By John Barron
In choosing Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, Mitt Romney has achieved the rare feat of giving both the right and the left what they wanted.
Quite simply, Ryan is an ideas man. The right loves his ideas and the left hates them.
This could be a welcome change in a campaign that has so far been light on policy and heavy on negative attacks and gaffes.
Up until now, Romney was open to the Mondale-esque question of "Where’s the beef?"
Now he has it. But the question is: will this prove to be a hearty old-fashioned rib-eye steak that covers the plate and hangs over the sides or a mean grisly off-cut fit only for a pauper’s stew?
It seems Paul Ryan is an increasingly rare breed in Washington D.C. – he tends to believe in what he says.
When he says the system of Social Security, Medicare for seniors, and Medicaid for the poor is going broke and needs reform, he means it and he’s happy to show how it could be fixed.
Over the past eight years Ryan has come up with increasingly detailed plans, roadmaps, and full-scale federal budgets — the latter of which won majority support in the US House of Representatives (which Republicans control).
And that policy detail has given Ryan’s critics on the left no shortage of ammunition.
Liberal groups infamously depicted a Ryan look-alike literally wheeling grandma down a garden path before throwing her off a cliff.
"He’ll end Medicare and Social Security as we know it!" Democrats charge.
"Yes, he’ll end a system that is heading for bankruptcy within a decade and replace it with one we can afford," Republicans reply.
Fiscal conservatives from the old school, typified by his former boss the late Jack Kemp, tend to love what Ryan says. So do the Tea Partiers who reflexively want government spending cut but may not be able to articulate how and from where.
And, as The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza points out Democrats deliberately helped boost Ryan’s prominence so they could gleefully hold up some of his more extreme reforms as a warning of what Republicans would do if returned to the White House.
Ryan may have just become Obama’s version of Frankenstein’s monster.
Early in his presidential campaign Mitt Romney effectively signed up to the Ryan budget, calling on the Senate to pass it and send it to the President to sign. The connection was made. The die cast.
But if Paul Ryan has the knack of coming across as a caring physician recommending aggressive treatment to save a dying patient, Romney looks more like the hospital administrator who wants to flick the switch to save electricity.
It’s hard to know what the difference is, the pair could almost be father and son — the same helmet of dark hair, strong jaws, deep eyes under heavy brows. Yet people tend to believe Paul Ryan, whether they agree with him or not, whereas Mitt Romney leaves people wondering whether he really believes in anything expect making or saving money.
Now he has the architect as his salesman as well.
For most presidential candidates, their running mate holds some electoral value — they might win an extra percent or two in their home state, which in the case of Wisconsin could be handy, as it’s in the "battleground" category this year.
The VP nominee also says something about the character of the presidential nominee; John McCain picking Sarah Palin as a fellow maverick, Bill Clinton picking Al Gore as a moderate, Southern baby-boomer.
It can also highlight a perceived weakness — Obama opting for Biden to bolster his foreign policy experience, Kerry picked Edwards for his perceived charisma, and Bush wanted Cheney to help answer concerns about his experience.
It is also the first major appointment a candidate makes and can be telling. If they can’t pick a good running mate (McCain, George McGovern) can they really lead a nation?
For Romney, Ryan ticks most boxes — he shores up the fiscally conservative base, excites the Tea Party movement, and doubles-down on his claim to be the economic-fixer. He is a "reinforcer" like Gore, an "exciter" like Palin, and a "charmer" like Edwards (well, not exactly like Edwards, one hopes).
Having already decided he likes Ryan’s vision for America, Romney has quite logically decided to pick the man himself.
Critics are already saying this is an act of desperation, as Romney slips to his lowest poll numbers since April. According to the Real Clear Politics average, before the Ryan announcement President Obama was heading to a solid 5 per cent national lead.
But this is no McCain-esque "Hail Mary pass" — Paul Ryan may appeal to many conservatives who also liked Sarah Palin (at first, anyway), but he wont leave any doubts about his intellectual capacity or ability to lead if something were to happen to the president.
And come November, if the US economy is still ailing and the electorate desperate enough for a cure, bright young “Doctor” Ryan may look like their only hope.
13 August 2012