1. Good news from the USA TODAY: Christie will be the keynote speaker. Whatever Romney says, the combo of Christie and Ryan will guarantee a convention bounce. I’m also relieved for the sign that fat guys—or normally semi-unfit guys— still have a place at the Republican table.
2. Bad news from the USA TODAY: A study show that people regard Ryan as the worst VP pick since Quayle, with the fair/poor camp outnumbering the positive one. This, of course, is a telling reminder that the case for Ryan has to be made, and it won’t be easy.
3. My judgment: The Ryan choice improves Romney’s otherwise faltering chances for winning the election. But it also makes an Obama landslide not impossible. The campaign will now turn on the case for Ryan or, better, Romney’s appropriation of what’s best about Ryan.
4. Pete and Yuval and the other experts are right to focus on the most recent Ryan plan, which spends as much on Medicare as Obama and doesn’t force anyone into a DEFINED BENEFITS Medicare plan. But will that be enough? The Democratic rejoinder is that that plan doesn’t represent what Ryan really wants to do, and what the Republicans would do if they held all the elected power of government. Ryan really is a DEFINED BENEFITS guy and a big-time welfare-state truncator, and he’s been for a tax scheme that would reduce Romney’s tax bill to virtually nothing.
5. So Ryan has to be presented as the only realistic “ideas guy,” the one facing up to the debt/demographic crisis. But it has to also be implicitly conceded that he’s too libertarian, and that Romney, the more authentic mend it/don’t end it guy when it comes to to our entitlement/health-care system, will be in charge.
6. Reforming and, to tell the truth, trimming entitlements has to be presented as an unfortunate necessity, and not as a new birth of freedom. And that necessity can’t be presented as caused by Americans’ degrading dependency on the “soft despotism” described by Tocqueville. That causal linkage, in fact, is pretty tenuous or even semi-incredible. But I’ve talked about that before. Some “West-Coast Staussians” are thrilled with Ryan because they think he’s bought into and understands well the Founders good/Progressives evil narrative. Talking about natural/God-given rights I’m all for, but I’m not for a campaign that suggests that we need to go back to a time before anyone named Roosevelt.
7. The choice of Ryan has been most favorably received by those who think or say there’s no contradiction at all between an individualistic/Lockean interpretation of the wisdom of our Founding and Catholic social thought. So Ryan actually makes sense when he’s says, more or less, that he’s a Randian except for the atheistic parts. He’s a Thomist in terms of “epistemology,” which means that he believes that we’re, by nature, all about both economic liberty and the truth about the personal, relational God. Ryan has shown he’s not a Randian deep-down, of course, by his devotion to the life issues (Rand despised Reagan for his social conservatism) and his exemplary personal life. Still, it’s naive to say there’s no problem at all here in terms of convincing voters that he’s not radically hostile to the minimalist welfare state they’d rather conserve to the extent possible, that he really identifies with the plight of the increasingly contingent and disordered life of the working man and woman.
8. So it would surely be a mistake for Obama to dump Biden. It’s true that the VP stands out this year, and maybe not so much in a good way. Romney, Ryan, Obama are all serious and articulate men of extraordinary personal discipline both physical and moral. No one denies they’ve lived exemplary personal lives. They, I’ve been told, are probably the three most attractive and fit national candidates ever. They could do commercials together after their political lives are over modeling anything from tuxes to cycling gear. Biden (or Christie!) won’t be asked to join them. Biden is pretty close to the opposite of a poster boy for rigorous personal discipline.
9. But the case against Romney and Ryan will be: How can these guys who’ve never really worked for a living (or served their country in the military) undermine the dignity of ordinary working stiffs by callously messing with their safety nets? Biden, it seems to me, could actually make that case against Ryan with some effectiveness. “They look like bosses, like the guys who lay us off,” to almost quote the periodically hefty Huckabee. Biden also has all that foreign-policy experience (of which the hawkish Republicans have none at all) going for him, as well as the admirable military service of his son Beau. (None of the actual candidates have military experience!) Everyone, I know, will think I’ve overmade this case. Still, there’s some truth to the observation that Biden might be the most anti-elitist candidate, the Democrats’ link to “the regular guy” who or might or might not end up being okay or better with Ryan. (Again, the case for Ryan etc. has to be made. It’s not self-evident. So maybe Pete, to begin with, is right about using all that Romney money to run longer-than-usual commercials.)
Please remember that I’m all for Romney-Ryan, and this post is tough (not that tough) love.