Paul Ryan

>> Monday, August 13, 2012

Was I too flippant?

Everyone is still chattering about Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate, notwithstanding Romney's weird effort to bury the news with a weekend release. Lots of folks seem to be talking about what this means from a policy perspective, which is a little odd insofar as the only Vice-President I can think of in living memory who had any active and notable policymaking role was Dick Cheney, and that was surely more a reflection of George W. Bush's administrative style ("delegate everything then delegate some more") than a reflection of any evolution of the Vice-Presidency into something other than a tie-breaking Senate vote and guardian of the space-time continuum (Paul Ryan presumably will offer Federal vouchers to anyone whose existence is threatened by tears in reality).

The thing is, the Vice-Presidency remains a largely pointless job (and yes, I'm taking into account the presiding over the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes part of the job). Sometime after split-ticket selection of the President and Vice-President ended in 1804, parties simply chose Vice-Presidential candidates who would buttress the Presidential candidates' hope of being elected. Consequently, it's pretty much been the norm (and again, Dick Cheney seems to be the most conspicuous recent exception) for Presidential candidates to pick a VP nominee who will get votes from a soft or swing state and/or who will appease or silence a disruptive faction at the convention, and then, if elected, effectively exile the VP from Washington by sending him abroad as an envoy or by giving him make-work on low-priority domestic issues.

In that context, then: I would contend that a Presidential candidate's selection of running mate tells you nothing about their prospective Presidency and everything about how they feel about the state of their campaign (again, allowing that Dick Cheney may be an exception insofar as he probably didn't bring G.W. Bush much on the electability front while presaging Bush's politically naïve tendency to place too much trust in proxies to whom he then gave insufficient oversight or review--Bush delegated Cheney to pick a Vice-Presidential nominee and then took his word for it with little or no examination when Cheney in turn recommended himself). What the selection means for tone or policy if the candidate is elected is little or nothing. (By way of illustration, ask yourself what stamp Vice-Presidents Nixon, Johnson and George Bush left upon the administrations they served under, even though all three were more experienced and arguably better-qualified politicians than the Presidents they served under.)

Here's what gets me about Romney's choice of Paul Ryan, then: the only real point in picking Ryan is that Paul Ryan is this golden boy among the supposedly smart and serious remnants of the Republican Party. The kind of guy George Will likes, for instance. Ryan's schtick is he has the hardnosed, did-his-math-homework, serious, policy-focused, ideologically sound budget proposals (never mind whether his math adds up or whether he's lying about destroying Medicare, etc.--not the point; the point is, the Republicans who care about being smart like saying he's smart, i.e. it's the perception we're interested in, not the reality).

And the problem with that is that that's the crowd Mitt Romney was supposed to have locked down already.

Why on Earth does the Romney campaign think they need to establish credibility with the crowd that already thinks Romney's Bain Capital experience makes supporting him a no-brainer? Wouldn't it have been more logical to pick someone like Marco Rubio, who could shore up Romney's support (1) with teabaggers, (2) with Hispanics and (3) in Florida?

Assuming, just for conversation's sake, that the Romney campaign possesses more competence than they've shown anywhere thus far on the road to Tampa, the Ryan choice only makes sense if they think the teabag crowd is going to fall in line (which isn't an unreasonable assumption--as much as many of them appear to dislike or distrust Romney, they hate Obama with the passion of Iago) and Romney's real danger is that the smart and responsible conservatives who were supposedly Romney's base are so disgruntled by Romney's erratic behavior and clumsy pandering they're going to stay at home in November, or worse.

In short, what I find most interesting about Romney's decision is just a tad smidgeon more than what Brother Seth finds interesting, though I think his call is mostly spot-on. I find it moderately interesting--and a little more amusing--that the Ryan choice seems a little desperate and flailing. All Vice-Presidential choices are a form of shameless pandering, regardless of party, but what's the point of shamelessly pandering to the crowd you already have an in with?

