In the Arena

Some Quick Thoughts About Paul Ryan

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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks after being announced by Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his vice presidential running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. Ryan, a seven term congressman, is Chairman of the House Budget Committee and provides a strong contrast to the Obama administration on fiscal policy.

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan continues a very deep strand of Republican DNA when it comes to vice presidential picks: Since World War II–with only a few exceptions–Republicans have gone for young, promising junior executive types: Eisenhower picked Nixon, Nixon picked Spiro Agnew, Bush the Elder picked Dan Quayle, Dole picked Jack Kemp, McCain picked Sarah Palin. (The two exceptions are Reagan picking Bush the Elder and George W. Bush picking Dick Cheney). These picks tend to run toward ideology as their main selling point and Ryan, of course, is no exception. 

And furthermore:

1. Romney said the other day that he wanted a campaign about issues rather than “backgrounds, business, tax returns,” and that’s probably why he chose Ryan–to change the conversation. I suspect the Obama campaign will still be about Romney’s business background and his tax returns, with a heaping dose of the Ryan budget thrown in, especially the drastic changes to old-age entitlements.

2. In 1988, the last Massachusetts governor to run for President said his campaign was about “competence, not ideology.” Romney has gone in the opposite direction. The “competent”  choice would have been Ohio’s Rob Portman, who has real experience in the federal government and would have ramified Romney’s strengths–a good manager, smart about the economy–in the same way that Al Gore reinforced the image that Bill Clinton wanted to project. Ryan is all about ideology. His budget, which will now become the central document in this campaign, is one of the most radical  proposals in recent American history. It would reduce the deficit without raising taxes, which means the federal government as we now know it would be gutted. This is where the formerly moderate Romney has chosen to take his ideological stand. Rather amazing, I’d say.

Additional Thought: Ryan has zero foreign policy or military experience. This is the lightest foreign policy ticket the Republicans have fielded in my lifetime.

3. The Obama campaign must be celebrating. For one thing, their current lead in Ohio seems safer–Portman might have changed the equation in that crucial state. Ryan isn’t likely to bring along his home state of Wisconsin…but he does sharpen the terms of the debate in ways that must have David Axelrod salivating.

4. The Ryan pick is the latest, and perhaps dispositive, argument that even the Republican establishment has now lurched hard to the right, following the trajectory of the Tea Party. Ryan was the choice of the libertarians on the Wall St. Journal editorial board and the neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard. These people are profoundly out of touch with the center of the country.

5. I love it. Ryan is smart, honorable and decent. This opens the door for a big, exciting campaign of ideas where the public gets to choose between competing philosophies. We get to see how popular Tea Party/Libertarian conservatism really is in this country. It should be very enlightening…