August 25, 2012
If American elections made sense, the selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential candidate would be universally regarded as about as foolish a move as the selection of Sarah Palin four years ago. By no stretch of logic can any reasonable analyst justify the choice.
Mitt Romney is so bland and clunky a candidate that for a long while we all have had a tough time figuring him out. He has been running around crying out that he is a rip-snorting genuine extreme conservative, but it was hard to take him at his word. It all sounded like election hooey. After all, he was a somewhat decent governor of Massachusetts who gave us Romneycare the model for Obamacare. A lot of people felt that once elected he would revert to his innate blandness. They also probably felt that his innate blandness might even turn into innate goodness.
The embrace of Ryan changes all that. There is no ambiguity about Ryan. He has set down his beliefs in a proposed budget so harsh to the poor that it upset American Catholic bishops. He would cut taxes to enrich the rich while reducing many of the federal programs that support the poor. The poor need lectures on self-reliance in his view far more than they need a safety net.
Even more toxic, Ryan has frightened the elderly and many Republican colleagues by proposing that newcomers to Medicare receive a voucher to buy their own health insurance. He also has revived the old Republican idea of workers playing the stock market with some of their Social Security taxes.
Ryan also alienates women with some of his extreme anti-abortion proposals. A Catholic, Ryan does not upset the bishops on this score. He has even endorsed legislation defining conception as the start of life, a law that would turn legal abortion into criminal murder.
The selection of Ryan also puts an end to whatever soul searching was going on in the Republican Party about the role of the Tea Party. Although some Republicans have urged their leaders to squelch the Know Nothing crazies, the leaders have chosen instead to try to embrace them — an enormous error. The crazies have been ousting the establishment in primary after primary.
Republicans look on Ryan as their ideological intellectual. He is not an original Tea Party man, but he has become its idol and mentor in Congress. Ryan gives the Know Nothings intellectual cover. With his selection as vice presidential candidate, the battle is over. The crazies, if Romney wins, will have their man in the White House. Romney had already endorsed Ryan and his ideas, but there were still doubts that did not disappear until Romney elevated Ryan to the ticket.
Although the choice of Ryan has little or no objective logic, Republicans did have some kind of rationale in anointing him, and I suspect three elements powered their thinking. The first is what all the political pundits call the need to “energize the base.” By that they mean the need to whip up enough excitement among apathetic Republicans so that they crowd rallies, cheer incessantly, sign up for volunteer work, donate funds, persuade others to do the same, and finally remember, when the time comes, to cast a ballot. Ryan, the intellectual hero to Tea Partyites, is already doing a first-rate job at this. But there must be a way to energize allies without antagonizing others. After all, no vice presidential candidate ever energized a base with more gusto than Sarah Palin and none ever cost a presidential candidate as many lost votes.
Second, ideologues now dominate the Republican party, and ideologues are true believers. Its difficult for them to see weaknesses in their theories. Romney probably felt that Ryan’s ideas would not cause any problem once the Republicans explained them.
Finally, I am sure that the Republicans felt, as a fallback, they could obscure any Ryan idea that they somehow failed to explain away. They would simply insist that Ryan had not proposed what everyone says he proposed. You could see some of this at work in the week after the selection of Ryan. This tactic comes out of an abiding Republican faith in the ignorance and gullibility of the American voter. It has worked before. Voters, after all, would mainly vote Democratic if they voted only what logic and their interests dictated. It would be awful and dangerous if the tactic worked once again.
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