08/19/2012 10:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES : Reagan and Matalin Debate Ryan Rollout and Voter ID Laws and Preview the Republican National Convention

By Mark Green

Ron Reagan and Mary Matalin are at odds over two big topics: Is Paul Ryan "the boy next door" who excites the conservative base; an anti-Medicare, pro-1-percent winger who unifies the liberal base; or both? And is voter impersonation a unicorn that can't justify the undeniable disparate impact of voter ID laws on lower-income, elderly, minority Obama voters?

*On Ryan. How did Paul Ryan go from prom king and catfisherman to a buff libertarian who's an election and possibly a heartbeat away from the presidency? And how'd he do in his debut week?

We listen to his well-received opening talk in Norfolk, Va., in which he says our rights come from "God and nature" and condemns "the new normal" of 8-percent unemployment. Mary is personally thrilled with Romney's selection, citing Ryan's intellectual caliber, serious economic plans, and winning manner. "He provides a large contrast with the other side and challenges the caricature of Romney as not being bold," she says. ("Bold?" asks Stephen Colbert about the Ryan choice. "White, Christian, and male?")

Ron holds the polar opposite view, saying Ryan is a career beltway insider who postures as a deficit hawk but "voted for all the things that wrecked the budget, like TARP, two unfunded wars, and Medicare drug benefits." As for his record, "he's gotten two laws enacted in 13 years -- one naming a post office, and one on taxing hunting arrowheads, since he's an avid bowman."

I ask: Given that Romney's original strategy was to focus relentlessly on "Obama's failed economy," and given that the conservative base was already hyper-motivated against the president, why choose a Tea Party, cuts-only Number Two? Mary contends that the Romney camp always intended "to broaden the debate into a big contrast over the scope and cost of government," and that Ryan is no extremist, because he regularly carries a blue district in Wisconsin. "How's he out of the mainstream?" she asks.

Ron agrees that the election is now a clear choice "between Obama's moderate conservatism and the crony capitalism of Romney-Ryan." As for charges that Ryan is an extremist, Ron replies, "Opposing abortion in all cases, including rape and incest, is out of the mainstream right there." Ron also attacks Ryan's GOP response to the SOTU that Obama was "turning the safety net into a hammock ... of dependency," asking, "Is he talking about the elderly who need affordable health care but will instead get a voucher?"

This triggers a debate over Medicare and which side will destroy or save this popular program. Though both would trim it by over $700 billion in the next decade, Ron explains that: A) Obamacare requires cost savings from hospitals and providers, which are used both to cover more people and to provide added benefits to seniors; and B) Ryan would slash benefits to recipients and create a privatized voucher program in order to reduce the deficit and top tax rates.


Who will win this renewed debate, politically? Former DNC Chair Howard Dean tells ABC's This Week that "you just can't convince the public that the the Democratic Party that created Medicare is the one now trying to hurt it." How can the GOP convincingly attack Medicare for 50 years as "socialized medicine" yet now pose as its last-ditch defender against that lefty Obama?

Last: Will Ryan prove to be the "boy next door" or a "wolf in sheep's clothing" -- more Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater? Mary laughs how liberals always "emphasize image" ("That why Reagan was always on a horse and Bush cutting brush?" I wonder), while Ron scoffs that a "Dockers-clad guy with six-pack abs will move young voters," seeing a closer analogy to '64 than '80.

*On Voter ID Laws. While Fox News has created a "voter fraud election unit," critics like Rep. John Lewis and Attorney General Eric Holder call them the "new Jim Crow" for suppressing older black voters who disproportionately lack driver's licenses.

Mary observes that in her many campaigns, she's seen much voter fraud. She notes that this week, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson upheld the state's ID law. (It's now on appeal.) These laws are popular in poll after poll, she says, thanks to wide acceptance of the use of IDs to access planes and bars, and, she concludes, "there's no problem of access."

Ron bellows that perhaps she's forgotten "whose family I'm from," adding, "I've seen how Republicans had to confront a big problem: more and more people intending to vote Democratic. So they came up with every way to suppress turnout: ex-felon laws, purging voter lists, cops intimidating voters."

This issue looms largest in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Florida, and Ohio. In a bid to win the Katherine Harris Infamy Award of 2012, John Husted, the Buckeye Secretary of State, is overseeing a system where rural "red/McCain" counties will allow evening and weekend voting, but urban "blue/Obama" counties won't. Mary acknowledges that that sounds strange on the face of it but adds, "Ohio has had a history of voter fraud, and I trust those on the ground to best respond."

I chime in:

Like the 13th chime of a clock that raises doubts about everything before, in Churchill's metaphor, three events expose a simmering electoral crisis that could dwarf Florida 2000. First, Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania State GOP Senate leader, acknowledged to a group of donors last month that their voter ID law would "allow Governor Romney to win the state." Second, a study of 2,068 cases of alleged voter fraud found only 10 cases of voter impersonation since 2000, or less than the chance of getting hit by lightening. Third, the Republican state judge's ruling denied that voting was a "fundamental right" like free speech, which allowed him to uphold it based merely on "reasonable" arguments rather than the "compelling arguments" of a "strict scrutiny test." No one has a "right" to a drink or to drive or board a flight, but how can't the franchise, the hallmark of a democracy, not be a right?

Here are two ways out of this trap: If the concern is voter impersonation, require the voter to sign an affidavit swearing you're the voter, at risk of a criminal complaint and jail if untrue; or require the federal government to use its database to affirmatively send every citizen over 18 a valid ID card. Otherwise, what happens if we wake up on Nov. 7 and Obama has lost Pennsylvania or Florida or Ohio (and therefore the presidency) because several tens of thousands of eligible elderly black voters were tuned away since they lacked valid driver's licenses? What would that do to race relations, to the legitimacy of a new president, to the idea of America?

*Quick Takes: Women's Gold. Google Cars. Convention Preview. We laud Nixon's Title IX of 1973, which helped train young female athletes, who won twice as many medals in London as the U.S. men. But Mary emphasizes that this success was due to the female U.S. athletes' initiative ("We didn't win that!"), and that we should be wary of programs that endure and create preferential treatment.

Both Ron and Mary are skeptical of Google's road-tested driverless, sensor-laden cars. Our resident Luddites predict that either they won't become widespread or they will go the way of the Segway.

Last, Ron and Mary have been to 15 Republican National Conventions, collectively, and they think that this one could be a pivotal moment for the ill-defined Romney, because people don't really know him. Mary stresses that he needs to fill in the blanks, stick to that self-portrayal, and then contrast what he'd do as president with what Obama has done and will do. Ron observes that Romney has had several different personas and many different positions over the years. "Can he reinvent himself one more time?" he wonders.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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