By Ernest Corea
Governor Mitt Romney’s selection of long-serving Congressman Paul Ryan as the presumptive candidate for Vice President – technically, both have to be confirmed at the forthcoming Republican Party Convention – has perked up the party more than most recent events. Among the wider public, the reaction was not so ecstatic. Ryan was, for example, booed at his first post-selection outing on his own, in Iowa.
In June this year, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Ryan had a 17 percent favourable rating and a 27 percent unfavourable, with 5 percent never having heard of him. In a USA Today/Gallup poll taken immediately after he was named to the ticket, 39 percent assessed his selection as “excellent/pretty good” while 42 percent found the selection to be “only fair” or “poor.”
Distinguished author and broadcaster Bill Press writing in his book The Obama Hate Machine said of Ryan: “I don’t think Paul Ryan should be taken seriously.” That cannot happen, now that Romney has brought the klieg lights out for him. The media will smother him with coverage, and his favourability/unfavourability ratio could change, as Ryan throws himself ardently into the campaign. A bump for Romney in the next round of polls could follow.
Ryan, 42, was born, grew up and lives in Janesville, Wisconsin. He holds a BA in political science and economics. He is married to Janna Little, an attorney and former lobbyist. They have a daughter and two sons. He is a fitness enthusiast. Ryan has represented the first congressional district of Wisconsin without a break from 1999. He is currently Chair of the influential House Budget Committee.
In his congressional career, Ryan has been responsible for two items of legislation: one changed the name of a post office; the other amended the excise rates on arrows (as used for hunting). The Ryans are Catholics.
Reactions of the party’s faithful to Ryan’s choice are similar to those that greeted Senator McCain’s choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate in 2008. Party loyalists have, in effect, thrown down the welcome mat for Ryan with greater fervour than they did for Romney when he emerged as the winner in this year’s helter-skelter primaries.
The choice has been described as “bold” and “far-sighted.” Crowds at meetings held since the announcement was made have been somewhat larger and more energized than before. Romney himself looks somewhat more relaxed and confident than he did just a few days before.
Ryan has been described as a politician of both integrity and intellect. His supporters consider him a major asset to the Republican ticket with a great future ahead of him. His views are considered very close to those of the Tea Party element of the party’s right wing. From the “other side,” President Barack Obama’s closest adviser David Axelrod describes Ryan as a “certifiable right wing ideologue” and a “genial fellow whose views are harsh.”
The fact that Ryan is substantially more acceptable to the activist, far-right wing of the Republican Party and its supporters than Romney, is one of the plus points that Ryan brings to the ticket. Many Republican activists were convinced up to a day before the Ryan announcement that Romney was on his way to defeat in November. That perception is changing.
Republicans believe that he will place his home state in contention and make it “up for grabs” in the presidential election. Obama currently leads in all Wisconsin polls but Republicans hope that Ryan’s “local boy” advantage could help to narrow that margin and eventually flip the state to Romney, giving him three valuable Electoral College votes.
They are also relieved that he is “not Sarah Palin.” Ryan will not have a problem answering the question that flummoxed the former governor of Alaska: What do you read?
These and other “plus points” have already seen an upsurge of donations increasing the party’s substantial stash. Ryan is, in fact, known as a deft fund-raiser and the Romney campaign is expected to arrange several fund raising events at which he will be the central figure.
Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, in a letter to supporters claims that Ryan’s selection “…. means tens or even hundreds of millions more dollars for the Romney campaign and the array of outside groups supporting him – and if current trends hold, more than 90 percent of that money will be spent on TV ads – lying, distorting and trashing Barack Obama.”
Among Ryan’s weak spots is one that is critically important: his lack of foreign policy expertise or any sign that he has an intuitive “feel” for international relations.
The vice presidency has sometimes been derided for being, to borrow a phrase from former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, “all foam and no beer.” President Lyndon B. Johnson – who served as vice president, remember? – said of staffing arrangements for his own vice president, Hubert Humphrey: “all Hubert needs over there is a gal to answer the phone, and a pencil with an eraser on it.”
A vice president is, however, constitutionally mandated to assume presidential office if the position falls vacant as a result of unforeseen circumstances, ahead of the due date. Managing foreign policy would, of course, be a significant component of that responsibility.
Coming on top of Romney’s recent appalling foreign policy tour, which earned him the title of “Mitt the Twit” in London, and a charge of racism for his crude and offensive comment on Palestinian culture, Ryan’s inexperience on the foreign policy front could probably frighten thoughtful voters away from the Republican ticket.
In broad terms, however, Ryan’s greatest vulnerability could be his budget which seeks to alter Medicare, Medicaid, and social security arrangements beyond recognition, while providing tax breaks to the already wealthy.
“Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy,” said Messina.
The assumption that increased wealth for the already wealthy, through tax cuts for them, will provide a surplus of wealth that will seep downwards, providing jobs and other opportunities to the middle class and poor, is a reworking of that old chestnut, the “trickle down” theory. Western theorists have pressed the “trickle down” theory on developing countries over many years, thereby increasing poverty as well as aggravating income disparities.
Messina’s specific mention of the House of Representatives could not have been accidental. The Obama campaign would relish an opportunity to run against the Republican-controlled House, which is held in very low public esteem.
The Ryan budget has been adopted by the House of Representatives and pushed aside (for the present) in the Democratic-majority Senate.
Romney and his advisers appear to have realized what a problem the Ryan budget could be, because shortly after announcing the Ryan selection, Romney was at pains to say that he will formulate his own budget – thus attempting to place the Ryan version at arm’s length.
He cannot easily achieve that act of distancing, however, because the record clearly shows his acceptance and endorsement of Ryan’s main proposals.
Romney said in an interview with a Milwaukee radio station in March 2012 that he and Ryan had collaborated “over the last several months” to work out “a tax policy and spending, as well as Medicare reform.” Ryan’s “proposals and the ones I’ve outlined in my campaign are very much on the same page,” Romney added. He has made similar assertions on other occasions.
Commenting on the similarities between Ryan’s budget and proposals made by Romney, Axelrod says that “for the middle class, the choice is between a punch on the nose and a knee to the groin.” Expect more of the same between now and the Republican convention on Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Florida.
The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.