An Adult Conversation …

 

Near the top of my list of worst political cliches of the past several years (right behind the execrable “teachable moment”) is “an adult conversation.” Barack Obama called for one on the budget, then turned around and started calling people “Social Darwinists.”  John Boehner said he was ready for one with the president, then insulted him in the next breath.

Calling for an adult conversation in politics has become the equivalent of telling someone to act more mature in the midst of an argument — the implicit condescension ensures both that your antagonist won’t comply and that your heart’s not really in it either.

This is what’s so interesting about Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate. Here’s the rare politician who actually has adult conversations instead of just using the concept as a cudgel against the opposition. For proof, you need look no further than the increasingly famous video (embedded below) of Ryan schooling President Obama on health care at the Blair House summit in early 2010.

What’s notable about this clip isn’t Ryan’s undisputed mastery of the subject matter (it’s deservedly high praise to say that we’ve come to expect that from him); it’s the style of his delivery. This is not the sort of fist-swelling beat down we’d be circulating to celebrate the addition of a Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich to the ticket. At its most raucous, it plays like an accountant who had half a glass of Sutter Home over (a sensibly-priced) lunch.

Indeed, what’s most striking is that Ryan displays exactly the traits that Barack Obama’s candidacy was sold on, yet that the president has never managed to harness: he’s unfailingly civil to the opposition, looking for every opportunity to accentuate shared goals; his policy outlook is relentlessly empirical; and — even in the face of something we know he perceives as catastrophic — he chooses a tone of can-do optimism rather than walleyed despair.

We’re about to have that adult conversation at long last. The question now is whether the electorate can really stomach the high-minded dialogue for which they’ve ostensibly been clamoring.

A week ago, I would’ve told you that this election would be a referendum on Barack Obama’s first term as president. Today, I’m more inclined to think that it will be the definitive statement on whether the American people prefer the exertions required to restore American vitality over the ephemeral comforts of gilded decline.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNKfbO_PvkI

There are 39 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MichaelHussey

    I agree strongly with your last paragraph as I have stated in other comment threads.  We should welcome this debate, this national hashing-out of the issues.  but we should brace ourselves for the possibility that we might lose.  the voters really may be hopelessly addicted to the free government cheese.

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    @DrewInWisconsin

    “Gilded decline.” Troy, that’s lovely and sad.

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    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    How can you have an “adult conversation” with the children of the left? To them it is all “I want”, “give me” and “it’s not fair”. Nothing about responsibility, duty, honor, sacrifice.

    • #3
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    @TroySenik

    By the way, my fantasy is that the picture at the top of the post will be used as the model when Paul Ryan’s face is put on the front of the dime someday, replacing FDR both literally and metaphorically.

    This is the part where I’d duck if I were on any other site.

    • #4
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    @Dudley

    We’re about to have that adult conversation at long last. The question now is whether the electorate can really stomach the high-minded dialogue for which they’ve ostensibly been clamoring.

    As reported on Google, the #2 related search term for Paul Ryan is ‘shirtless’.  Not encouraging.

    • #5
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    @SouthernPessimist

    Yep, this is going to be a teachable moment where we have an adult conversation about how evil Republicans are going to end Medicare as we know it while engaging in top down economics that got us into this mess.

    • #6
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    @BrentB67

    I hope your last paragraph is correct and think it has a good chance of being so.

    • #7
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    @TroySenik
    Southern Pessimist: Yep, this is going to be a teachable moment where we have an adult conversation about how evil Republicans are going to end Medicare as we know it while engaging in top down economics that got us into this mess. · 0 minutes ago

    Channeling FeliciaB, this is one of those moments where I’m very upset that you can only hit the ‘like’ button once. I really need to talk to an editor about that.

    • #8
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    @
    Southern Pessimist: Yep, this is going to be a teachable moment where we have an adult conversation about how evil Republicans are going to end Medicare as we know it while engaging in top down economics that got us into this mess. · 6 minutes ago

    That’s why I am still skeptical of the Ryan pick. As Scott Johnson said at Powerline today, I don’t think its wise to double down on your opponent’s  potentially most cutting arguments.

    Charles Krauthammer also seemed very worried about the Democrats’ offensive tonight on Special Report.