This isn't to say Romney is going to lose in November. Gods help us, I think he has a fairly good chance of winning, primarily because the American people are pretty much idiots who probably don't deserve any better. It's also a complicated, bullshit form of mathematics, thanks to Founding Fathers who loathed popular democracy: I will not be terribly astonished if President Obama ekes out a popular win and still loses the election; after all, winning by a landslide in New York and getting their twenty-nine electoral votes can be a wash if you then lose Florida and their twenty-nine electoral votes by half a percentage point. Obama won in '08 by a very healthy margin and he doesn't have to win every state he won in '08 to win reelection; problem is, he simply isn't going to win every state he won in '08, and while he can afford to lose one or two or four of them, he can't afford to lose all of them. At some point, the defectors basically New Mexico-and-Wisconsin him to death.


Anne C. Monday, August 13, 2012 at 12:24:00 PM EDT  

My theory is that Ryan's a pander to the teabaggers. Didn't his proposed budget gut social services to work towards balancing the budget?

Granted, they'll lose FL because of that...

Leanright,  Monday, August 13, 2012 at 12:27:00 PM EDT  

I believe Ryan is a solid choice, and I for one, cannot wait to see the battle of wits with nitwit Joe Biden in the VP debate. Romney made a far more thoughtful choice than McCain did in.

The country is a mess, the economy not what it should be, and the recovery is the worst post recession recovery since post great depression. Unemployment is still above 8%, and we are NOW 16 trillion dollars in debt. How anyone can think re-electing Barack Obama is a GOOD idea is beyond comprehension.

At least he closed Guantanamo Bay, right? no wait, that was the approval by Obama of $40 million to UPGRADE Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps he could authorize drone strikes on Cuba; we'll just take the whole damn island!

Eric Monday, August 13, 2012 at 1:51:00 PM EDT  

Well, Dave, at the moment it appears you're one of the few. But I guess we'll see what happens: I already mentioned, I won't be surprised if Romney squeaks through.

I also need to point out that your comment, "How anyone can think re-electing Barack Obama is a GOOD idea is beyond comprehension," is based on a false dilemma and really is an irrelevant question.

Full disclosure: I think the President has done as good a job as he could under the circumstances and I think he's largely been an able President with some positive accomplishments (e.g. the ACA, killing bin Laden) under his belt.


But let's say I didn't think Obama had done all that he could do. The fact is that my biggest issues with the Obama Presidency go to points where I don't think he's been liberal enough or where I think his good work is far from ideal work. While the ACA is a positive accomplishment--it gives a lot of people access to healthcare they wouldn't have otherwise and should bring medical costs down--I think a forced subsidy to private insurers is kind of a shitty idea and I still prefer a single-payer healthcare system. I have concerns with the drone war, though I don't see viable alternatives short of complete withdrawal (which I don't think is a practical alternative). I wish he'd taken more decisive steps to close Gitmo before Congress made it impossible for him to move inmates out and give them trials, but now he's stuck with the place. I'm not happy with the decisions he's made to extend or continue Bush-era domestic surveillance/security policies. The stimulus package was a bad idea--only insofar as it wasn't nearly large enough, and I'd prefer a hardcore Keynesian public investment strategy. Etc.

Romney promises to undo the work I didn't think went far enough and can be expected to continue or extend other efforts.

So even if I agreed with you, Dave, that nobody should think re-electing Obama is a good idea, I'd still be stuck with the fact that electing Romney is a worse idea. Your assertion implies a false dichotomy insofar as it doesn't follow that someone who thinks re-electing Obama is a bad idea ought to vote for Mitt Romney: sometimes the opposite of a bad idea is a worse idea. Furthermore, even if you're not to the left of Obama, so long as you aren't so far to his right that Romney looks like an attractive nominee on his own merit, there's potentially value in the "Devil You Know" axiom.

Anne C. Monday, August 13, 2012 at 2:43:00 PM EDT  

I like how people cite the unemployment rate are the same people who want to cut the deficit with budget cuts. I'm not saying there's any good way out of the dilemma, but as an indirect recipient of any stimulus money (my employer has federal contracts), I think it's funny that people who are asking the nation's largest employer (the US Gov't) to cut spending don't realize it will lead to massive layoffs and thereby increase unemployment. Who then will purchase the goods that all these esatz "job creators" are going to be allegedly making with their tax refunds?

Like I said - there's no easy way out and I have no answers, but I wish some would at least acknowledge the devastating effect their desired policies will have on the economy and their neighbors. This is no black and white situation and those who claim it is are simplifying things in order to pander to those who want there to be easy answers. There are not.


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