Mitt Romney might have mistakenly introduced Paul Ryan as “the next president of the United States,” but I wish it hadn’t been a mistake. I wish Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old, seven-term House GOP member, was indeed at the top of the ticket for the Republican Party.
In their joint 60 Minutes interview, which aired Sunday night, Bob Schieffer asked Ryan about Romney’s defense of Bain Capital. Ryan responded by calling the president’s record “terrible” and suggesting that Obama is trying to distract people from the real issues of this race. But if you watch the segment, Ryan’s voice is more matter-of-fact than sniping, and he wasn’t delivering headline-worthy sound bites. You’d be hard-pressed to remember anything Ryan said during the Schieffer interview (except for one cringe-worthy moment when Ryan spoke of eliminating tax shelters for the rich: “What we’re saying is take away the tax shelters that are uniquely enjoyed by people of the top tax brackets …” Um, Mitt?)
Paul Ryan is a policy guy. He’s a self-described nerd whose political principles were hatched out of a love of Ayn Rand (her books aren’t short). His 2012 budget proposal, “The Path to Prosperity,” attempts to address tort reform, overhaul Medicare and Medicaid, and close tax loopholes (though the language of the Ryan plan as it relates to tax reform is mightily unspecific).
For all of the disagreements to be had about the Ryan budget, it cannot and should not be argued that Ryan’s plan was purely the result of political posturing. It wasn’t. Ryan’s proposal deals with issues that other politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have been too cowardly to even speak about. His budget is many things—mightily misguided, mathematically challenged—but it is not a politically profitable. Having his name on such legislation could have been political suicide.
Ryan is divisive, but only insofar as his ideas are divisive. He’s not a fiery orator who seeks a rise from his audience. In our current political moment, he’s rather boring. You get the sense that Ryan’s political will has emerged out of his intellectual curiosity and not the other way around. You get the feeling that Ryan would like to debate policy all day and that he’d love to have a scholarly conversation about the right path for our country.
Many have called this presidential race the most boring in recent history. But if Ryan were at the top of the ticket for the conservatives, we’d have a really boring race. And that’s what we need.
Our country faces problems that won’t yield easy solutions. The health-care bill was almost 2,000 pages—yes, it was a plan to care for 300 million people.
As a presidential candidate, Ryan could present the clear alternative that voters face in November. He wouldn’t obfuscate and dance around and flip-flop like Romney has. Unlike Romney, he really does hate Obamacare. Unlike Romney, he really does hate corporate welfare. Unlike Romney, Ryan really does want to dramatically change the ways government spends our tax dollars.
Mitt Romney will only say he wants to repeal Obamacare (please replace it with Romneycare). And of course, he’ll never talk about corporate welfare (his friends at Bain wouldn’t be happy), or Medicare and Medicaid, even though they’re projected to run out of funds in 2033.
Ryan would make the case that conservatives really want to make: He’d tell the American people that they’re on their own, and that’s how they should want it. He’d tell them that the markets will regulate themselves and that government has no role or responsibility in maintaining a security net for its people.
Obama would have the opportunity to present the alternative: a government that accepts its responsibility in providing a reliable safety net for its citizens and a government that ensures everybody plays by the same rules.
You can certainly expect liberals to pounce on Romney’s VP selection—turning Ryan into Romney’s sidekick, the running mate to the candidate who wants to pamper the rich and cater to special interests.
But I think we’d be wrong to do so. I don’t think Ryan is your run-of-the-mill Republican. Ryan is actually conservative. He’s not Mitt Romney. I might disagree entirely with what Ryan has to say, but at least he’s got political principles that stand independent of the political cycle. I just wish we could take him up on the serious, nuts-and-bolts kind of conversation about the direction of our country, which he seems so eager to have.
Unfortunately, we can’t. Because historically, vice presidential candidates really don’t matter. Sadly enough, this race is still Romney vs. Obama.