    • #9
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    @AaronMiller

    Great. Let’s treat demonizing liars and lawless extortionists like gentlemen and see where that gets us.

    • #10
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    @Freesmith

    Those who want an adult conversation – and nothing else – will be like boxers who only punch with one hand, and they will get where boxers like that get – flattened on the canvas. Repeat after me: Left Jab AND Right Cross, Good Cop AND Bad Cop, Reasoned Debate AND Contemptuous Mockery, Big Joyous Rallies AND Democrat Voter Suppression.

    • #11
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    @ScottR
    Aaron Miller: Great. Let’s treat demonizing liars and lawless extortionists like gentlemen and see where that gets us. · 3 minutes ago

    It’ll get us far, Aaron. Or at least farther than the alternative.

    Think of Ricochet itself: Which commenters change the most minds — the calm, patient gentlemen (who remain gentlemen even when confronting rudeness) or the confrontational, demonizing firebrands? The former, right? A slam dunk — even though, blush, most of us have been the latter in some rare, bad moments.

    • #12
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    @EJHill
    Troy Senik, Ed.: By the way, my fantasy…

    … Ten Cents a Dance on a Ryan Dime?

    Ryan-Dime.jpg

    • #13
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    @Freesmith

    Troy, your strongest point was that Paul Ryan has all of those positive qualities that Obama teased Americans that he possessed in 2008. Minus the sharp crease in his trousers, of course. And those character traits will see him through the coming storm. You know the saying on the racetrack: “Class shows.”

    • #14
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    @SusaninSeattle

    Outstanding, EJHill!

    • #15
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    @TomDavis

    The choice of Ryan is inspired.  No matter how this election turns out, it is going to be clear that the result will be what we did to ourselves.  The line is crystal clear. 

    If we win, we win with a clear mandate.  If we lose, we lose with the knowledge that the electorate has chosen the path they want to follow to perdition. 

    Those who say that Romney should have chosen candidate who is less clear on the issues want to follow the Obama path towards lies, perfidy, and distraction should join the Obama camp.  Romney choice is a clear signal that he recognizes the problems and is ready to address them.  It is encouraging. 

    • #16
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    @EJHill

    Here’s how I’ve been responding to my friends’ Mediscare arguments:

    Your argument is that Paul Ryan “will change entitlements as we know them.” Ok, let’s say you discover the boat that you’re in has a hole in the bottom. Fixing the hole will change the boat as you know it. But if you don’t change it the whole thing will sink.

    Right now Obama knows the boat is sinking but he’ll will be glad to tell you he’s just adding a swimming pool and that Romney and Ryan want to take away your swim pass.

    This is not demagoguery. The nation is living on Chinese Credit and the yet unrealized wealth of our children and our grandchildren. On the path that President Obama and the last Congress placed us, America will need to take one-fifth of the world’s GDP just to maintain our current level of entitlements. I’m not sure with all of their problems the rest of the world is in the mood to keep a bankrupt America afloat.

    • #17
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    @SchrodingersCat

    Adult conversations take more than 30-60 seconds. Hence, the MSM will edit them into soundbites. And, since neither Twitter nor Face Book are media which can handle adult conversations, any adult conversation will be consumed by a small minority of voters. Most consumers of information won’t have the patience to listen fully to an adult conversation. They will prefer the sound bites.

    • #18
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    @genferei
    Freesmith: Left Jab AND Right Cross, Good Cop AND Bad Cop, Reasoned Debate AND Contemptuous Mockery, Big Joyous Rallies AND Democrat Voter Suppression. · 12 hours ago

    Indeed. It doesn’t have to be Romney or Ryan who does all these things – but someone has to. They bring a Harry Reid to fight – who does the GOP bring? They have the entire MSM on their side – what is the strategy to undermine it? They have Comedy Central – who is spreading the word about Iowahawk and Mark Steyn? We can all do our bit, but some coordination – rather than capitulation – from the party could do wonders.

    • #19
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    @DocJay

    There is only so long we can pass the buck without having such a conversation. Our side better be ready for it too.

    • #20
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    @KCMulville

    A debate or conversation supposes listening, even if it’s merely to know when to resume blabbering.

    A 30-second sound byte is when you want to say something but don’t want to listen. Or be challenged. Or deal with confrontation. In other words, it’s conversation for cowards. 

