Sunday, August 19, 2012

Enter Paul Ryan

"According to the Democratic Party, I am evil. Does THIS face look evil?"

Before this post begins, let me submit a second apology on behalf of the Sons of Cincinnatus. Our neglect of this blog in the past few weeks is unfortunate. Though both of us have been particularly busy during that time - for my part, I was wrapping up a summer in Washington, D.C. while running high summer miles - the expectation of frequent posts regardless of everyday distraction is an essential aspect of the blogosphere, and we understand that now.

But from now until election day, our readers can rest assured: we shall supply posts at least once every few days on average, if not more. And while I certainly shall not attempt to defend our derelict of blogging duty on any other grounds than busyness, the past few weeks in the political world have been, in all honesty, both boring and disgusting--boring, because virtually all of Washington's political denizens have returned to the districts they supposedly represent; disgusting, because President Obama and his Democratic allies have resorted to accusing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney of securities fraud, tax evasion, and, most recently, secondhand murder. To us, campaign tactics reek of a desperation that speaks for itself.

Had Romney waited a week or two longer to make his vice presidential selection, or had that selection been a more flawed or imperfect selection than the one he eventually made, this presidential campaign would have likely remained mired in this distracting, destructive morass. Yet neither of these was to be case. Last Saturday morning, as my parents and I were preparing for my departure from Washington, word leaked after months of speculation that Romney's choice for VP would be Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan. My immediate reaction to this pick was slight disappointment; I was hoping for Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Since then, however, I have come to realize that Ryan's vice presidential candidacy provides a benefit to Romney's presidential chances that is at once immense and nearly paradoxical. Allow me to explain.

Paul Ryan has become the face of the conservative political and philosophical resurgence brought on - ironically - by the rise of Barack Obama to the presidency. The Bush presidency, frankly, devastated the conservative movement; the expansions of government wrought by Bush were not only wrong in and of themselves; they also sullied the conservative and Republican brands and paved the way for President Obama to spend and to expand government even more. Yet somehow, the Republicans in Congress, despite being virtually powerless to stop Obama's big-government advances, developed a united front against him. Though the Tea Party movement, the manifestation of what other commentators have called America's "anti-statist antibodies," played a huge part in conservatism's return to feasibility in such a short time (as did the broader conservative movement), Paul Ryan's work in Congress itself had a significant role as well. In the face of a Democrat-controlled Senate that has not passed a budget for over a thousand days, Ryan has created and maneuvered the passage (in the House) of several deficit-reducing budgets for many of those days. In this and other ways, he has become perhaps the boldest and most articulate spokesperson for the conservative alternative to the command-and-control liberalism of Obama.

Conventional wisdom would dictate that such a bold, honest reformer, someone who not only talks about addressing the country's long-term problems but has actually created and passed budgets that do so, simply must be a political loser. But Ryan has defied this "wisdom" for over a decade now, winning well over 50% of the vote in his decidedly purple district in (what at least has been) a blue state. He even won reelection in his district in 2008--the same year that Obama won a majority of its vote! Ryan also adds a young, Midwestern, and Catholic appeal to the ticket that could swing several states into the Romney column, particularly Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, which has already shown signs of doing so.

But Ryan does not defy conventionality in only this respect. Indeed, Ryan has spent much of his political career right on top of what Washingtonians call the "third rail" of politics: entitlement reform. Ever since FDR passed Social Security, and LBJ, Medicare and Medicaid, into law, we have been led to believe that these entitlements are strictly a Democratic asset, one that they can use to frighten seniors and others into voting for them and against Republicans. This may have been true for a while, but the mounting liabilities of these programs, along with Obama's actually cutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare, have opened up an opportunity for Republicans that Romney and Ryan have been exploiting ever since Ryan joined the ticket. These two are particularly well-positioned for this nontraditional offense, as Ryan has proposed--and Romney endorsed--a plan in Congress to shore up Medicare's mounting liabilities. Inaction on these entitlements is no longer an option; as one blogger has put it: the biggest threat to "Medicare as we know it" is Medicare as we know it.

This leaves Romney/Ryan in the interesting position of defending Medicare against cuts brought on by a Democrat. With Ryan and his plan now in the race, this election has already become not only a much needed discussion about the future of Medicare and Social Security, but also might just make it a genuine conflict of visions--much preferable to the mud into which the President has (and continues) to drag this campaign. Fortunately for conservatives, there is probably no Republican more willing and able to present the conservative vision of society and government in a genuine, appealing way than Paul Ryan--though he will have to do so while Democrats throw every insult in the book at him and Romney.

Now the race can truly begin.