We missed most of last night's vice-presidential debate, but we did happen to overhear one exchange, on the subject of Mitt Romney's secretive economic policy. We aren't sure of the details, but it went roughly like this:
VOICE: ... Are there studies showing it would do this?And there, friends, we have the story in a nutshell. Postgame spin doctoring has included the GOP's contention that Biden, by interrupting Ryan, smiling a lot and chuckling from time to time, was impolite and therefore unpresidential. The Democrats have responded that Mr Romney, in his last at-bat, was impolite -- not to the President, but to moderator Jim Lehrer.
PAUL RYAN: Six! There are six studies showing it would do this!
JOE BIDEN: [unintelligible]
PAUL RYAN: If you cut taxes, it will stimulate --
JOE BIDEN: [unintelligible, something about John Kennedy]
PAUL RYAN: Ronald Reagan!
Whatever. The man we eventually elect as president will live, daily, in face-to-face combat with global terrorism, unreliable foreign allies, a divided Congress and an openly partisan Supreme Court. Good manners aren't the job's primary qualification.
Nor, to be honest, is a great economic plan. The POTUS doesn't really have that much economic power. Most government spending is ultimately determined by Congress, and the American Congress is not famous for its bold, decisive decision-making. Or any other kind of decision-making. Still, it is customary for the person who actually proposes the budget, organizes the Executive Branch and appoints Federal Reserve governors to offer some token of economic competence.
This is what Ryan was talking about. Although the details of Romney's economic plan remain unknown, there have been some educated guesses about what he might do, and projections about what might happen if he did. As Matthew O'Brien points out at The Atlantic, these "studies" -- which include, inter alia, blog posts and Romney's own campaign white paper -- don't make a convincing case. A couple say that Romney's plan only works if you assume magically large growth rates, and others that it only works if you ... well, change it. (At the Times, Catherine Rampell lays the artithmetic bare.)
It looks very much as though Paul Ryan stretched the truth here, a point that only matters when we remember that Ryan already has a troubled relationship with the truth. Remember that this is a guy who lied about his marathon time.
So we still don't know much about Mitt Romney's plan for the economy, but it sounds suspiciously like more of a substance with which Mr. Ryan is already deeply familiar: malarkey.