, employ the jobless, and most recently heal the sick.

What we’ve found out is that government sucks at all those things.  It’s not a matter of intention but a matter of aptitude.  Despite Washington’s promises – made, incidentally, by both parties and even Ryan himself – are still poor people, there are still elderly who don’t have enough money for retirement, there are still sick people who can’t pay for health care, there are still parents who can’t afford to feed their children.

It didn’t work, and it doesn’t work.  “Washington has not been telling you the truth.”

So who is being cruel?  Is it Ryan for cutting federal programs and reining in federal spending?  Or, are the advocates for the status quo – those who would ignore the spending crisis because paying attention to it is “cruel” – selling the public a vision of government doomed to fail when they need it most?

The safety net is fraying.  Business as usual will make it sag heavier until the ropes give way.  The GOP plan will help.  Regardless of its implications on the debate over the proper size of government, Ryan’s plan is the humane and just thing to do.

That important message isn’t the only thing that’s missing.  So far, I have not seen the important, grassroots organizing that has to be done to turn a good idea into a movement.  What about the internet?  What about the people searching “Ryan Budget” on Google right now who should be seeing sites that tell them, “Look, we need to do a better, more responsible job of taking care of people”?  What about the folks who could be organizing college campuses and calling for a better, more efficient government so that they can retire in 50 or 60 years?  What about building a movement – or, more accurately, mobilizing the tea party movement that already exists to take effective action in support of this new vision for America.

Voters don’t want or need platitudes about spending or missives about the size of government.  They want and need a simple vision to organize around, a vision for a better America that we can participate in – and a way to share a common victory.

There are questions being posed that have to be answered.Can our nation opt to depend on the power of the individual over the power of government?  Can we be more imaginative in our solutions to social problems than relying on the lazy crutch of government programs?  Can we do better for the people who need it most?

Someone needs to make sure that these questions are answered.  And the answer cannot come from television or radio ads, by celebrity spokespersons or politicians.  As with any movement, citizen activists are the only ones capable of responding to these questions, perhaps with a  positive, uplifting, appropriate (albeit plagiarized) answer: “Yes We Can.”

Where are they learning this stuff? Oh…

It’s a story that deals with higher taxes, government largess, and an agency that broke it’s promises.

Is it the current budget battle?  The raging debate over Obamacare?  The rallying cry for state public sector unions?  No, it’s Spring Concert at my alma mater, UMass.  This year, for the first time ever, students will have to pay to attend.

In light of the current debate over the size and scope of government spending, this tale is sort of interesting.

Some background: UMass’s annual Spring Concert dates back to at least the 1960s.  It used to be an outdoor event on the vast expanse of  space right in the middle of campus; since 1999 it has been held in the Mullins Center (which also hosts basketball, hockey, and other concerts).  The money to put on the concert comes from the student activities fund, which is charged along with tuition and other fees to each student on their bill each semester – essentially, a tax that funds student government activities.  The article points out that the fee is now $94 (it was in the $70 range when I was there) and includes a good description of the funding process and the way the Spring Concert is put together.

Controversy and disappointment are nothing new for the Spring Concert; the 1998 show (during my freshman year on campus) was scrapped because the agency in charge couldn’t scrape together enough funds after running other concerts throughout the year.  This year, the problem is that the $200,000 special fund that was set aside specifically for the concert (an outgrowth from the ’98 cancellation) isn’t enough to cover the talent and other costs.

In other words, a government agency is having trouble paying its bills, and is looking for taxpayers to make up the difference.

Especially telling is explanation offered by the advisor for University Productions and Concerts, the group in charge of the event:

“One of the problems is that we are a very spoiled campus,” said Lloyd Henley, associate director of the Center for Student Development and faculty advisor to the UPC. “We are used to such top-caliber artists, and so one of the things I said to UPC and the SGA is, ‘Something’s got to break.’”

Met with the dilemma of the high costs of talent and a budget which sounds big but probably goes quick when running an event of this size, Henley’s advice was apparently to charge more on top of what people were already paying – because the students/taxpayers are “spoiled” and the Spring Concert has to be a great show rather than a good free concert.  It’s not surprising; despite the “faculty” advisor moniker Henley’s position within the office that oversees campus activities gives him away as an administrative/bureaucratic figure.  In fact, some folks are calling for increases in student activities fees so that the shortfall doesn’t happen again in future year.  Because why shouldn’t a state school raise its fees to accommodate a really big concert?

It’s both sad and fortunate that the voice of reason comes from a student:

This past year, fees did not increase and, according to Josh Davidson, chairman of the SGA’s Ways and Mean Committee, they should stay the same until the budget process is modified.

“I really feel that we can spend the money a whole lot better,” he said. “The way that we allocate money to groups can be much more effective. I would like to see those things happen before we raise the fees.”

That’s a good philosophy, no matter what level of government you’re in.


Reacting to the Bachmann Reaction

Yesterday at PunditLeague, I argued that Michelle Bachmann’s “Tea Party Response” to the President’s State of Union address would not detract from Paul Ryan’s official Republican response.  In practice, Bachmann’s response was actually better than Ryan’s – not because of content (Ryan did as well as he could have done), but because of style.

Despite Bachmann’s shortcomings as a speaker, her speech varied from typical State of the Union responses by including charts and images as visual aids.  Ryan’s turn as a talking head was traditional, but less dynamic.  As Brit Hume observed on Fox News last night, replying to the grandeur of the President’s address is difficult; it means sitting in a room with no audience, no applause, and no chance to speak in booming tones in front of an austere chamber.  Bachmann did better in the empty room by simply filling it with something besides her.  Granted, the charts could have looked better and could have included better visual representations of the consequences of the Administration’s fiscal policies, but the still looked better than Ryan’s charts (which, again, didn’t exist).

Future responses to the State of the Union might consider a more carefully crafted presentation that the Max Headroom-style talking heads that have become typical.  The opposition’s annual reply is a rare chance to rebut the President before a national audience.  Bachmann may have rankled Republican leaders with her rogue response – but she might be on to something.

UPDATE: Something I missed entirely in Bachmann’s presentation was the fact that she was apparently staring into space.  I figured the video I saw (linked above, from PBS) simply had the camera positioned off to the side, and that Bachmann had another, main camera she was looking into.  Unless this was filmed in the Congresswoman’s basement, I assumed SOMEONE would have told her to look into the camera; I guess that’s what happens when I assume.