What do you think of Paul Ryan as the VP pick? My insta-reaction is that of the choices available, this is probably the best Romney could have done … but Romney is so soporific he could have named Zombie Amy Winehouse to the ticket and I still would have said, “Meh.” But that’s me.
Strikes me as a bold and creative pick, for the reasons Jonah Goldberg cites, especially:
This helps Romney communicate that this is a new Republican party, insofar as Ryan is not only young and energetic, but he is eager to criticize the old status quo of both parties.
To a point, perhaps. On foreign policy, well, let’s just say he’s not going to do anything for Daniel Larison, that’s for sure. Hostile towards Russia, pro-American exceptionalism, neocon and humanitarian vs. tradcon and realist, etc. Standard GOP status quo stuff. These guys haven’t learned a thing from Iraq.
But this election is not going to be fought over foreign policy or social concerns, but over the economy. There is no figure on the Right with more credibility regarding America’s fiscal challenges. From Ryan Lizza’s profile of him:
Ryan won his seat in 1998, at the age of twenty-eight. Like many young conservatives, he is embarrassed by the Bush years. At the time, as a junior member with little clout, Ryan was a reliable Republican vote for policies that were key in causing enormous federal budget deficits: sweeping tax cuts, a costly prescription-drug entitlement for Medicare, two wars, the multibillion-dollar bank-bailout legislation known asTARP. In all, five trillion dollars was added to the national debt. In 2006 and 2008, many of Ryan’s older Republican colleagues were thrown out of office as a result of lobbying scandals and overspending. Ryan told me recently that, as a fiscal conservative, he was “miserable during the last majority” and is determined “to do everything I can to make sure I don’t feel that misery again.”
In 2009, Ryan was striving to reintroduce himself as someone true to his ideological roots and capable of reversing his party’s reputation for fiscal profligacy. A generation of Republican leaders was gone. Ryan had already jumped ahead of more senior colleagues to become the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, and it was his job to pick apart Obama’s tax and spending plans. At the table in his office, Ryan pointed out the gimmicks that Presidents use to hide costs and conceal policy details. He deconstructed Obama’s early health-care proposal and attacked his climate-change plan. Obama’s budget “makes our tax code much less competitive,” he said, as if reading from a script. “It makes it harder for businesses to survive in the global economy, for people to save for their own retirement, and it grows our debt tremendously.” He added, “It just takes the poor trajectory our country’s fiscal state is on and exacerbates it.”
As much as he relished the battle against Obama—“European,” he repeated, with some gusto—his real fight was for the ideological identity of the Republican Party, and with colleagues who were content to simply criticize the White House. “If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose,” he told me. A fault line divided the older and more cautious Republican leaders from the younger, more ideological members. Ryan was, and remains, the leader of the attack-and-propose faction.
“I think you’re obligated to do that,” he said. “People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, ‘Just criticize and don’t do anything and let’s win by default.’ That’s ridiculous.” He said he was “moving ahead without them. They don’t want to produce alternatives? That’s not going to stop me from producing an alternative.”
His alternative is, by Washington standards, very bold. Ross Douthat wrote about it last year:
You do not have to like the long-term budget that Paul Ryan and the House Republicans have released this morning. There’s plenty in the plan for liberals to hate, moderates to doubt, and conservatives to question. But you do have to respect it. As my colleague David Brooks writes today, it is “the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes.” It puts flesh on the bones of the standard-issue conservative pledge to limit government’s growth, and it does so not with evasive pledges on process (like the risible idea of a balanced budget amendment) or dishonest suggestions that the deficit can be erased by defunding N.P.R. and slashing foreign aid, but by attacking entitlement spending deeply and directly. George W. Bush touched the third rail of American politics with his Social Security gambit, and lived to regret it. With their proposal to transform Medicare from an open-ended entitlement to a system that provides support for seniors’ premiums, Ryan and the Republicans are reaching out and grabbing it with both hands. In the process, they are being brutally honest with the American people, in ways that the Obama White House has repeatedly refused to be, about the scale of the deficit challenge and the scope of the reforms needed to address it.
As someone whose conservatism is mostly focused on culture, religion, and social issues, I have paid little attention to Paul Ryan’s fiscal policy proposals. That’s going to change now. I can say now, though, that I’m cheered that at least now there’s going to be a real and important distinction between Obama and Romney, and at least a starker choice this fall. Plus, even if Ryan’s proposal is bad (I don’t know enough about it to make a judgment at this point), at least he’s swinging for the fences on America’s long-term fiscal crisis, an issue that pols of both parties have been unwilling to face, precisely because there are no painless ways to deal with it.
So, on balance, a good pick for Romney, a man whose greatest liability is the sense people have that he doesn’t stand for anything. Love him or hate him, Ryan stands for something, and something bold. Plus, he is young, energetic, and unlike the last time an old, boring GOP presidential nominee picked a young guy to spice up the ticket, really sharp. Still, there is Charles Krauthammer’s doomy prophecy from last year for the Ryan plan:
Ryan’s overall plan tilts at every windmill imaginable, including corporate welfare and agricultural subsidies. The only thing left out is Social Security. Which proves only that Ryan is not completely suicidal.
But the blueprint is brave and profoundly forward-looking. It seeks nothing less than to adapt the currently unsustainable welfare state to the demographic realities of the 21st century. Will it survive the inevitable barrage of mindless, election-driven, 30-second attack ads (see above)? Alternate question: Does Obama have half of Ryan’s courage?
I think not (on both counts). But let’s hope so.
UPDATE: Ryan Lizza comments, pointing out the serious political problems with the Ryan pick, but concluding:
Romney’s choice of Ryan will undoubtedly be criticized as capitulation to the right, and this pick does seem to demonstrate that Romney is not able or willing to distance himself from the base of his party. But the good thing about the Ryan pick is that the Presidential campaign will instantly turn into a very clear choice between two distinct ideologies that genuinely reflect the core beliefs of the two parties. And in that sense, Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan is good news for voters.