My Reactions to the Ryan Reaction

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I’ve written enough about Paul Ryan in the past that I don’t feel a burning desire to rewrite all that stuff right this minute. Plenty of time for that later. But I do have a few comments about the reaction so far to Mitt Romney’s choice of Ryan as his VP:

  • Democrats seem to be ecstatic because this means Romney can be held accountable for Ryan’s budget plan, including its conversion of Medicare into a voucher program. I wouldn’t be so sure of that, though. When was the last time a president was held responsible for the past policy positions of his running mate? Never, right? It’s the other way around: Ryan will be expected to support Romney’s positions now.
  • Will Ryan get away with this? Sure. Liberals (like me) like to gripe a lot about how the media swoons over Ryan, but that doesn’t change the fact that the media swoons over Ryan. He’s going to get pretty sympathetic treatment, and we have to figure on that.
  • On a personal level, Ryan is a good pick. He’s going to strike a lot of voters as earnest and sincere. Add to that his puppy dog good looks and his even temperament and I can imagine lots of reactions in the neighborhood of “He seems like such a nice young man.” He’ll be hard to demonize.
  • But Republicans need to come down to earth too. Unfortunately for them, Ryan reinforces Romney’s weakest point: that he seems out of touch with ordinary people. In Romney’s case it’s because he’s a mega-millionaire with a stiff demeanor. In Ryan’s case it’s because of his green eyeshade approach to politics. Romney seems too rich to care about ordinary people, while Ryan seems too callow to understand that he should care about people.

Overall, I think Democrats got the better of things today. They can attack Ryan’s budget proposals, they can mock his jejune Ayn Rand fixation, and they can credibly start demanding that Romney and Ryan put more flesh on their policy proposals. The tea party crowd thinks this is great because they’re convinced that Middle America will really and truly come to love their scorched-earth approach to the federal government if only someone is brave enough to stand up and really sell it. This is a fantasy, and smart Republicans like Romney know it, which is why he’s so assiduously avoided policy specifics. But having Ryan on the ticket is going to make it harder to keep the fever-eyed contingent under control.

In any case, I’ll repeat what I said this morning: Ryan’s just the VP. He presents plenty of opportunities for attack, but he won’t radically change the course of the campaign. Liberal firepower should remain mostly trained on Romney. He’s the guy that voters care about, not Ryan.

UPDATE: Apropos of my comment about not getting too distracted by Paul Ryan, Philip Klinkner sends along this 1988 quote from Lee Atwater to Dan Quayle:

You were the best rabbit we ever had. Let them chase you and they’ll stay off the important things.

Roger that. Obviously this weekend is going to be all about Ryan, but in the longer term let’s keep most of our focus on the important things.

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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