This morning, Mitt Romney named Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan his Vice Presidential nominee. You might remember Ryan as the star of the feature film “Push Wheelchair Granny off a Cliff”, the subject of one of the most embarrassing Presidential rants of all time, and the guy whose budget plan got as many Democrat votes in one year (zero) as Barack Obama’s have gotten in two. In the real world, Ryan is not a mustachioed villain nor do his ideas involve harvesting the organs of the elderly for use as replacement parts for the clone army the Koch Brothers are growing even now in vast underground chambers. He is a regular guy with a regular family and a handful of ideas that, before Barack Obama and his horde of screaming radicals hit the political scene, would have been applauded as moderate “middle way” solutions and would have gained wide bipartisan support. In reality, he is an idea guy whose career has involved far more policy than politics. He reminds me a lot of Newt Gingrich in the year or two before Gingrich launched his Revolution that overturned a generation of Democratic House rule and revitalized the Republican party for a decade save that Ryan is more photogenic and less brash.
However, Paul Ryan is not the fiscal conservative Messiah. His plan, according to the CBO, takes about 17 years to balance the budget and about 10 to bring federal revenues back up near their historical average as a percentage of GDP. The Ryan plan is oriented toward a larger private sector and smaller government, but it gets there slowly. Meanwhile, the debt will continue to rise and its stultifying effects will continue to drag each of us down. You can argue that we simply can not get a more ambitious plan through Congress and I’ll grant that point. However, the Republican Party has an annoying habit of setting a moderate plan like Ryan’s as its “dream offer” when it negotiates with Democrats which means that once the give and take is done, we end up with a plan that’s more liberal and extreme, that spends more money we don’t have, that ignores the coming Medicare and Social Security implosions, and that further smothers what little economic recovery we’ve tried to start out here beyond the Beltway. You can bet that the President will paint Paul Ryan’s plan, as meek as it is, as extremist and cruel to senior citizens and little helpless puppies and kitties. Mitt Romney will have to resist the urge to give in on any point of the plan for the next three months — something I seriously doubt he’ll be able to do , based on his entire political history.
Further, Ryan’s record is, well, troublesome. We know him now at the Champion of Balanced Budgets and Entitlement Reform, but just a couple years ago, he was one of the Big Government Gang. He voted for No Child Left Behind, TARP, the auto bailouts, the Medicare Prescription Plan, and virtually every other budget-exploding, leviathan-building program George W. Bush and the GOP leadership wanted. I guarantee you, the Obama team is already setting up those pins so they can knock them down one by one in bruising campaign ads. Ryan will need a better explanation than “Well, it was a different time back then”, and explanation that points every finger back at Barack Obama and his policies. He’ll also need an explanation for why America should trust a guy from an institution America hates as much as it hates toenail fungus and guys who mow their lawns at 4 AM. The House of Representatives is as widely despised across the country, for good reasons, and Ryan will need to give the nation counter reasons for why he’s one of the guys they should like and not one of the ones who made the House the fetid swamp of influence-trading and duplicity it is today.
That said, Ryan has already proved he can get under the President’s skin and, once there, can poke and poke and poke and poke and poke and poke until the President goes off again. I can’t recall another Republican who has gotten the spittle-flecked rant Ryan has gotten out of him, and his responses to Obama’s attacks have always been pointed yet polite. Ryan knows how to joust with Barack Obama and win. More importantly, he knows how to goad the President into betraying the myth that he is an even-tempered and moderate statesman without coming across as acerbic himself. That’s a valuable skill to have inside the Romney campaign and I’d hope he can teach Mitt and a few of the campaign’s surrogates how to do what he’s done very well. I believe the election will turn on how well Romney and crew can turn Barack Obama into a blithering train-wreck. He’s already started — the desperate attacks we’ve seen over the past month are the first sign the campaign had fired all its good ammunition — but he’ll need to bounce those attacks (note: he hasn’t) and counter-punch with all the power and relentlessness of a demon-possessed trip hammer. The only relevant issue in this election, from where I sit, is the very real, very deep damage Barack Obama’s progressive policies have done to our nation. The Romney campaign will be very tempted to drop back and defend it and Ryan’s plan. That is exactly the wrong move. The campaign should push forward, from today all the way to Election Day. As meek as Ryan’s plans are — and there is no doubt they are only the first step toward responsible government — they are far better than anything Barack Obama has passed or proposed. It is, as the President is wont to say, just math.
UPDATE: As I think of it, I know how I’d present the Romney/Ryan team. One of the inevitable knocks on Ryan is that he’s spent his adult life in and around politics just like President Obama and Vice President Biden. It’s a fair point and one of the reasons I didn’t like him for the VP spot (for the record, I thought Governor Bobby Jindal was a better choice, but the pick wasn’t about what I wanted but what Mitt Romney wanted), but as a “wonk”, it’s a bit more difficult to paint him as a career bureaucrat (hey, now there’s a useful phrase!). So here’s the “frame”:
Mitt Romney has spent most of his life in the marvelous American private sector, creating better lives for his family and countless thousands of others and creating millions of dollars of wealth that Washington had squandered through foolishness and corruption. Paul Ryan has spent most of his life in the public sector, looking for ways to make government more responsible to all of us so that we have better control over how the fruits of our labors are spent. Together Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan make the perfect blend of private and public experience. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are life-long politicians whose only concern has been for how they will use their power to feather their nests and draw more power to themselves and away from you. The choice in November is pretty simple. You can choose a pair of career bureaucrats who have worked their whole lives to make the bureaucracy stronger for their own benefits. On the other hand, we offer you something much different — a pair of men who have come to Washington to get government off your back as quickly as they can so they can go back home to their families and the lives they built away from the leviathan.
Okay, I admit I pushed things a bit at the end. Romney and Ryan both strikes me as guys who would be quite content as career politicians, but I believe each of them could get out of politics tomorrow and have something substantial to which they’d return. Neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden have that, and that’s the real advantage of a Romney/Ryan ticket. That, I believe, is what they ought to stress.
UPDATE 2: Real, live reporting, with bonus Dreaminess, from Stacy McCain.
Category: The 2012 Horse Race