Thomas R. Marshall, Vice President for Woodrow Wilson, once told a story indicative of his job’s anonymity. “There once were two brothers. One ran away to sea, the other was elected vice president. Neither one of them was heard of again.”
Today, however, the office is much more prestigious and powerful, causing many politicians to seek it, rather than run from it, even though it can still wreck a career. Just ask Dan Quayle.
Over the weekend, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared his choice for a vice presidential running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. The pick was bold and seems to have excited conservatives and Tea Partiers, who thus far have been lukewarm toward the top of the ticket. Since the announcement, massive crowds have gathered at Romney-Ryan rallies, some of the largest yet seen this season.
Even though he comes from the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan will not have to contend with the issue of obscurity. He is well known throughout the party and the nation. As chairman of the Budget Committee, he has been at the forefront of the fight to reform entitlements, cut spending, balance the budget, and pay down the debt, crafting a controversial plan that Democrats have assaulted for two years. But he knows the budget better than anyone on either side of the aisle and is considered the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.
In past campaigns, liberals generally attacked a conservative vice presidential nominee’s fitness to be president, usually by suggesting the candidate has a lack of experience or a lack of smarts. Ryan is sure to face the brunt of the liberal media but inexperienced or dumb he is not. The attacks against Sarah Palin will not work this time around.
The smears hurled against Ryan will contend that he is too radical and extreme. Democrats wasted little time to begin their assaults. David Axelrod, one of Obama’s top aides, attacked him as a “rightwing ideologue” on the Sunday morning show “This Week” on ABC. “I really didn’t think that Governor Romney would go so far to satisfy the most strident voices in his party,” he told George Stephanopoulos.
Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina took to the airwaves to give the same old stale Democratic talking points: “With Mitt Romney’s support, Ryan would end Medicare as we know it and slash the investments we need to keep our economy growing – all while cutting taxes for those at the very top.”
News headlines in the last few days have been equally tough. The National Journal: “Why Ryan Could Make a Romney Victory Harder.” Washington Post: “Paul Ryan donations from a now-convicted Wis. businessman could draw fire.” ABC News online: “5 Things Mitt Doesn’t Want You to Know About Paul Ryan.” Yahoo News had two doozies: “Will Paul Ryan Lose Ohio for the GOP?” and “Ryan’s Economic Policies Stuck in the 1980s.” And the New York Times: “Risky Ryan.”
From the television media we get even more insults. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post referred to Ryan as “Sarah Palin with substance and a paper trail.” Broadcasting from the announcement event itself, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said “This is not a pick for suburban moms. This is not a pick for women,” while her colleague David Gregory asked if Paul Ryan was “a little too incendiary” to be vice president. On CNN, Candy Crowley called the Romney-Ryan ticket a “death wish,” while Gloria Borger referred to Ryan as a “polarizing figure.”
We can expect these types of statements from the left on a daily basis. Yet even though Ryan is a strong conservative, it can be agreed that he is not perfect, having cast some controversial votes that might give a few Tea Partiers heartburn. He voted for the bank bailout bill, the auto bailout, and Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit extension.
Far rightwing radio show host Mike Savage attacked the Ryan pick, believing that “Romney insiders detest conservatives and are trying to appease the core base with Ryan. Too little, too late.” Savage believes that Democrats will have a field day using Ryan’s controversial budget plan against him, just as we have seen thus far from the Obama campaign.
But Democrats would do that anyway, to whomever Romney chose for the ticket. Those liberal campaign tactics have been around as long as Medicare and will never go away as long as Medicare remains.
Though most presidential nominees choose a running mate that can cover a weakness, the Ryan pick is different. Romney is known as an economic guru and certainly needs no help in that category. Yet the selection of Ryan seems to suggest that Romney wants to ensure that the economy, namely the debt, deficit, and entitlements, will be the main focus of the election, as it should be. Let’s hope the Romney-Ryan team aggressively takes that fight to Obama.
For now Congressman Ryan must brace himself for a continuing leftwing barrage, a tidal wave of attacks he and his family will face for the next three months. We will soon see how Mr. Ryan handles the full force of the liberal media. He may find out that running away to sea was a better option.
This column was published in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on Tuesday, August 14, 2012.