Devil’s advocacy time.
There’s no shortage of punditry from the usual suspects salivating that Romney’s pick of Ryan increases Obama’s chances of reelection. Because Rand! Medicare! Social Security! etc! etc!…
Perhaps. We shall see. But then again perhaps they’re underestimating just how effective Ryan’s style can be, and how it just might give the Obama campaign fits. That group of folks in US politics generally referred to as “liberals” often make mistakes like that, and often by assuming that truth will out and rationality will prevail. Truth, they congratulate themselves, has a liberal bias.
Perhaps it does, but US politics is not an exercise in truth or rationality, but in marketing.
For people like me, who regard the fundamentals of the Austrian School/Randian vision as spectacularly flawed — particularly in view of the complexity of modernity and the changes that modernity must face by reason of changing baselines for energy, resources, populations, and general planetary conditions — this is a no-brainer. I never was going to vote for Romney, and picking Ryan merely glues the needle on the chance-o-meter to the “zero” peg, but this election is not about the likes of me, and the campaigning that we are about to endure is not aimed in my direction at all.
Let’s get real, if a character so obviously flawed as Dubya can be winningly marketed as Presidential material, then damn near anything’s possible. And Ryan is no bumbling, language-mangling dipshit like Dubya. He’s articulate, mentally organized, knows his material, and quick on his extemporaneous feet, all things that Dubya decidedly was not.
This election will be decided not by what’s actually in the box, but by the appeal of the packaging. And looked at in that superficial way, the packaging, that is to say Ryan’s presentation, is pretty good, and pushes a lot of Americans’ Pavlovian comfort buttons. Exactly what good marketing is supposed to do. (One could say the same about Obama in ’08 with equal validity. Different set of buttons though.)
(In passing let’s observe that the Wikepedia page “political positions of Paul Ryan”, which the google linked to, just displayed as “this page has been deleted”. It’s Etch-a-Sketch time.)
There are plenty of places where Ryan won’t help, and might hurt. He’s socially conservative on what are now called “women’s issues”, but realistically Romney has already pissed on that campfire effectively all by himself, so no matter who he chose would not help him much there. So women go under the bus, what else is new? His tax stance is problematic too, but Romney could just say he’d revisit that later, and Ryan could nod approvingly. They don’t have to mean it.
So what has he been saying recently, and how has he been saying it, that could win more votes than it loses?
This rings the Randian warning buzzer for those that have one, but it’s an outlier in a way too. It caught my eye because of the phrase “preferential option for the poor”, which is a slogan with a halfway dignified pedigree, arising out of the (mostly) Latin American phenomenon known as the Liberation Theology movement.
Ryan is a Catholic, of course. Here he’s actually invoking words arising from a Catholic movement which (in part, at least) evolved into seeking to address poverty through activism, including political activism, though that’s not Ryan’s angle at all. Ryan’s on board with then Cardinal Ratzinger’s vehement oppositional narrowing of the concept to simply meaning that it’s “God’s love” that shows preference for the poor, and the Church should eschew any attempt to take things any further than that. I’m mangling history by condensing dangerously, because it’s complicated, but I don’t care today about that.
Ryan, like any Rand fan worth their salt, opposes government involvement in social programs as a matter of personal ideology and only grudgingly accepts the political necessity for government to stop bodies piling up in the street (visibly, anyway) when times are tough. But grudging acceptance is still acceptance, and while the d’s can whack away at him over his willingness to slash Medicare, he can reply that they, too, have proposed funding cuts there, and that they, too have pronounced it to be in crisis. The devil’s in the details, but Presidential campaigns are not amenable to wonkish deconstructions of fine points like that. He can punch back, and he will.
Then there’s a whole boatload of more standard political rhetoric, but it’s well calibrated not to appear scary;
“Get our spending under control, balance our budget, prevent the debt from getting out of control and reform the Tax Code to create jobs and growth from this economy and get people back to work. Economic growth, and spending control and entitlement reforms are the key recipe of what we are trying to do to prevent this debt crisis from happening. And we think the next president and the next Congress will basically decide how this all goes.” (Fox NewsJuly 2012)
“If you don’t address these issues now, they’re going to steamroll the country. And the issue is, the more you delay fixing these problems, the much uglier the solutions are going to have to be.” (CNN, Sept. 2011)
“We had the highest poverty rates we’ve had in a generation. One in six Americans are in poverty today. These policies are making it worse. So why should we keep throwing money at failed programs? And what we’re saying is, ‘Let’s reform these programs and get people off of welfare and back to work.” (Fox News, March 2012)
And just a hint of red meat (convicts are pretty useful sometimes);
“We think you have to get savings in some of these areas where you’ve had a huge increase in spending. We have prisoners getting food stamps in Wisconsin. (True, actually, but Ryan dishonestly neglects to mention that it’s illegal, so it’s fraud, not profligate legislation.) We have people that are becoming eligible for food stamps because of other factors that aren’t eligible food stamps in and of themselves. So we think we need to fix the fact that some of these programs have grown at such unsustainable rates.” (Think Progress, May 2012)
We’re talking about how well he’s marketing, remember, not what it would all actually mean if put into practice by today’s GOP. This is not chopped liver at all, it’s powerful stuff that pushes a lot of pleasure buttons not just with the rabid base, but with a much wider segment of the population. A segment, not incidentally, that has been softened up for years now with artillery barrages designed to do just that.
Look! — We’re coddling convicts with food stamps!! — Poverty is caused by government!! — Jobs are scarce because; taxes!! — We’re on the edge of a debt cliff, because; Government spending!!! (On the poor and undeserving, naturally, not war or giveaways to heavy hitters or any shit like that.)
The widespread opinionating in the liberal blogosphere that he’s so toxic as to make an Obama win more likely (a “delicious target”, says Tomasky) could play out to be horribly mistaken. Sure, eviscerating Medicare and privatizing Social Security are tough sells anywhere, so you don’t sell them like that, you sell “saving America”. And look! It’s not just us! Even the current president has acknowledged there’s a problem!
And you make damn sure to grandfather the status quo in for long enough that old and middle-aged farts won’t be affected and scared over to the socialist Kenyan. There’s no political way that expenditures could be slashed right out from under current or imminent recipients anyway — which means the argument that it’s necessary to prevent immediate fiscal calamity is nonsense.
But that’s just another detail, and we’re not about to go into wonky detail mode, of that we can be sure.
My instinct, which is worth exactly what you pay for it, is that it’s a closer race now. I don’t think Ryan will be the liability a lot of folks are saying he is, not unless the d’s up their marketing game beyond anything we’ve seen so far, even with their recent improvements in that area.
There’s an unprecedented avalanche of PAC money about to deluge us all, and we know exactly how it will be directed.
We shall see.
[ding!] Aha! Time to pull that chicken out of the oven. Onward.