Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Some perspective on the Ryan pick

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan adds substance to the campaign.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan waving to supporters during a campaign event in Waukesha, Wis., on Sunday.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

I was traveling with my family last week so forgive me for abandoning my post when Mitt Romney chose his running mate.

Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University — a “leading authority on the vice presidency,” according to a recent (and very funny) profile in the New York Times — shared his take, which puts the pick into mostly historical context. From Goldstein’s email to me:

The pick is both conventional and distinctive.

It’s conventional in that it follows the pattern of so-called moderate Republicans reaching right for their running mates (Bush-Quayle, Dole-Kemp, McCain-Palin) and of Governors of picking insiders as they have since 1952.  It’s distinctive in that Gov. Romney now owns the Ryan plan and will be associated with it.  It’s also distinctive in that there’s no national security credential on the ticket and in the selection of a House member. Candidates in a strong position don’t choose members of the House in modern times.

Article continues after advertisement

The choice suggests that Romney perceives that he has an uphill race and that he needs to energize the base and inject some energy into his campaign by making a generational move.  Bush tried that in 1988 without success. He won, but not because he chose Dan Quayle.  Ryan, like Quayle, is the first member of his generation to be on a national ticket.

The next few weeks should present an effort to define Rep. Ryan, and the Democrats will try to define Gov. Romney by Rep. Ryan.  How will his plan play in Florida with seniors?

Here’s  my personal reaction: I like the Ryan pick because it will inevitably (already has) increase the substance of the campaign. Before last week, I was growing increasingly horrified by Romney’s effort to run for president without taking substantive positions.

Republicans want to present themselves as avatars of “freedom,” “less government,” “lower taxes” and “traditional values.” But these focus-group-tested slogans don’t really tell us what we need to know. Thinking voters need to know how the government will shrink, whose taxes will go down, and what impact the tradeoff of those changes will have on the debt/deficit picture.

Even the Paul Ryan budget plan doesn’t tell us everything we need to know. But it goes very far down the path of substance. Take Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program. I wish Democrats would drop the vague, scary “end Medicare as we know it” mantra. This is a proposal that can be grasped. I do not favor it, but it would accomplish one big thing, which is to cap the federal government’s expenditures on a program that, if allowed to continue growing at at its recent rate, would devour the budget. (Unfortunately, after a certain amount of blowback against his proposal, Ryan himself chickened out and suggested that any seniors who wanted to stick with “Medicare as we know it” should have that option. This is a big step toward taking back the whole proposal.)

And Romney, who previously endorsed the Ryan budget, now says no one should assume that the Romney budget will be the Ryan budget, but that he will have his own plan. Until he puts that plan, with much more specificity than  heretofore, on the table, he should continue to be pounded for details.