The Palinization of Paul Ryan
You’ll know we’ve been playing around with the parallels (for both GOP candidates) between the 2012 election and the 2008 one for a while now—partly tongue in cheek for the snark value, but some of them are real, and they’re not getting less apparent.
OK, Palin’s background and policy stances were a lot sketchier than Ryan’s, but it’s maybe hard now to recall what a phenomenon she was hailed as when she first appeared on the scene (before she opened her trap in interviews and got stumped by bland conversational openers)—stellar approval ratings back home, a reputation for base-pleasing fiscal probity (that didn’t stand up to scrutiny when it came to the old pork barrel), a reputed hotshot “energy policy expert” whose only prescription was the calculatedly shorts-stiffening “Drill, baby, drill,” and a steady and often ruthless rise through the ranks to the point where she was considered worth a shot at VP.
Books and quasi-documentaries have dwelled on the processes and tensions that converted that rising star into the plummeting smoking relic from a far-off galaxy that thudded anticlimactically and tearfully to Earth in November ‘08. One complaint the Quitter from Wasilla’s fans and she herself have made on numerous occasions is that they wouldn’t let her be herself, forced to ignore administrative and policy specifics in favor of crude sloganeering and buzzwordsalads, to spit what she felt would be the crowd-pleasing bile that would somehow magically transform the majority of the electorate into raging acolytes fearful of the terrorist-pallin’ inexperienced fraud from the wrong side of the tracks and propel her and her running mate to power.
The spin we’re getting from the Romney camp is that, like McCain, Mitt is wagging his tail like an old dog paired with a new puppy at the moment, relieved to be sharing the burden of the path he’s chosen with someone who’s portrayed as a game-changing soul mate, a doe-eyed mancrush who can serve as both shield and bolster on the stump. But you do have to wonder what tensions have already emerged, and how the next few months are going to pan out, then the next few years as Ryan returns to the life he once had, I’m assuming a valiant (or disgraced) but vanquished campaigner, with possibilities stretching before him if he doesn’t blow it and retire to become another wingnut welfare Fox drone.
In terms of the most trivial and superficial parallels, there’s the alleged HAWTness and faux-macho backwoods cred I covered the other day down yonder. Again superficial, there was even comment that Ryan looked a bit scruffy on the stump, and I’m not going to enquire what the hell’s going on with his trousers here, but we’ve no doubt all had problems with overenthusiastic bathroom faucets in our time, so I’ll go with that explanation.
He’s looked a little sharper in the more recent pics I’ve seen. At least, in this sexist world in which we’re living, you can kit a male candidate out credibly without conducting a midnight raid on Nieman Marcus, which will no doubt relieve Mr. Adelson et al.
A few other parallels pop off the page of an AP piece syndicated by Businessweek, HuffPo, and the Guardian, among others. I’ll link to the Guardian, since I’m nothing if not jingoistic, as you’ll have noticed:
Romney wants his risky pick to play it safe
Ryan, the nation’s most controversial budget architect, is often described as the intellectual leader of the House Republican caucus. But Romney’s presidential campaign headquarters in Boston seems, for now, to prefer that the 42-year-old father of three talks about camping and milking cows instead of the fiscal proposals that made him a conservative hero.
Ryan, who wrote a plan to overhaul Medicare as chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not use the word “Medicare” with voters over the first four days as the vice presidential candidate. When he finally touched on the health care insurance program for seniors, he did so only in broad strokes after Romney himself first outlined the campaign’s talking points.
“We will not duck the tough issues,” Ryan said Friday in Virginia. “We will lead.”
But Ryan has been directed to avoid taking questions from reporters who travel with him, and to agree only to a few carefully selected interviews. He is known for sketching budget graphs on napkins to explain his ideas, but this past week it was Romney who used a white board during a news conference to help detail his own plan — one he says is virtually identical to Ryan’s.
“I’m joining the Romney ticket,” Ryan told an Ohio television station this week. “It’s not the other way around. So I’m supporting the Mitt Romney plan.”
The Ryan pick is partly another hail Mary pass to try to add “likability” and a degree of humanity to the ticket to offset Mitt’s partician awkwardness and inability to give any hint that he grasps, let alone cares, how the other 99.9% live:
When they are together, the gregarious Ryan helps Romney shed his sometimes wooden image, and they seem to draw larger crowds together than Romney does on his own.
