Saturday, August 11, 2012

Young Gun: Romney Picks Ryan

Young Gun:  Romney Picks Ryan

To no one’s great surprise, given the location aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin of this morning’s campaign event (not to mention the somewhat panicky urgings by the Republican Conservative Elite), Mitt Romney will announce Representative Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential pick in about half an hour.

Even the timing – an August Saturday morning, when the Olympics are still in progress – isn’t much of a surprise, considering Governor Romney’s recent drop in the polls and gaffetacular jaunt abroad.

For the Republican Presidential campaign, there are many upsides to this pick.  Ryan is young (42) but has about two decades of political experience, having gone to work on the Hill right after graduating from Miami University of Ohio with an economics and political science degree, then being elected to Congress in 1998.  Movement Conservatives – especially of the small-government variety – love him.  He’s a fierce advocate but not a Palinesque flame-thrower; his personal life is scandal-free; he was born to relative affluence but not great wealth, and he seems like a regular guy, comfortable on the campaign trail as well as in detail-driven policy debates.  The comfort factor really is important, as the famously uncomfortable Romney actually acts relatively relaxed around Ryan, probably because their relationship can be modeled on that the presidential candidate has with his five sons.

Not to be overlooked are Paul Ryan’s devotion to the Green Bay Packers and youthful attendance at Northern Wisconsin’s venerable  Camp Manito-wish (where a ton of my childhood friends spent parts of their summers).  These are good things, even to a natally cheese-headed Democrat like me.

Oh, yes . . . there’s also the issue of Ryan’s status as chief architect of the (notoriously unpopular) House Republican Budget, which would turn Medicare into a voucher system and slash funding to social safety-net programs.  In addition, Ryan was the brains behind President George W. Bush’s ill-fated attempt to privatize Social Security.  Ryan has the reputation as an extremely serious man, a ‘big vision’ strategic thinker, with concrete ideas about economic policy, ideas grounded in an extensive knowledge base as well as a clear small-government conservative ideology. 

By selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney is (to dip into the cliché jar) doubling down on the Ryan Budget and trying to turn the election back into what he wants it to be:  an election about the economy. 

Which is also the downside.

Targeting the Ryan Budget will be even easier with Ryan himself on the ticket.  No matter what the House ‘Young Guns’ (a group of which Ryan was a de facto leader) think, older voters – even conservative ones – are profoundly uneasy about turning Medicare on its head.  Although it’s possible that Representative Ryan can put Wisconsin in play and may have a positive effect in neighboring Midwestern states, it’s just as likely that he will have a negative effect in states with older voter populations, like Florida and Pennsylvania.  Fortunately or unfortunately, Ryan’s economic ideas – complex and well-thought-out as they may be – will be easy to turn into savage sound bites accusing Republicans of everything from Social Darwinism to Eldercide. 

The upshot may be that the election becomes a referendum on the Ryan (Ryan-Romney? Romneyan?) Budget rather than a referendum on President Obama’s economic leadership.  If that happens, the Republicans are very likely to lose.

Another possible downside is Paul Ryan’s record on issues apart from economic ones.  His record on the environment is very poor, including votes against endangered species habitat funding and environmental education grants, plus votes for barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. He has an ‘A’ rating from the NRA, a rating earned by yes votes on measures like decreasing the gun waiting period from 3 days to 1 day, banning the gun registration and trigger lock law in Washington DC, and prohibiting lawsuits against gunmakers and sellers for gun misuse.  Besides being against ‘Obamacare,’ Ryan has voted against expanding Children’s Health legislation and giving mental health equity with physical health. He’s voted against funding stem-cell research. He’s voted for terminating funding for National Public Radio. He’s voted against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes and yes to banning gay adoptions. He’s voted for erecting an anti-illegal-immigrant fence on the U.S./Mexico border. He’s voted in favor of making the Patriot Act permanent.

Most damaging, perhaps, to Republican hopes is Representative Ryan’s record on women’s health.  Republicans are not doing too well with women voters in general, and Ryan’s Congressional votes may make things worse.  Here’s a sampling:
--He co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act (that human life begins with fertilization)
--He co-sponsored Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, which targeted federal funding of Planned Parenthood
--He signed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act 
--He voted yes to ban Family Planning Funding in U.S. aid abroad
--He voted yes to prevent the transportation of minors across state lines to obtain abortions

There’s more, but I want for once to write about breaking news as it is actually breaking.  It will be interesting to see whether the young gun selected by Mitt Romney hits the intended targets (Conservatives still skeptical of Romney, Independents, Reagan Democrats) or fatally misfires. 

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