Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have been celebrated as a team that might not be the most charismatic, but who are details-oriented number-crunchers who care deeply about policy—i.e., wonks. The w-word is a favorite faux-self-deprecating term of Washington people who are pretty sure they're pretty smart. With Romney's choice of Ryan, "wonk" is everywhere.
When The Wall Street Journal editorialized in favor of Ryan, they dismissed worries that he's "too young, too wonky, too, you know, serious." After his pick, he was described as "Jack Kemp wonky," "a policy wonk," "the Republican wonk star," "a fit 42-year-old policy wonk," and "the best of a policy wonk." Ryan was a perfect match with Romney because "two wonks bonded during the Wisconsin primary," a Republican strategist told National Journal. Romney and Ryan played up this idea in their first interview as a team with CBS's Bob Scheiffer. Romney said, "This is a man who's also very analytical. He's a policy guy. People know him as a policy guy. That's one of the reasons he has such respect on both sides of the aisle. I'm a policy guy, believe it or not. I love policy." That "believe it or not" suggests there might be some doubt. You'd be right to have it after watching his whiteboard presentation on Medicare Thursday.
Romney has a reputation for loving data, as expressed through his love of PowerPoint. The PowerPoint presentation and the whiteboard are supposed to signal smart data-driven analysis. But the whole point is to actually show the data. Romney did not do that today, as you can see in this video posted by Politico's Alexander Burns. Romney divided up a whiteboard into two columns and two rows, showing how current seniors and the next generation of seniors would be affected under his and President Obama's proposals. He did this because Democrats are attacking him for Ryan's old plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and his new plan to make the vouchers an option. Democrats have also screamed bloody murder over Romney's attacks that Obama will cut $716 billion from Medicare, when Ryan's plan keeps those cuts, and the cuts affect how much providers are paid, not what health services old folks receive. But Romney's counter-counter-counter attack did not address those attacks. Instead, he reiterated his claim about the $716 billion. As for the next generation of seniors? Under Obama, Romney wrote "bankrupt." Under Romney, Romney wrote "solvent." Well, that explains everything.
Here's a still if all those numbers whizzed by you:
Just because a campaign's talking points were written on a thing used to show details doesn't mean actual details were shown. The Romney campaign has been careful to avoid getting too deep into the details of the candidate's economic proposals, because they want to make the election a referrendum on President Obama. But refusing to dip into the details is not the sign of a wonk, it's the opposite. This was most apparent when Fox News' Brit Hume pressed Ryan on when his plan would balance the budget. Ryan tried to get out of answering by saying he didn't want to "get wonky on you" before admitting he didn't know, because the numbers have not been crunched.
Hume: "I get that. What about balance?"
Ryan: "I don't know exactly what the balance is. I don't want to get wonky on you, but we haven't run the numbers on that specific plan. The plan we offer in the House balances the budget. I'd put a contrast. President Obama, never once, ever, has offered a plan to ever balance the budget. The United States Senate, they haven't even balanced, they haven't passed a budget in three years."
Hume: "I understand that. But your own budget, that you --
Ryan: "You are talking about the House budget?"
Hume: "I'm talking about the House budget. Your budget will be a political issue in this campaign."
Ryan: "The House budget doesn't balance until the 2030s under the current measurement of the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) baseline."