Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Does Ryan Bring Substance to the 2012 Election?

The country is abuzz about Romney's choice of Wisconsin Congressman, Paul Ryan, as the vice presidential nominee.

Many have criticized the so-called "risky" choice, arguing that Ryan fails the simple two-pronged criterion for nominees: (1) Does the candidate enlarge the political base, and (2) does (s)he do nothing to alienate the existing political base?

​Regarding the first issue, presidential nominees often choose a running mate who is from a swing-state or has slightly different political viewpoints, with the hope that they will garner new votes.  Ryan offers neither of these benefits.  It is uncertain, at best, that he would carry his home-state of Wisconsin-- a state which, although "moderate,"  swung Blue for the last six elections.  Furthermore, as Ryan and Romney belong to the same ideological camp on most major issues, Ryan offers no advantage in capturing votes that would not have already been cast for Romney.

​Not only is Ryan not likely to bring in new Republican votes, his policies have alienated certain members of the national Republican constituency.  Recipients of entitlements like Medicare and Social Security, for which Ryan has notoriously attempted to cut and privatize, are especially likely to view Ryan disfavorably.  This could be disastrous for Romney in Retirement Mecca, otherwise known as the Great (Swing) State of Florida.

​So that leaves us to wonder: Why Ryan?  Aside from a charming smile and genuinely nice attitude (yeah, that's how we do in Wisconsin), Ryan is most known for his federal budget proposals, which emphasize slashing federal entitlement programs to offset huge tax cuts.  While Ryan has been lambasted as an ideologue (it is well-known that Ryan made everyone on his staff read Ayn Rand) and an extremist, one cannot deny that he is consistent, articulate, and well-informed about his particular vision for the economy, however much you might disagree with it.

​By choosing Ryan as the VP nominee, then, Romney explicitly makes this election about the economy.  Each party now represents very different, and, yes, very thoroughly reasoned approaches to the economy and the federal deficit.  This will, as it stands now, not be an election about personalities, flip-flopping, bridges to nowhere, and other red herrings, but actual (economic) policies.  Every political scientist in the country should be falling over dead from shock right about now.

​Of course, things may change.  Scandals may arise, gaffaws may be made (I'm looking at you, Vice President Biden).  Or maybe someone will remember that there is still a war in Afghanistan, a raging domestic battle over women's reproductive health, and an educational crisis that also could use some attention.  Regardless, as it stands now, the election is shaping up to be a contest of substance over spectacle. 


  1. I disagree. The Ryan and Obama plans are very similar and not substantively different. Ryan and Obama have largely agreed on extending the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the PATRIOT Act, TARP, NDAA, and the auto bailouts. Saying that Ryan and Obama are different on budget issues seems similar to me to saying that Obama and Romney are different on health insurance issues. Sure, Romney claims to be against Obamacare, but everyone knows he supported/supports Romneycare which is nearly indistinguishable.

    What we have here is, as Obama would say, a false choice.

  2. Ok, this is half in response to your fb post, and half in response to the above (if anyone's interested, see: https://www.facebook.com/meggers88/posts/385709534830197?notif_t=share_comment).

    Yeah, I think that Ryan is nowhere near as libertarian as folks think (or as he thinks, actually)... but my point isn't really on either side's specific economic policies, but the overall focus on economy as the central issue to the debate. You suggest this perhaps shouldn't be the area of focus, given the (masked) similarities in their two plans, which I agree to disagree on.

    But you make a good point about those similarities, especially on the under-reported fact that both plans would still spend a great deal of $$ (and for things like defense spending, which both ideologies decry). So I see why you characterize it as a false dichotomy, but, like I said, I happen to think there are still some key differences that will be substantively worth debating.

  3. There are certainly differences, but I don't think they are in areas of economic policy as much as social policy. Obama is marginally better on social policy. He gives tepid support to gay marriage and he's pro-choice. I'm sure liberals also appreciate his support of unions, though having the NLRB threaten Boeing over opening a new plant in SC was absolutely ridiculous and killing the DC voucher program directly opposed his proclaimed "what works" education agenda.

    Obama is not better on privacy (Trapwire, among other things), freedom of speech (extreme numbers of prosecutions of whistleblowers, Citizens United), immigration (deporting faster than Bush Jr), and the drug war (increased raids on marijuana dispensaries since Bush Jr). I may be missing policy areas where I think Obama sucks, but those are the ones that come to mind. Romney/Ryan would almost certainly be no better.

    In the end, there is far too much wrong with both major party candidates for me to vote for either in good conscience.