Mitt Romney has now announced his selection of a running mate for the November election, and for a few days then the focus of campaign rhetoric will turn to that nominee's background and views. While many other issues will be potential areas of interest, the intent of the Romney campaign has generally been to keep the focus on Obama and his performance on the economy, a referendum on the Obama presidency. The selection of Ryan, however much it aims a focus on the economy, also moves the question away from a referendum on Obama to a "choice" election between radically different views of America's future. And not just on the economy.
Ryan is a straight Tea Party conservative with a strong record of social conservatism as well. He is the personification of all the "wings" of the Republican party except "moderate". Fervently anti-abortion; pro-gun to the point of backing a reduction in the purchase waiting period to 24 hours; on record against ending the war in Afghanistan; anti the auto industry and bank bailouts; anti-the Obama stimulus; against tax increases on the wealthy.
His budget proposal, however, is the centerpiece of his intellectual leadership of the Tea Party movement. Adopted by the Republican House of Representatives, it cuts student loans, food stamps and many other social safety-net programs severely to pay down the deficit and fund tax decreases on business and the wealthy, but most significantly shifts Medicaid to the states entirely and privatizes Medicare. It is, in short, the American version of European austerity. The Democrats will surely ask, "How's that working out for Europe?" On economic policy, the Obama campaign will seek to define Ryan as the third Koch brother.
Democrats have been dreaming of running against his prescription for Medicare with vouchers subject to the whims of the private insurance market (post ObamaCare repeal). The adage "be careful what you wish for" does come to mind, because Ryan is a talented and respected advocate for a consistent point of view. He adds likability to the Romney ticket. That said, he does represent an opportunity for Democrats to not only shift the focus away from an Obama referendum, but also to rally a campaign to save their senate majority and even challenge to re-take the House: however much Ryan excites the Republican "base", his selection is also likely to galvanize and even revitalize the Democratic base as well.
Despite Democrats' historic ties to senior citizens through Social Security and Medicare and ObamaCare's closing of the prescription drug "donut hole" expense for seniors, Obama himself has always trailed among this demographic -- possibly because older citizen's have had a harder time accepting a black president -- so his campaign would relish the opportunity to force Romney to defend this gifted turf in states like Florida as well as North Carolina and Colorado and Nevada -- all three also have a lot of retirees. Ryan's selection guarantees a strong focus on budgetary issues in the campaign; but it could drift into a too-intellectualized dialog over the heads of the average voter (well within Obama's comfort zone). Politics is ultimately about compromise; campaigns based on pure intellectual consistency often fail.
Ryan's selection also poses some tough questions for those Catholic bishops that have hitched their wagon to the Republican Party's anti-abortion and increasingly anti-contraception and in-vitro fertilization stance. The Bishops Conference has raised serious moral questions about the Ryan budget plan as adopted by the House. The guess here is that the "official" Church will guide toward the right-to-life tack and soft-pedal the "relative" choices of social justice policy, but the fissure on the morality of gutting food stamps for the poor to fund tax cuts for the rich will give some fervent Catholics a reason to consider supporting the democrats or just not voting.
The choice of Ryan is not particularly helpful to Romney with women, but he does not come off as particularly threatening or caustic -- he is not Rush Limbaugh; and he is no Sarah Palin either. Make no mistake, however, the main focus of the Democrats will be on Ryan's Medicare proposals and what they will call his "survival of the fittest" view of society. The question of "who's pulling the plug on Grandma," used so effectively by Republicans in the 2010 Congressional election campaigns against ObamaCare, will now been turned on them thanks to Romney's choice of Ryan.
The Tea Party has its man, and the debate it wants with Obama and Biden -- but again, "be careful what you wish for".
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