    I love Paul Ryan’s willingness to face confrontation, face challenge, and most of all, his willingness to listen. He’s a brave man in a profession increasingly dominated by cowards.

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    @AaronMiller

    Scott, a person can be both charitable and honest. There is nothing polite or respectable about refusing to call a lie a lie or refusing to note habitual dishonesty. There is nothing prudent or honorable about treating malicious enemies like friends.

    Paul Ryan’s general manner is the right one. He should not stoop to Obama’s level… or even to Biden’s level. But Ryan must — Republicans must — be honest with voters about Democrats’ deplorable methods and expressed goals.

    Millions of Americans don’t see much difference between Democrats and Republicans. If Republicans hope to change that, they could start by publicly acknowledging the differences themselves!

    • #22
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    @Caryn

    Kudos, EJ, and brilliant.  As usual.

    • #23
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    @flownover

    ” ephemeral comforts ” – maybe” gilded ” – no way” decline ” – no gilding it

    • #24
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    @PTomanovich

    I’m all for converting Independents – and think Ryan has a perfect combination of facts and tone to get that done.  But the pick will also create a surge in Republican enthusiasm.

    That was the distinguishing feature of the Bush 2004 campaign.  Swing Independents? Sure.  But at all costs get out your side.

    I can’t wait to work for the R+R campaign and pull the lever in November – and I live in New York.  I might as well write in Cal Coolidge.

    Enthusiasm converts Independents as well as arguments, and no one is jazzed to give Biden four more years – except perhaps the Onion.

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    @PTomanovich

    I also love the Iowahawk line that has been making the rounds today: “Paul Ryan represents Obama’s most horrifying nightmare: Math.”

    It’s funny.  It’s quick.  It’s devastating.  If you were an Independent, wouldn’t you rather be on that side of the argument?

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    @TroySenik

    It’s interesting that several of you instantly equated ‘civil’ with ‘soft.’ That wasn’t my intent, nor does it seem to be a real danger for the campaign, as Ryan has already shown that he can hit Obama forcefully.

    This was not an ode to ‘rising above the fray’ (remember how that worked for John McCain in 2008?). It was an ode to fighting the fight the way it should be fought: with class, smarts, and vision.

    • #27
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    @ScottR
    Aaron Miller: Scott, a person can be both charitable and honest. There is nothing polite or respectable about refusing to call a lie a lie or refusing to note habitual dishonesty. There is nothing prudent or honorable about treating malicious enemies like friends.

    Paul Ryan’s general manner is the right one. He should not stoop to Obama’s level… or even to Biden’s level. But Ryanmust— Republicansmust— be honest with voters about Democrats’ deplorable methods and expressed goals. ….

     

    We might not disagree on anything, Aaron.

    Call out dishonesty; call out deplorable behavior; make your own case — and do it while retaining your own cool and integrity.

    Romney/ Ryan 2012 

    • #28
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    @StarvetheBeast

    “… whether the American people prefer the exertions required to restore American vitality over the ephemeral comforts of gilded decline.”

    As several posters have noted, this is a beautifully-turned phrase.

    But it may not end that way. Let’s remember our Mark Steyn; we may feel like we’re entitled to a nice, sedate decline because Europe’s decline has been so comfortable.

    But they only got away with that because America was here to create vast wealth and run huge trade deficits, innovate ever newer and better gadgets, and keep people from invading them, while Europeans sipped their cappuccinos and rhapsodized on the vulgarity of the 40-hour work week.

    But when it’s our turn to decline, who’s going to be our mommy? India? China? The new Caliphate?

    America’s decline is likely to be messy.

    • #29
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    @AaronMiller

    It’s not what you said, Troy. It’s what Ryan has said. I’ve listened as Ryan has described Obama’s misrepresentations of his Roadmap as “inaccurate” and similarly mild phrases.

    No Republican politician in DC will yet call the President a liar, for which there is ample and objective evidence.

    We are dealing with wannabe dictators with no regard for law or for the most basic rights of their political opponents. And Republicans, including Ryan, are talking to them like this is a business negotiation. These are the Mussolinis of our time. But all Republican politicians can manage is to accuse Democrats of incompetence.

    • #30

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