So now it is official: Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan is going to be Mitt Romney's running mate. R&R: the tonsorial twosome -- the best-coifed ticket since Washington and Adams; perhaps the most economically obtuse since Harding and Coolidge. In introducing Ryan, best known for the eponymous budget plan which would turn Medicare into a voucher system and partially privatize Social Security, Romney made a slip of Freudian proportions, when he asked those assembled before him to " . . . join me in welcome [sic] the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan!" Made aware of his verbal gaffe, Romney got huge laughs when he added, "Every now and then I'm known to make a mistake." Realizing that this statement could also be somewhat problematic, he quickly added, "I did not make a mistake with this guy. (In all fairness, four years ago, when he introduced his running mate, Barack Obama said "So let me introduce to you the next president -- the next vice president of the US of America, Joe Biden." Not to be outdone, Biden, who has a long and well-documented track record of verbal miscues, referred to his future boss as "Barack America.")
In naming Ryan even before he becomes the GOP's official nominee (which will likely come later this month), Romney is seeking to deflect attention away from his blunder-filled trek abroad, questions about his personal finances and the need to reconcile his new-found "seriously conservative" verbiage with his fairly recent past. Of course, in bringing Ryan, the 42-year old Ayn Rand-loving House Budget Chair on board, Romney is also trying to shore up credibility with the Tea Party faction that is currently calling most of the political shots in what was once called the "Party of Lincoln." This last point is crucial, for Tea Partiers have believed all along that Romney is a non-too closeted liberal. Up until 24-hours ago, about the only thing the former Massachusetts governor had going for him in the eyes of the Republican right is that his name is not Obama. To anoint Ryan, who, rightfully or not, Tea Partiers consider to be on the side of the family-values-smaller-government-is-better-deficit-destroying angels, it gives Romney a bit of political cover.
Historically, vice presidential candidates have been chosen because of any of a number of reasons:
- They provide credibility and coverage in areas which the person at the top of the ticket may be lacking. (Think Biden in foreign policy or Mondale in Washington politics);
- They have regional popularity and might help bring in votes from crucial states. (Think Wilson's VP Thomas Marshall in the Midwest or LBJ in the South);
- They represent a balance of image. (Think Garret Hobart's jocosity to Wm. McKinley's seriousness or John Nance Garner's plainspoken everyman to FDR's eastern blueblood);
- For reasons best left to speculation. (Think Agnew, Palin and Quayle)
Of these four categories (and of course, there are more), Ryan best fits into the first: Providing "credibility and coverage . . ." Goodness knows, his selection has nothing to do with regional popularity, for truth to tell, he has never run a state-wide race, and is barely known outside of Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District. And when it comes to image or personality, he is virtually as boring and verbally flat-footed as Romney. His selection then, is mostly due to his conservative, pro-Tea Party, ultimate deficit hawk bona fides. But even these credentials are going to be called into question once the media and the Obama campaign finish putting in their two cents.
What is the public going to learn about Paul Ryan?
First -- though not necessarily foremost -- that Ryan, the man whose economic "roadmap" would:
- Give across-the-board tax cuts by reducing income tax rates;
- Eliminate income taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest;
- Abolish the corporate income tax, estate tax and alternative minimum tax;
- Privatize a portion of Social Security;
- Eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance and
- Privatize Medicare
That he himself received Social Security benefits upon the death of his father, which he used to help pay for his college education. Many will no doubt see this as a glaring inconsistency. An insightful friend, Alan Wald, wrote somewhat tongue in cheek that "[Ryan] wants to gut Social Security . . . . Let him pay back all that survivor's . . . commie pinko money . . . he should have refused the money out of principle . . . . Until he returns the money, he has no right to proclaim that he has a solution."
Second, that Ryan, the man who many Republicans consider to be the intellectual leader of their party's drive to shrink government has, over the course of his Congressional career, consistently voted for big bank bailouts, unfunded mandates and unnecessary wars. According to Democrat Ron Zerban, who has mounted a serious challenge to Ryan in Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District (Ryan can run for reelection and V.P. at the same time), "Ryan is a root cause of many of the financial issues our country faces today," says Zerban ."From supporting two unfunded wars, to dumping millions of senior citizens into the Medicare Part D "donut hole' while tying the hands of the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, and from fighting for subsidies for Big Oil that his family personally benefits from, to supporting the unfunded Bush tax cuts for his wealthiest campaign contributors, Paul Ryan's hypocrisy is astounding."
Third, that Ryan is just another career politician who has spent his entire post-college life working on Capitol Hill. Conservative chatterboxes who constantly deride President Obama for never having worked a single day in the world of business had better start treading lightly; neither has the gentleman from Janesville. Just how smart is it to select a veteran member of the House of Representatives . . . an institution even less popular than the I.R.S.?
Vice Presidential picks are supposed to help, not hinder national tickets. And while Paul Ryan may help Mitt Romney a bit with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, he could easily be a disaster with moderates and independents, not to mention women, gays and immigrants. In selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and his advisors -- who I sometimes think must be working on the sly for Barack Obama -- have all but guaranteed that the future of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and not the economy, will be the campaign's central issue. Unlike Mitt Romney, who has a history of changing positions on most every issue, Paul Ryan has, for the most part, been a model of consistency. And in politics, this isn't always a good thing; it gives one almost no room in which to maneuver, to make those nuanced tweaks which can soothe ruffled feathers and increase electability.
One thing that all vice presidential candidates should bring to the table is the certainty that they can take over the top spot should, God forbid, the need arise. One wonders about Paul Ryan. Unlike Joe Biden, Ryan has even less foreign policy experience than his boss. Unlike George H.W. Bush, Ryan has no experience outside the confines of Capitol Hill. And unlike Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey or Walter Mondale, Paul Ryan doesn't know the meaning of the word compromise.
Romney and Ryan may well be the best-looking ticket in American history. Then too, they will likely prove to be the stiffest, most narrowly-focused, pro-business, anti-middle class pairing since Taft and Sherman more than a century ago. One thing you do have to grant Paul Ryan: he has excited both hard-core conservatives and progressives -- the former because he's one of them, and the latter because he is the personification of what Bill Clinton recently termed "Bush policies on steroids."
May Paul Ryan do for Mitt Romney what Sarah Palin did for John McCain!
-2012 Kurt F. Stone