Paul Ryan Joins the Electoral Fray
Much of the travelling circus that was the Republican Primary campaign trail centered on Mitt Romney’s attempts to recast himself as an actual conservative (not the li’l-too-liberal, sorta-sometimes-semi-conservative his record reveals him to be). Serious doubts about his ability to rally the conservative voting base the party will need to win the Presidential election and equally-essential congressional elections extended his bid to win the nomination a few tenuous months. Announcing Paul Ryan as the candidate for Vice President was a clear signal the party feared Romney’s lack of conservative credentials would ultimately doom their chances in races across the country. Ryan is the real deal; a tea-party favorite and media darling for his disarming portrayal of an intelligent man (something the Republicans have lacked in recent years). What does Obama/Biden vs. Romney/Paul mean for the country? How does this impact the modern man? We’re glad you asked…
The emerging national narrative is casting this election as a philosophical Judgment Day for America. This is a welcome change for the Romney camp who have struggled to be taken seriously as conservatives. The 2010 midterm elections altered the conservative landscape. Hardline Tea Party candidates found surprising success in numerous local and state elections, signaling a we’re-mad-as-hell-and-not-gonna-take-it-anymore revolution. The rhetoric of austerity and fiscal responsibility rallied a large segment of middle-class white America who, for the first time, experienced the feeling of having a President they could not identify with at the most basic level. The fallout of the housing bubble burst and ensuing credit crisis made it all-too-easy for the Tea Party movement to gain national momentum behind cries of Big Government = Bad Government (let’s just ignore the growth of government under the previous Republican Presidents and congresses; a good narrative cannot abide facts). The simple answer to all our economic woes would be reduced government spending, less taxes, and a balanced budget.
The standoff between President Obama and the Republican-controlled congress since 2010 has nearly grinded government to a halt, twice. The President’s budget proposals have been met with absolute dismissal by the opposition and the leading idea man for alternatives from Republicans has been Paul Ryan. His plans involve massive spending cuts to medicare and social security, elimination of burdensome social programs (which largely benefit people who are not middle-class, white conservative voters), elimination of capital gains taxes (which largely benefits the other class of people that are not middle-class, white conservative voters, but we all believe we’ll be joining their ranks soon so it’s cool), and a stern dose of long-term austerity. Setting aside the debate about the effectiveness of austerity programs, this political standoff reaches its boiling point on the most dramatic stage, the Presidential election.
With Ryan on board, angry conservatives everywhere have a rallying point for their electoral angst. Ryan will speak well, make complex economic theories seem accessible, and probably not say anything sounding incredibly ignorant. He will tow the intellectual load, providing the cheat sheet of Libertarian talking points. He will provide a distinct alternative to the Obama plan for economic renewal, which is a bit too similar to Romney’s Massachusetts tenure for conservative comfort.
The choice confronting voters is more complex than opposing plans for economic recovery. The conservative-liberal standoff of the past two years has deeply divided the country on many social issues. The Republican mantra of personal responsibility suggests an unrealistic level of individual circumstantial control. The Democratic faith in the ability of government to solve social problems is overly optimistic. The answer is balance, but the choice is cast as diametric absolutes.
We are confronted with a widening gap between wealthy and poor Americans; an alarming problem. We have a mass incarceration problem dividing us on ethnic lines. We have a subpar educational system threatening our long-term viability. We have a bloated healthcare system threatening our financial solvency. We have businesses profiting on deception, irresponsibility, and theft. The problems we collectively face have collective consequences. No matter how much personal responsibility we accept, these are problems government must address. Political stalemates solve nothing. Investing ourselves in divisive campaigns and zero-compromise faceoffs is counter-productive.
The most critical outcomes from this election season will be the way future ideological conflicts will be resolved. If we reward hardline, fundamentalism we will choose a government incapable of serving the needs of a majority of its constituents. This applies equally to both sides. Our best outcome is to force political compromise, demand solutions meant to maximize the quality of life for the greatest number in our democracy, not serve the interests of a faction of exclusive power-wielders.