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GEORGE KENNEDY: Paul Ryan a surprising, outspoken choice for Romney

Thursday, August 16, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:40 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 16, 2012

COLUMBIA — One of the things that makes politics such a compelling, and often horrifying, spectator sport is that it’s full of surprises.

None so far this season has been more surprising than Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. Although that was the outcome devoutly wished by conservatives, most commentators of all persuasions expected Mr. Romney to pick somebody safe, somebody who would help him win over the tiny fraction of prospective voters who say they are still uncommitted.

(That’s another thing about politics that’s hard to understand: How can any sentient American remain uncommitted as between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? And isn’t it at least a little disturbing to think that the course of the nation seems to rest with people who are so ignorant or so apathetic that they haven’t yet bothered to make up their minds? Who are those people, anyway? Could it be that they’re really just lying to the pollsters?)

Anyway, the consensus of the commentariat was that Mr. Romney would probably pick Sen. Rob Portman, who might help him win Ohio, or Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has the populist touch Mr. Romney lacks, or Sen. Marco Rubio, who might deliver Florida.

The actual announcement Saturday generated another surprise. Mr. Ryan was greeted as enthusiastically by Democrats as by Republicans. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell were so giddy I thought for a minute I’d stumbled onto Fox.

It turns out that the same beliefs that make Mr. Ryan so appealing to the right make him equally appalling to the left.

You might say he has the courage of Mitt Romney’s convictions. You might, that is, except that his new boss appears to be motivated by just one core conviction – that he should be president. His positions on major issues from health care to abortion rights to taxes have been, to put it kindly, flexible, shifting to meet the exigencies of the time.

Not so with Mr. Ryan. He knows what he believes, and those beliefs have only been amended modestly in the face of political reality. He doesn’t talk much these days about privatizing Social Security, for example, though he led the effort in the House of Representatives when George W. Bush proposed that.

When President Obama called him the “ideological leader” of the Republicans who control the House, he was accurate. It’s an ideology that appeared extreme when Barry Goldwater articulated it in 1964 but that has now given us the triumphant Tea Party, Todd Akin and even the 3.0 version of Mitt Romney.

Like many of his fellow “young guns” — that’s the title of the right-wing manifesto he wrote with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy — Mr. Ryan was a fan of Ayn Rand until he discovered that she worshiped wealth rather than God. He now manages to do both.

Now that the choice has been made, many of the same pundits who confidently predicted someone else offer the explanation that the Romney campaign wasn’t going well and that he decided his vice president must be a game changer, to use one of the sports cliches that has infiltrated political discourse.

Mr. Ryan changes the game, all right, but not necessarily in the direction that favors Mr. Romney. One benefit of being vague, as is Mr. Romney’s sketch of a fiscal plan, is that your opponents don’t have much to get their teeth into. That’s the reason he has offered for refusing to reveal more than two years of tax returns.

Suddenly, with Mr. Ryan’s famously detailed budget and his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” there’s an abundance of detail, so much so that Mr. Romney is forced into the awkward position of distancing himself from his own partner’s product.

Early in Mr. Ryan’s career, he worked for Jack Kemp, who was also a smart, likable, outspoken right-wing ideologue. Like Mr. Ryan, Mr. Kemp had left a lengthy paper trail when he also was chosen as running mate by a charisma-challenged candidate who thought he deserved to be president but knew his campaign needed a personality implant. The Democratic incumbent then as now was widely viewed as vulnerable.

History doesn’t really repeat itself, of course, but I have to wonder whether Mr. Romney remembers the Dole-Kemp Administration.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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Comments

Michael Williams August 16, 2012 | 9:11 a.m.

I'm wondering if all this current talk about dumping Biden for Clinton is folderol, wishful thinkin', or smoke with an underlying fire.

If Mr. Kennedy is looking for election surprises, that would be a good one.

PS: I think it's folderol; if a President was going to do this, it would have been polled long ago. Could be wrong, tho.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin August 16, 2012 | 11:19 a.m.

There's a mythology that's built up around Ayn Rand in recent years over her supposed new-found status as a "Tea Party" darling and Paul Ryan heroine.

As most mythologies are, this mythology is misleading, for those who both love and loathe her.

AKA Alisa Rosenbaum, a Jewish woman who effectively fled Bolshevik Russia, Rand was known both as a novelist and philosopher. She was an atheist, but not because she worshiped wealth; she rejected theism because she saw it as fundamentally irrational.

I'm more familiar with Rand the novelist than Rand the philosopher, and consider the former her core strength; the latter more of an avocational distraction.

Her fiction by no means worships wealth, selfishness, abject greed, or callous disregard for those in need, as the mythology has suggested.

Quite the contrary: through a fairly diverse set of symbols and archetypes, Rand's novels are an all-out attack on the wealthy but valueless.

