What Ryan Brings
by Jonathan Rosenblum
August 22, 2012
In the week immediately preceding Mitt Romney's choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running-mate, Romney's poll numbers were on straight decline. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, he trailed President Obama by over four points, and the numbers in many of the battleground states were even worse.
At one level, the decline in daily tracking pools was inexplicable. No new economic date suddenly appeared to suggest significant economic recovery. Romney's alleged gaffes on his foreign tour were over a week behind him, and the tens of millions of dollars in attack ads against Romney the preceding month had failed to make much of a dent in the race. So what was taking place to drive Romney's numbers down?
For one thing, the Romney campaign seemed to have lost a bit of its mojo. When one of the political action committees aiding Obama effectively accused Romney of causing the cancer death of the wife of an employee at a company closed by Bain Capital, after Mr. Romney's departure from the firm, the candidate and surrogates did not respond with sufficient righteous indignation to the new level of sliminess and wipe the President's campaign's nose in its complicity. (Campaign spokesman Stephanie Cutter was on record conducting a telephone briefing with reporters on the "story" months before.) Worse, a Romney spokeswoman opined that under the Romneycare in Massachusetts – the very last thing of which Romney wants to remind voters – the unfortunate woman in question would have had coverage. Nor did Romney respond to the continual demand for more tax returns by wondering why the media had never shown the slightest eagerness for candidate Obama's transcripts or been much given to wondering why he is so eager that they remain secret.
More important, the numbers made it clear that simply reminding people of the miserable state in which the United States economy finds itself at the end of Obama's term in office will not be sufficient, and that Romney was failing to convince enough swing voters that he has a credible plan for improving the situation. Promising to create 12,000,000 jobs in his first term in office did not help to establish his seriousness.
ROMNEY'S situation, however, was far from critical. Obama has nothing positive to sell for his three years plus in office, and the exclusively negative campaign he is running only serves to emphasize that. The numbers – both those concerning the economy and voter approval of Obama's polices – do not augur well for an incumbent president.
Morever, Romney could count on enough of a bump from the upcoming Republican convention to greatly narrow the gap between him and the president. At the convention, he will be able to share with the nation his own personal narrative in a way that he has not done so far, and help mute the attacks on him as an out-of-touch member of upper crust. He is not lacking enough elements in his life story to refute the image of someone who cares only about money, including a history of public service and private charity. Most compelling will be the story of how he shut down Bain Capital for a week to devote the energies of every member of the firm to the search for a colleague's missing daughter – an effort that likely resulted in saving the girl's life.
SO THE CHOICE OF PAUL RYAN as a running-mate, while perhaps more out-of-the-box than expected of the button-down Romney, does not appear to have been the type of desperate move made by John McCain in 2008 with the pick of unknown Alaska governor Sarah Palin. And that conclusion is buttressed by the fact that the choice of Ryan was apparently consummated on August 1, prior to the start of Romney's slide in the polls. As a number of commentators noted, Ryan is precisely the sort of bright, energetic young man that Romney in his career at the head of Bane Capital would have been eager to hire.
He brings a great deal to the campaign that should serve Romney well. From the moment of Romney announced the choice of Ryan, he seemed energized in a manner not seen before. And that can only be to the good, since ultimately voters will vote for president based on the man at the top of the ticket.
Ryan's selection refutes the charge that Romney has no ideas, and is running exclusively on his resume as a successful business executive and savior of the Salt Lake City Olympics. Ryan has been the intellectual leader of the congressional Republicans for years, and it his budget proposals around which the House Republican caucus has coalesced.
The Romney-Ryan ticket ensures that the election will be about the single most important issue facing the United States – i.e., the budget deficit -- and that Republicans have effectively followed Indiana Governor Mitch Daniel's sane advice to declare a truce on social issues. The most divisive social issues – almost all of which favor the Democrats – are largely beyond the purview of the federal government. Neither Romney nor Ryan is a fire-breathing social conservative, and that will help keep voters from being distracted by irrelevant issues.
On the budget issue, Ryan has been described by figures on both the Left and Right as the only adult in the room. There is a clip sure to appear in Republican campaign ads of Erskine Bowles, former Clinton Chief of Staff and co-chairman of President Obama's Debt Reduction commission, speaking at the University of North Carolina. Bowles extols the seriousness of Ryan's budgetary proposals and compares them, mockingly, to the President's last budget, which was rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate 97-0.
The Obama campaign is putting out the message that they are licking their chops over the chance to tie Romney to Ryan's "radical" proposals for the revision of Medicare. I somehow doubt that is true. First, Ryan will eviscerate Joe Biden in the vice-presidential debate, just as he outshone the President himself in a White House conference on health care reform. He knows the numbers, and he knows how to debate them calmly.
Second, it will not be so easy to demagogue Ryan's proposals as "pushing grandma over the cliff in a wheelchair." For one thing, the Ryan proposal bears the imprimatur of liberal Oregon Senator Ron Wyden as well. In addition, any debate over Medicare exposes Obama's greatest vulnerability on Obamacare. To pay for Obamacare, Congress had to take 700 million dollars from the Medicare Trust Fund. The impact will be felt immediately in lower Medicare reimbursement rates. Lower rates will result in fewer doctors willing to take Medicare patients, and thus an immediate drop in the quality of medical service for the elderly. That flight of doctors will only be exacerbated by the board of bureaucrats established under Obamacare to determine the services available and the level of reimbursements under Medicare. Finally, the Ryan-Wyden plan introduces no major changes for those who have already reached 55, which should lessen the ability to terrorize seniors.
As Ryan will explain clearly, the choice is not between continuing with Social Security and Medicare as we know it and his proposed alternatives: If the entitlement programs are not dramatically reshaped, there will be nothing left for younger workers currently paying into the programs for the benefit of seniors when they reach retirement age. Ryan's proposals are not written in stone – nor should they be; there are plenty of liberal as well as conservative policy wonks who should weigh in. But the conversation must start immediately, and the President has been in deep avoidance on the deficit issue.
At 42 – nine years younger than our young President – Ryan is well-suited to make the crucial generational argument. Though younger voters tend to be the most liberal, he can make the case as forcefully as possible that they will be the primary victims of just continuing with the present entitlement programs. The young are most affected by a stagnant economy and low job creation, and they are beginning to recognize that.
Only half a generation older than younger voters, Ryan will have credibility as he discusses the steps needed to reverse the current stagnation. His Reaganesque optimism about the potential of America to change and confront the needs of the future by encouraging the individual creativity of an entrepreneurial free society contrasts well to the general doldrums in which a large number of twenty and thirty-year olds currently live.
Perhaps the majority of Americans are not yet prepared to understand that the rules of arithmetic still apply, and that they can't have everything from the government that they have come to expect since the New Deal, without facing permanent stagnation and disaster relatively soon down the road. But if they cannot wrap their heads around that, they deserve their fate. That's the nice thing about democracy.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics
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