Now that it’s official, Paul Ryan will be the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, things begin to get a little clearer in the campaign. There’s been an awful lot of “mush” over the past several weeks and months, but Ryan’s selection clarifies what the rest of the election campaign will be about.
Yes, Ryan is one of the major spokespersons in the country about the economy, having proposed a piece of legislation which he feels will resolve all the financial woes we have experienced over the past 8-10 years. From his perspective, it feels at times as if the woes began in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, but that’s political rhetoric, and he knows it. He isn’t about to admit it, although in his speech on Saturday morning he did note that there were some economic problems in the Bush administration. But he quickly went on to be clear that The President had a chance to correct all that in his first two years in office, but chose not to. Really?
I’m thankful that the conversations will turn to more substantive issues over the remaining days of this campaign. But I’m not naive enough to believe that there isn’t more to his selection than his economic principles. Paul Ryan is a darling of the Tea Party and of the extreme conservatives in the Republican Party. His selection was a curtsy to them, in an attempt to reign them back into this race. Romney is not a true conservative and they know it. So Ryan is the balance the party seeks to hold onto the conservative base.
With that concession comes a whole lot of baggage. While these uber-conservatives are concerned about the economy, they are also wedded to conservative social issues that will not go away. They are opposed to legislation which gives health care rights to women. They are hawkish on foreign affairs. They have clear and audible opinions about immigrants. The words Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid give them apoplexy. Tax reform is okay as long as it doesn’t put too much of a burden on the wealthy. Each of these can be masked in economic language to make it seem that they are legitimate fiscal concerns for Americans, and to some extent they are. But the conservative take on these issues is restrictive and is bathed in the idea that if we just erase these benefits we can return to the glory days of economic prosperity.
As a potential Veep Mr. Ryan would learn that he is not Number One, and some who know him believe it would be hard for him to slip into that secondary role. His power as Chair of the budget process in Congress has made him a star. And those conservatives who believe that “once he is in office” he will be able to press his economic plan without great interference are missing the point. The Vice President serves at the pleasure of the President. I suspect that the conservatives see Mr. Romney as weak and without an agenda (duh!) and that, therefore, he will acceed to Mr. Ryan’s wishes on such important issues. It doesn’t usually happen that way, even with the weakest of Presidents.
I suspect that the Mr. Romney we see right now is the same Mr. Romney we would see if he were elected President. And, despite his gaffes and stumbles, he is a man with a personal agenda. An agenda which he has groomed for decades. I don’t get the feeling that he would toss out that agenda simply because a Mr. Ryan potentially helped him get elected. There is a great surge of power on January 21 every four years.
If elected, Mr. Ryan would have a learning curve to embrace which would limit his visibility, his power, and his influence. If the conservatives wanted to have control of the economy and other social issues of importance to them, they should have nominated Paul Ryan for President instead of Mitt Romney.
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