The Ryan Pick: Politics as Unusual
Now that we know who Sheldon Adelson – sorry, I mean Mitt Romney – has picked as the Republican vice presidential nominee, we can examine both the political and policy ramifications on the 2012 presidential campaign.
That was an admittedly snide reference to Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands billionaire, picking Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. But he must have, because Ryan does nothing to help Romney win in November. The voters who love Paul Ryan, and there are many, are the voters who already hate our president and would have never voted for him. Ryan will not help in any of the so-called swing states (Obama carried Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008 – it may be closer now, but the Democrats will still carry it). Other choices, such as Portman in Ohio and Rubio in Florida, may have helped more. And let us assume that the choice had nothing to do with helping Romney win, but was about who is “ready” for the vice presidency. Honestly, there are many others more qualified than Ryan.
So why Ryan?
Paul Ryan is beloved by the far right for his bold and, as we shall see, entitlement-busting budget plan. And it is simply undeniable that the Romney campaign has been financed by those on the far right, and the ultra-conservative, super-rich, such as Mr. Adelson. The Super PACs that they finance have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting Romney. And they, always distrustful of Mr. Romney as a “true” conservative, or, for that matter, a “true” anything, have repeatedly demanded that he prove his conservatism by firmly avowing all of their positions and just as firmly disavowing many of his own long-held beliefs. They love Ryan; they worship the “Ryan budget.” They openly campaigned for Ryan as the VP choice. And they got him. Did they threaten to withhold millions of dollars if they did not get what they wanted? They didn’t have to.
Which leads us to the conclusion that Rep. Ryan was the choice of Romney’s super-rich, super-right, big-money donors.
Romney is a smart guy. One reason I have never feared a Romney presidency, though I now support President Obama more than ever, was the fact that Romney has always seemed a practical, end-result, get-it-done kind of guy. Yes, that has led him to say and do whatever it took to get the nomination, but he got it. And I presumed that if he ever became president, he would govern much as he did in Massachusetts – as a moderate, effective, caring executive. After all, that is his history.
Forget this latest campaign, and forgive him his pandering to win. When he did have something to run, such as the Olympics, or Massachusetts, he ran it well. I respected his practicality, his ability to succeed. But now, instead of choosing a more qualified running mate, or one who might actually help him win in November, he has chosen the darling of the far right. He has chosen a candidate who wants to end Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as we know them. Those programs certainly need revamping, but the majority of Americans do not want to see them go away or be decimated, as the Ryan proposals would do.
So my question is: What happened to being cold and calculating, Mr. Romney? Couldn’t you tell your big donors that, first and foremost, you want to win?
Now it should be said that no VP pick was likely to be a game-changer anyway. The last time the second slot on the national ticket made a positive difference was 52 years ago when Lyndon Johnson made JFK president by carrying Texas and helping in other Southern states. But the selection of a vice president should not be a negative (note to John McCain: sorry for not giving you this advice sooner). Ryan will ultimately be a negative because he is, courageously enough, seen as too draconian. For instance, he wants to virtually end Medicare as a federal program and, instead, give money to the states to dole out to seniors so that they can buy medical insurance. How many seniors do you know who like that idea? How many seniors in New Jersey, for example, would want Chris Christie in charge of their health? That is a scary thought.
Of course, many voters across the country are thrilled with the Ryan pick. They are best described as the Tea Party folks. They believe that government is the problem – not just big government, but any government. They are the states’-righters, the pro-lifers, the “leave me and my assault weapon alone” crowd. They believe that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are socialistic programs robbing from the rich to pay for the poor and the lazy. And they were voting for Romney anyway.
So let us for a second give Adelson, I mean Romney, the benefit of the doubt and say it was not a political pick at all, but a pick based on policy and qualifications.
First of all, one rule of politics is to never make your opponent’s job easier. That could best be described as: don’t say anything stupid (e.g. “I like firing people”); don’t seem out of touch (e.g. “I’ll bet you $10,000”); and it is OK to be rich, just don’t flaunt it (e.g. “my wife has several Cadillacs” and “some of my best friends own NASCAR teams”) and, of course, do not tie yourself to someone your opponent has been desperately trying to tie you to (e.g. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan).
The Obama re-election campaign has been trying to link Romney to Ryan all year. The Ryan budget is that unpopular! And even though Romney has publicly embraced “parts” of the Ryan budget, making the public think “Ryan budget” when they think “Romney presidency” has been near impossible. Romney has skillfully avoided making the Ryan budget plan central to his campaign.
Now he owns it.
Two things are undeniable about the Ryan budget proposal:
1. He deserves credit for putting forth specific, concrete, deficit-reduction ideas. His budget is bold and dynamic and would certainly reduce the size of government and our national debt.
2. His budget would hurt the poor, the middle class, the elderly, union members, students, the sick and virtually anyone other than the wealthy (e.g. Mitt Romney, Sheldon Adelson – you get the point). Even the “Nuns on the Bus,” led by Sister Simone Campbell, have opposed the Ryan budget, calling it “immoral” and “unpatriotic.” When you get the nuns mad at you, you are really in trouble!
Once again, I do applaud Paul Ryan for the seriousness of his ideas. They are an excellent starting point for a discussion about where this country needs to go fiscally. For example, Ryan’s idea to help seniors buy medical insurance rather than receiving it through a government program might be a good place to start. Then you realize that if seniors had to buy their own medical insurance, no matter what “help” they got, they would be at a competitive disadvantage. So you talk, debate and compromise. You eventually get to the point where you know that you need to keep Medicare, but you also need to make it more affordable for the government. So you take on waste and medical malpractice and other factors that drive up costs.
Thank you, Rep. Ryan, for the starting point.
The only problem with the Ryan budget is that he, and his believers, do not look at it as a starting point but as the uncompromising final solution. Ayn Rand would be proud.
The nice thing is, as long as Paul Ryan is in Congress, he can prompt discussion with his bold ideas. As the vice presidential pick, he and Romney can only defend the indefensible: a budget that hurts the vast majority of Americans. Even Newt Gingrich once called the Ryan budget “right-wing social engineering,” before apologizing at the behest of, guess who, big-money donors.
But the Romney money men are very happy with his pick. So we can expect the money to keep coming in to the Republican nominee. No one ever said Romney did not know how to keep the money coming in.
I give Romney a lot of credit, though. He has done what few politicians can do. He has made a lot of people happy. The Romney supporters love the Ryan pick.
So do the Obama supporters.
John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars is a retired business executive and former political candidate.