Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Ryan Pick

Was driving back from vacation yesterday (this was my first human, serious, and meaningful vacation in the last six years, and I wish I'd taken one sooner) and so I missed a lot of the chatter about Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick. Not that I'm a meaningful pundit or anything, but I'd put my money on Portman given the Romney campaign's compulsion for the standard and boring (not a knock btw: remember Sarah Palin?)

The Ryan selection was definitely a bit of a surprise (though perhaps not around the offices of The Weekly Standard) and what's notable is that both Democrats and Republicans seem happy about it. From NRO's editors, this pleased-as-punch declaration:

"Romney could have decided to run a vague and vacuous campaign based on the idea that the public would default to the out party in a bad economy. By selecting Ryan, he has ensured that the campaign will instead to a significant degree be about a conservative governing agenda."

As noted, this idea about Ryan's pick transforming the campaign into one of BIG IDEAStm  is a shared notion: Greg Sargent, in today's Wapo, agrees that the pick expands the agenda items for the campaign from a pure referendum on the economy to a bigger one about entitlements and government spending:

"The Ryan pick is also a break with Romney's previous theory of the race. He had previously intended to make the campaign about nothing more than a referendum on the economy and Obama's stewardship of it. Now it will be a choice between two starkly different ideological visions, one that drags the race onto the turf of tax fairness and entitlements--which is much more in line with the debate Dems wanted."

Dear readers, forgive me for not really understanding a lot of this. Who thinks the Obama administration wouldn't have continued to push heavily the set of arguments about the threat the GOP posed to Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlements? And who expected the GOP to just ditch the "tax fairness" arguments if Romney had selected say, Rob Portman? These were already going to be major campaign issues. The degree of intensity of these arguments might perhaps be a bit higher, but the GOP's attempt to link higher taxes with current economic struggles has already been afoot since the leadup to the 2010 midterms. And what was the aim of Barack Obama's comments about the shared rather than individual character of economic achievement if not an attempt to indicate that government has an active and meaningful (read: funded) role to play in the lives of ordinary citizens?

Second point: these ideas are already more or less confused in, if not the minds, at least the emotions/affects of the electorate. Previous posts have addressed the attempts by organizations like Americans for Prosperity to create linkages in the minds of voters between the government's debt and the debt struggles of ordinary American households. While such tactics are disingenuous (no American household can rely on the kind of tax base that the federal government can) they can certainly prove effective, inasmuch as the government exists as an easy relay upon which American can project their hopes and anxieties. The feelings related to economic struggles are not do distinct from fears that your grandparents won't have medical care (and fears that you will be responsible for making their ends meet) and these are also not separable from the more conservative sentiments associated with economic anxieties related to a fear that one's own security could be threatened by those who are less responsible (even those who are well off economically do not "feel" economically secure owing to combinations of familial, professional, and social financial obligations, hard as that might be to rationalize occasionally). So a dispute about rising Medicare costs not only threatens the elderly (or those who imagine their futures as elderly) but also those who find those rising costs to be a threat to their own prosperity. This conflation of affects was already at work, though perhaps the Ryan pick underscores its importance.

Third point: racial optics. We now have an extraordinarily white (though not for the GOP) ticket that plans on lecturing a black guy for spending too much money. How is that going to play? We already have a sense that the base will love it (and I admit, this is often for reasons that cannot be reduced to race, but often the racial element in this cannot be ignored). Indeed, Scott Brown recently reconjured the "welfare queen" recently, and its difficult to dissociate such images from their implicated racial/political histories. It's no accident here that the "makers" are two "responsible and serious" white guys while the irrational and irresponsible "Barry" is the one incapable of balancing the budget, and I'd expect hay to be made out of that in the general by some rather noxious political elements. It will of course be coded and hidden but, its a sadly operational stereotype.


  1. Not to mention the average household can't borrow money at negative interest like the U.S. government.

    The problem with the household model is that it presumes that the idealized nuclear family is maximizing income -- two working parents who need to balance their budget. But the U.S. government's woes are the result of a multi-decade resistance to taking in any revenue. The more appropriate analogy is a shiftless 40 year old living in his parents' basement deciding to cut back to Ramen rather than stop playing Skyrim long enough to get a job.

  2. This all seems correct, except that I think of you as better-than-the-average-pundit by a good bit. I'm a bit more sympathetic to the agenda-setting argument, though. Only at the margins, and too much emphasis on Ryan could be a distraction... but Romney HAS been hazy about specifics. He "embraced" Ryan's budget, and we would have fought for a link... but our ability to determine press coverage is strengthened. The Romney=AloofPlutocrat image is working pretty well, but there's some risk of moderates feeling ok with what conservatives fear: Romney governing way more moderately than he campaigned. I think this dulls that perception a bit.