5 Big Myths (and 1 Big Truth) from the Republican National Convention

The GOP is totally right: Obama's jobs record is miserable. But this good fundamental argument is jumbled up with an array of fibs and obfuscations.

RNC 2012 full.jpg

It's hardly surprising that political conventions don't hold themselves to the scientific rigor of, say, a national conference on particle physics. It's true for the Republican National Convention, and it will be true of the Democratic response in a few weeks. The purpose of a convention, after all, is to thrill, and the Republican National Convention -- with its sold-out, decked-out crowd and dazzling collage of jumbo screens -- was nothing if not thrilling.

It also contained at least five sizable myths -- and one very important truth.

First, the big truth. Republicans are right: President Obama's jobs record is miserable. Even though it is not the president's fault that he inherited a recession, the numbers are the numbers. Unemployment has been over 8% for more than 40 months. Only twice since the Census have we surpassed 200,000 jobs created in consecutive months. Both times, jobs added had dipped below 100,000 two months later.

It has been an uneven recovery, held back by a housing and family debt crisis the administration has been powerless to help. The gap between the president's expectations and reality -- so efficiently illustrated in the graphic below -- is a deficit matched only by the actual trillion-dollar annual deficits that make Americans worried that we're shooting money as if out of a confetti cannon.

But circling around this big truth at the convention were five myths.

(1) "We Built That." Day One of the convention was built around a distorted comment by President Obama, who told supporters in July that entrepreneurs are helped by teachers, friends, and government-backed infrastructure. "Somebody invested in roads and bridges, if you've got a business, you didn't build that," he said. Romney seized on the line: "To say what he said is to say that Steve Jobs didn't build Apple Computer or that Bill Gates didn't build Microsoft." In fact, to say what Obama said is to say that Steve Jobs didn't build the Caltrain connecting San Francisco to the Valley, which is not controversial.

"I built that," numerous entrepreneurs told the convention in videos of their companies, "not government." We can debate the degree to which these particular companies were helped or not helped by the government (one was reportedly working with a government contract), but that's not really the point.

Obama didn't say start-ups don't build businesses. He said start-ups don't build bridges.

(2) "Gutting work requirements"

Republicans claim that the president issued an executive order to allow anyone to collect a welfare check without trying to get a job. Nope. That's just not true. I'll turn this one over to The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf:

The easiest place to begin to understand the issue is with the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Clinton. Under that law, the federal government would no longer cut checks to welfare recipients as an entitlement like Social Security. Instead, states would get federal funds to administer their welfare caseload as they saw fit, subject to certain requirements ...

Recently, in response to a request from a bipartisan group of governors for more flexibility, the Obama Administration has said the federal government would consider waiving existing work participation requirements for states that were experimenting with "new, more effective ways" of helping welfare applicants find work, "particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment."

Might this EO give some states room to loosen work requirements? It might. But you could say giving states flexibility is a federalist, even conservative, instinct. Either way, the Obama administration didn't kill the work requirement.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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