Just don’t expect Ryan to start charting his Medicare plans on stage. His proposal to turn the guaranteed health care program for people 65 and over into a voucher-like system creates significant political challenges for the Romney-Ryan ticket — and for Republicans across the country. Many seniors don’t fully understand the proposal, and Obama’s re-election campaign is aggressively condemning the plan as something that would “end Medicare as we know it.”
That’s largely why Romney is easing Ryan into the debate. While Ryan explained his complicated plans at length during dozens of Medicare town hall-style meetings before becoming Romney’s running mate, those kinds of meetings probably are over because they’re considered too politically dangerous to continue.
Instead, Ryan is being encouraged to discuss his young children, his working-class background and his love of the outdoors as the American people get to know him.
“Let’s play stump the running mate later. Right now I want to enjoy the fair,” Ryan said when asked about Medicare at the Iowa State Fair.
“We do cow-milking contests in Wisconsin,” he continued. “I usually lose to a 17-year-old woman who grew up on a dairy farm, who’s wearing like a sash and tiara.”
Now, from all the evidence, it looks like Ryan actually has much more outdoorsy cred than Palin has ever had, even in her own mind. He’s a catfish noodler, a bowhunter who, unlike Palin, can apparently hit a barn door at more than twenty paces. But the perils of overemphasizing this folksiness are obvious. Daniel Boone was a man, yes, a big man, but he never held elected office higher than state representative and county sheriff (and wasn’t great with money).
And like Palin (and Boone, but that’s by the by), the Ryan myth, so long nurtured and fluffed, could wilt under the glare of the spotlight, with unfortunate consequences for his campaign, never mind his future career:
Despite the cautious approach, Romney’s advisers are expecting Ryan to stumble at times early on as his record faces unprecedented scrutiny. Already, some concerns have popped up.
He reversed course on Thursday and acknowledged lobbying the government for stimulus money after twice denying he had done so. The admission came only after the release of letters, with his signature, asking for millions of the program’s dollars on behalf of two companies in his home state.
And while he has tried to avoid diving into the specifics of his Medicare plan, a reporter pushed him to explain an apparent contradiction during an impromptu lunch meeting in Ohio.
In the interview, Ryan said he never would have included a $700 billion Medicare cut in his budget if Obama hadn’t done it first.
“He put those cuts there,” Ryan said of the president. “We would never have done it in the first place.”
The defense represented a deviation from the Romney campaign’s talking points and overshadowed what was supposed to be a made-for-TV stop at local hotdog restaurant.
You’ve no doubt seen a few more of these stories on other blogs and outlets as the media pack roll the newcomer over, pin him, and sniff him before letting him stagger to his feet to try to find his rank in the great scheme of things. I think in an ideal world he’d like to be alpha male. RROWR. That’s Mitt’s role. We’ll see how that pans out.
Meanwhile, Mitt himself seems determined to cling on to that identity as “generic Republican candidate” who polled relatively well earlier in the year, all the way to November. If you’ll let him.
I usually (not always successfully) try to choose a post title that’s not been used elsewhere. But here’s a fun one that’s nearly identical:
The “Palinization” of Paul Ryan Begins
By Daniel James Wood
There the similarities end, as the author preemptively decries the “Palinization” he imagines the media will inflict on Ryan, rather than observing that the Romney campaign’s hard at it:
Wait for it…
Before Mitt Romney even made the official announcement that Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan would be his pick for vice president, the mere speculation was enough to fire up the Liberal punditry and begin the assault. Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker filed the first attack piece just hours before the news was known, and the hypocrisy of it was instantly apparent.
In the opening paragraph of his piece, Lizza speculates that if the pick is Ryan, Romney will have “made the most daring decision of his political career.” Lizza’s reason is because he believes that there are many “risks” in a Ryan pick, the most ominous of which is what Lizza cites as Ryan’s lack of “significant private-sector experience”. (Sarah Palin redux, anyone?).
It continues in this vein, and concludes:
This is only the beginning, too, and we can expect to see the mainstream media throw all they’ve got at Paul Ryan in the coming months. How fortunate for them this time that they only have to travel to Wisconsin for their dumpster-diving forays, instead of trekking all the way up to Alaska.
Hey, maybe they’ll even find an old picture of Paul Ryan shooting a moose!
Dan, it’s not hard to find pics like that. The turkey shot came as a bit of a surprise, though.