The success of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, more than any other politician including Barack Obama, attests to the value of packaging in politics. Ryan is physically fit and Washington-handsome, and is a solid speaker and communicator. Add the fact that despite having only two laws to his credit in over a decade on Capitol Hill, he has inspired one of the two major political parties to follow his lead, specifically with regards to his soon-to-be-even-more-famous budget plan.
Whereas the President is accused of hiding every radical leftist view in history behind a polished speaking voice and Hollywood smile, Mitt Romney’s new running mate has actually managed to be that radical, using an artifice of competence and pseudo-intellectualism to win over those who might otherwise be scared away by the fiscally destructive policy he advocates and his terrible record on women’s rights and reproductive freedoms (which is another post entirely).
So why is seeing this Ayn Randian in populist clothing chosen as Romney’s running mate a good thing? That’s a big question.
Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo argued the Ryan choice makes the election definitively a choice, and mandates a mandate:
Having Ryan on the ticket will make it difficult for the losers of the election to claim that the winners doesn’t have some claim to pursue their fiscal vision. A decisive electoral resolution to this high stakes political fight is actually kind of scary no matter where you come down on issues like Medicare, Medicaid and tax policy. But it’ll also be good for the country if it means the government will have new running room to pay at least passing attention to things like mass unemployment and eroding infrastructure that the next president will have to deal with, whether he’s a Republican or Democrat.
One of the more irritating things to contend with in the wake of a presidential election is the “mandate” question: whether or not the margin of victory gave license to the new or re-elected President to pursue his or her agenda with a certain level of aggressiveness. George W. Bush made that all bunk after the 2000 election, and with the Ryan choice, the mandate question is already settled by the mere presence of Paul Ryan in the race. So then, naturally, it becomes more of a choice on what is to come than a referendum on what has already happened.
Democrats see that as to their advantage as they seek to expose the lie that Ryan actually cares about the deficit. But say they lose, and Ryan becomes a powerful, perhaps Cheney-like vice-president. Whether or not you see that as a good or bad thing, this pick is good because for better or worse, America is about to become intimately acquainted with Ryan and his reformist vision.
Dude is about to get very famous, very fast.
The only solid reasons for Romney to make this selection are that Ryan changes the narrative, even at the risk of overshadowing Romney himself. He needed that distract reporters from asking questions about tax returns (which worked for all of one day) and to make him more palatable to the hard-Right base. This makes him an “August” pick in the parlance of our own Steve Benen, and is the only meaningful way to compare Ryan to Sarah Palin.
But Romney, being Romney, seems hesitant to go too far in one direction, insisting early that he won’t have to run on the Ryan budget. He fears it because he knows what it is, and knows what it clearly reveals Ryan and those who follow him to be. I wish him good luck on that, by the way – well before picking Ryan, he claimed aloud he’s endorsed it, and said he’d implement it if in the position to do so (i.e., POTUS), which is exactly what Grover Norquist is counting on.
Ezra Klein noted that by choosing Ryan, Romney is tied to the rest of his baggage (and not just the budget stuff):
It’s not just that Romney now has to defend Ryan’s budget. To some degree, that was always going to be true. What he will now have to defend is everything else Ryan has proposed. Ryan was, for instance, the key House backer of Social Security privatization. His bill, The Social Security Personal Savings Guarantee and Prosperity Act of 2005, was so aggressive that it was rejected by the Bush administration. Now it’s Romney’s bill to defend. In Florida.
Ryan, in last night’s “60 Minutes” interview, insisted that there’s no way he’d be targeting seniors in Florida, since his mother is one of them. But I have to echo Emily Bazelon in wondering whether the Ryan choice endangers any chance Romney has there. Add to the fact that now, all of a sudden, the specifics that had thus far been lacking in Romney’s pitch to voters is now clouded by Ryan’s policy. So how is this good strategy? The talk about Florida brings me to the last way in which this pick could be good for the country: if we in the media do our jobs right correctly, shine an even brighter light on the real strategy to elect Romney – voter suppression.
Republicans would term it differently, of course. They’d call them voter-ID laws, which even giving them the benefit of the doubt, are a solution in search of a problem. Florida Governor Rick Scott calls his voter purge justified, despite its targeting of Democratic-leaning voters (one which the Justice Department is still trying to stop). When examining the election as a choice, the denial of that choice should become a front-and-center topic. It can only be a good thing to reveal more plainly to American voters this amoral gaming of the system, and the degree to which Republicans lean upon it to win elections local, national, and presidential.
Power is a precious thing in America, particularly in politics, and given the opponent they’re running against, I get to a degree why Republicans are doing this. They literally cannot run on what they actually believe and what they’ve done, given the horror they’d inspire in middle-class America. Ryan forces Romney and Republicans to run on their record, and shines a light on just what other stuff they’re running. Voters deserve to know how their rights are mere casualties of Republican ambition, just as they deserve to know a hell of a lot more about Ryan, a rising star in a party which has tethered itself to him.
So, this is a good thing. Especially for the good folks selling P90X.
See below Melissa’s opening block from Sunday’s show about the Ryan pick – and below the jump, her interview with Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the Democratic ranking member on the House Budget Committee, which Ryan currently chairs.