Her villains are a mix of Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff-types and the bubble-headed bureaucrats who let them rip off the rest of us; her heroes along the lines of Steve Jobs and the Google boys.

Rand worship -- and criticism -- runs too much these days among people who haven't read or don't remember Atlas Shrugged; or read The Fountainhead back in high school and vaguely remember it as a story about an architect who dynamites his own building; or read about Rand's philosophical invention, Objectivism, which has become so clouded by other voices over the years it bears little resemblance to the original Rand.

The best primary source for her thinking is Atlas Shrugged, which is a long slog -- one of the longest in literature, coming in just under War and Peace at 1,100 pages.

If you're either Rand fan or foe and you can't tell the difference -- from actually having read the book -- between Jim Taggert and Dagny Taggert; Orren Boyle and Hank Rearden; Hank Rearden and Phillip Rearden; John Galt and Wesley Mouch; why Boyle and Mouch are paradigmatic of the corporate welfare state; or why Rand the supposed greedy corporatist demonized a corporation called Associated Steel; then you're probably misreading her in one way or another.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 16, 2012 | 4:28 p.m.

Any choice that appalls the Left can't be all bad, regardless of how the election turns out.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 16, 2012 | 6:16 p.m.

Romney-Ryan how cool can two candidates get? They are going to "Villages" in FL. Ryan is bringing his mama, who he claims, supports his Medicare plans.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 17, 2012 | 2:13 a.m.

Hm. Can you tell, from all of Romney's flip-flopping, what he really stands for? Are you so desperate to get Obama out of the White House, that you'll vote for a candidate that seems to have all the integrity of a used car salesman, or real estate agent? Please.

Flip a coin in November. Nothing will change either way. Consumer confidence will recover, the economy will improve a few notches, and whatever sleazeball is in power will take credit for it.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 17, 2012 | 5:01 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

"Flip a coin in November, Nothing will change either way. Consumer confidence will recover, the economy will improve a few notches, and whatever sleazeball is in power will take credit for it."

And I thought I was cynical (which I am). Next to you I'm a veritable "Little Mary Sunshine." :)

Well, maybe not. Since the folks in the Eurozone haven't fixed their underlying problems we have the potential of what a meltdown there could do to our own economy. About the time domestic consumer confidence improves and the economy moves up a notch or two, this "other shoe" may drop, and there's little our domestic "sleazeball" (fill in the name) will be able to do about it.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 17, 2012 | 7:43 a.m.

"Flip a coin in November. Nothing will change either way. Consumer confidence will recover, the economy will improve a few notches, and whatever sleazeball is in power will take credit for it."

If nothing will change either way, why would consumer confidence, "the overall Index remains at historically low levels.", recover?

All my life I've been told, in America folks can control their own lives. The "flip a coin" comment comes from one of a group that now tells us, no you don't. You don't control anything and feeding a hungry central government is only way to find out in which direction your life will continue.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 17, 2012 | 8:04 a.m.

frank christian wrote:

"If nothing will change either way, why would consumer confidence, "the overall Index remains at historically low levels.", recover?"

Because people like to be optimistic. A change in the composition of government (or at least the perception of one) might make people think we are on the rise again. These things tend to feed on themselves (all of the people jumping on the real estate bandwagon in the mid and late 2000's, for example), so once people put a few more dollars into the bank (savings rates are up, and that's a good thing) they'll start to think about spending more. That's primarily what drives the economy - consumer spending and the business spending to accomodate that. Government has far less to do with it.

There's really very little you can't do because of government in this country. Those things you can't are typically things that have bad effects on other people or society as a whole. There's actually a lot that you can do because of government (roads, schools, other public works, basically necessary things that aren't considered immediately profitable by business). You live in one of the most free countries of the world, but all you seem to be able to do is complain. What can't you, personally, do now that you could four years ago?

Ellis Smith wrote:

"And I thought I was cynical (which I am). Next to you I'm a veritable "Little Mary Sunshine." :)"

It isn't that I'm so cynical about the candidates. It's when I look back at the debt ceiling debate, and how Congress squabbled over the size of the Band-Aid when there was a great gaping wound to cover, it makes me think no one in Washington, in either party, understands the magnitude of the problem. I think no one short of Jesus Christ can really solve some of the problems of our government, and that members of Congress (from both parties) would wind up crucifying him anyway.

DK

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 17, 2012 | 8:31 a.m.

@ Mark Foecking:

There would appear to be little difference in our respective opinions of the present situation.

Since more than a few Americans - including some who post here on a regular basis - purport to be atheists, your remark about Jesus may not be of significance. :)

Let's hear it for the Disorganized Church of Our Lady of the Endless Free Lunch! No employed or retired (after having been employed) American who pays taxes and is willing to assume adult responsibilities without being forced to do so need apply for membership. Contact Sister Nancy at 1-800-WELFARE.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 17, 2012 | 9:34 a.m.

