Whether or not you like Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan to be his running mate – and both conservatives and Democrats seem delighted by the pick – it figures to be the defining event of this year’s campaign for President. If Romney wins, Ryan will not only get much of the credit from objective observers, but add to his deification by the right wing. Should Romney lose against an incumbent saddled with a poor economy, Ryan’s conservative ideology will be a major factor. This all changes, of course, if there is a major disaster in the economy or in international events.
There has been some comparison of this pick with the John McCain “Hail Mary pass” in selecting Sarah Palin. While I agree that Romney would not have picked Ryan if his substance-free campaign of running as “I’m not Obama” showed signs of being successful, Ryan undoubtedly reads newspapers and is not afraid to mix it up with those who disagree with him. He will likely agree to regular interviews with members of the media not employed by Fox “News,” unlike either Palin or Romney.
I am having a difficult time in seeing this as a good pick, however. This is the Ryan of the Ryan Budget that would gut the Medicare program in order to reduce the deficit, but then give the savings as tax breaks to the rich. While Romney has already said his budget as President would be the Romney budget, not the Ryan budget, he has offered almost no details on what he would propose, offering the rather dubious – even if accurate – rationale that his proposals would be criticized. Ryan actually has a written document that was passed by the Republican House of Representatives that will be a bottomless well of opportunity for criticism by the Obama campaign. Additionally, he lacks any sort of foreign policy or national security credentials that would counterbalance the lack of same by the head of the ticket. Romney, you may have noticed, did not exactly burnish his diplomatic credentials by his recent trip to England, Israel and Poland.
A word that will be heard often over the next few days will be “unthreatening.” As in, the victims of his budget slashing will be lulled into complacency by Ryan’s unthreatening appearance. Yes, he is an attractive guy with a nice smile who also has an actual personality and charisma, but will that be sufficient to convince people they should give up Medicare, particularly when this same duo pledges to repeal the Obama health reform law? Ryan’s personal appeal will also be put to the test since the standard role for the VP nominee is to play the bad cop to the Presidential nominee’s good cop. It may be hard to believe that this campaign can get any nastier, but if Ryan steps into that standard role, his charm may not be sufficient to save his good guy image.
So Romney has taken a decisive step to lock up the conservative vote in November – a constituency that wasn’t going with Obama in any event. Had he selected the anticipated “boring white guy” – or, should we say “another boring white guy” – he may have had the ability to move closer to the center. The Ryan selection makes that all but impossible now. We will instead have a real choice between the visions of the respective party’s for the future of our country.