Whatever you think of his policies, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has made a difference in the race. Since he joined the ticket, Mitt Romney has become more effective, the ticket’s message has become clearer, the crowds have been larger and the enthusiasm of the base has grown. State and national polling suggests that Romney-Ryan is more formidable than most pundits anticipated.
Next week’s convention will be another big moment for Ryan, a chance to put to use his talent for conveying complicated data in simple, reasonable terms. He is, in appearance and demeanor, the opposite of the caricature of the mean, radical right-winger.
Last night on Larry Kudlow’s CNBC show, Ryan delivered what could be the opening lines of his convention speech:
At the Republican National Convention, Ryan will have to introduce himself to the country. Most people don’t have a good sense of who he is or what sort of life he has lived. Where does he come from? What challenges did he overcome? What did Janesville, Wis., teach him? Once he explains a bit about who he is, he can then tell the country what he and Mitt Romney will do.
First, he should make clear that our enormous problems (the fiscal cliff, another recession, high unemployment) have gone on for 3 1/2 years. The president was busy with other things (Obamacare) or too eager to blame and castigate Republicans. But he has never, ever put before the public a budget plan with a deficit smaller than $1 trillion, a long-term plan for Medicare or Social Security reform or a tax plan for individuals that was anything more than a tax hike. Our problems have grown more acute while President Obama has failed to lead.
Second, Obama doesn’t have an agenda for turning around the economy other than to tax the rich, borrow and spend some more and hire some more unionized public employees. Who actually thinks this is a formula for economic improvement? It is usually what precedes an economic downturn — which, come to think of it, is where we are heading.
Third, Obama believes — indeed, he told us — that government is at the center of our economy and must be bolstered and expanded with more authority and more revenue. Every one of his policy preferences (e.g. Obamacare, cap-and-trade, Dodd-Frank, the Buffett tax, the mortgage bailouts) would move the country in that direction. His agenda, however, is moving us further away from economic recovery. So step one of the recovery is to remove a president with exactly the wrong ideas for the country.
Fourth, Ryan should spend a few minutes on each of the major Romney-Ryan initiatives. He needs to hit — boom, boom, boom — what their tax plan, entitlement plans and regulatory plans do (and don’t do). In each case, the goal is the same: increased prosperity. If you want the free stuff or want to have equality of outcomes or trust the government to make critical life decisions, Ryan will disappoint.
And finally he should appeal to the better angels of our nature and call on voters to reject the politics of personal animosity, guilt by association and grotesque insinuations (Felon! Murderer!), which pull the country apart and ultimately making governing impossible. At the Heritage Foundation last fall, Ryan gave a speech on the politics of distraction, which included this, a message more apt today than when he delivered it:
Given that the President’s policies have moved us closer to the European model, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that his class-based rhetoric has followed suit.
We shouldn’t be surprised . . . but we have every right to be disappointed. Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were hallmarks of his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and resentment.
This has the potential to be just as damaging as his misguided policies. Sowing social unrest and class resentment makes America weaker, not stronger. Pitting one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country — corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless.
Ryan is fond of contrasting two visions: the GOP’s opportunity society vs. the left’s dependency society. But now we find ourselves also with a choice between two political cultures — Chicago-style politics and a throwback to Janesville decency.The 2012 election started off as an election about the fundamental role of government (how big? how much power? ), but it has really become about what kind of political system we want to have. Do we want to reward procrastination and blame-mongering? Well, we’ll have more politicians refusing to tackle big problems for risk of being smeared. Do we want to give politicians the idea that anything goes and no accusation is too egregious or baseless to be used? Well, we will have elections with many more egregious and baseless accusations.
Ryan’s turned out to be a better politician than many knew. We’ll see just how good next week.