Mark F. - "Because people like to be optimistic." This paragraph is silly supposition.

"It isn't that I'm so cynical about the candidates. It's when I look back at the debt ceiling debate, and how Congress squabbled over the size of the Band-Aid"

I have wondered every time you have posted this thought. Why can he not understand who is "squabbling"? It is Democrats v Republicans. The R's are having to argue over a "band-aid" because D's do not want any change for the "great gaping wound"! The R's cannot prevail because they do not yet have "the votes". (Barney Frank) Knowing this, you give us "no one in Washington, in either party, understands the magnitude of the problem." Imo, this reasoning comes from the mind of a liberal.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote August 17, 2012 | 10:26 a.m.

@Frank,

If Ryan would have supported Bowles-Simpson, a deal would have been cut. He specifically was the impediment. He also did not support the "Grand Bargain" and assisted in scuttling it. Speculation abounds that he resisted cutting a deal for political reasons, i.e. a bipartisan agreement would have aided Obama's reelection chances, and after gaining control of the House, cutting a deal would have upset fellow Republicans, whose support was needed for attaining leadership positions.
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-08...
He is not the politician you think he is. He is simply more of the same, with an effective PR/propaganda strategy.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 17, 2012 | 11:14 a.m.

Chris F. - Your link also explains why Ryan and the other two R's, rejected the Simpson Bowles "deal". "A deal would have been cut" and D's would have gotten their extra tax money to spend.

"He is not the politician you think he is.". “Paul Ryan doesn’t do things politically, he goes out and leads with his chin,” Coburn said."

"He is simply more of the same," He rejected the deal because he wants to cure our deficit spending problem. That you and liberals do not, is the reason for your angst.

He is more of the same that in 1994 started the process that balanced our Federal Budget and reduced the debt for first time since 1968, while installing a highly successful Welfare Reform Act (now gutted by the Order of this irresponsible President).

Nit-picking is, I suppose, all you've got, so knock yourself out.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 17, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.

Frank, I would be more sure about Ryan balancing the budget if his proposed budget over 10 years spent a lot less than the 100 billion gap between his proposed 10 year budget and Obama's. The difference in numbers is negligible.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote August 17, 2012 | 12:25 p.m.

@JS,

Keep in mind that for Ryan's 10 year projection he is assuming a 2.8% unemployment rate in 2021, and scored it with that rate. So his plan would cost significantly more than the score suggests.

@Frank,
In response to this:
" ...1994 started the process that balanced our Federal Budget and reduced the debt for first time since 1968..."
You do realize that 1994 is the year Clinton's tax hike kicked in?
The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 was enacted August 1993.
Or was that just a coincidence that revenues went up $105 billion (in current dollars) from fiscal year 1993 to fiscal year 1994? According to your economic theories, revenue should have decreased with a tax hike....
Note, the Republican takeover of congress occurred at the end of 1994, and they weren't sworn in until 1995. Thus the Democrats controlled the house in 1994.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor August 17, 2012 | 3:56 p.m.

@Christopher
Rather than give you quotes of praise from Erskine Bowles who, to his credit, is still not backing down from this praise of Ryan despite what must be monumental arm twisting, I am going to remind you that things have changed since the 90's.

Back in the 90's that you speak of, we had about 21% of the people not paying income tax. That number has now more than doubled in a very short 20 or so years.

Ask an ever decreasing number of people to pay ever increasing amounts of money and you are eventually going to suffer some backlash. Well, duck! You are right in the middle of it. It started in the midterms and will continue this November. Given the fact that this pres has a pr machine that includes ALL of the major tv networks and their nightly news programs and his major advantages as the pres (remember; over 120 fundraisers / 0 meetings with jobs council) and he can barely keep ahead of a less than dynamic challenger, my prediction is down in flames by November. The choice between leaders with proven track records in their business and political lives vs a whiner/blamer who's stimulus plans failed miserably and added more to the deficits in a short few years than W did in 8 responding to a major attack and there is really no choice.

"The republic will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 17, 2012 | 4:02 p.m.

CF - We have covered this over and over. 1994 was the year R's were elected. THEY then started the procedure.

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993,better known as the Deficit ReDuction Act of '93 increased taxes the highest then known to American man. Yet Clinton's budgets called for at least $200B$ deficits, into the foreseeable future.

http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projec...

This shows some effect of Clinton and his "deficit reduction" effort.
http://flattopshistorywarpolitics.yuku.c...

Ryan is not going to balance the Federal Budget! I've stated before, it will take a totally, Republican controlled federal government. Any liberal Democrat left with enough control to stop it, will stop it. Is there any question about that? To debate day after day what R's will do with no consideration about what the D's are now doing, makes one wonder who wants a balanced budget and who does not. Doesn't it?

(Report Comment)

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