So Mitt picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate.
No, he's not Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska — the only political position that she held to completion. She touted her foreign policy experience because she could see Russia from her house, and didn't read the newspapers.
Paul Ryan isn't that stupid.
But to hear the news commentary, you would think he was a fucking genius when it comes to economics. He has a B.A. in economics from some Florida community college. That doesn't make him an economist any more than I am a social psychologist (B.A., Soc. Psych, Tufts Univ. 1985).
Yes, he came up with an economic plan, but the plan was a joke. It didn't make sense. Paul?
Mark Kleiman points us to a lamentable but revealing column by William Saletan, which illustrates perfectly how the essentially ludicrous Paul Ryan has gotten so far – namely, by playing to the gullibility of self-proclaimed centrists, who want to show their “balance” by finding a conservative to praise.
Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He isn’t just another Tea-Party ideologue spouting dogma about less government and the magic of free enterprise. He has actually crunched the numbers and laid out long-term budget proposals.
OK, what? Where is that coming from? Did Saletan miss the whole discussionwhen the Ryan plan came out? Did he miss the point where even Jacob Weisberg apologized for his initial praise, admitting that
I reacted too quickly and didn’t sort out just how laughable Ryan’s long-term spending projections were. His plan projects an absurd future, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in which all discretionary spending, now around 12 percent of GDP, shrinks to 3 percent of GDP by 2050. Defense spending alone was 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009. With numbers like that, Ryan is more an anarchist-libertarian than honest conservative.
Look, Ryan hasn’t “crunched the numbers”; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.
So why does Saletan believe otherwise? Has he crunched the numbers himself? Of course not. What he’s doing – and what the whole Beltway media crowd has done – is to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious conservative wonk. In reality, Ryan is nothing like that; he’s a hard-core conservative, with a voting record as far right as Michelle Bachman’s, who has shown no competence at all on the numbers thing.
What Ryan is good at is exploiting the willful gullibility of the Beltway media, using a soft-focus style to play into their desire to have a conservative wonk they can say nice things about. And apparently the trick still works.
And by the way, Romney/Ryan is Gekko/Galt.
So was the Ryan pick good or bad for Obama? On the whole, I think it was good for Obama. Yes, Ryan shores up the conservatives which Romney needs. But they weren't going to vote for Obama anyway, and they weren't going to stay home.
You see, there have long been two theories about presidential elections. One is that they’re won in the middle, by the candidate who can pivot most successfully to the center and pick up the swing voters there. The other is that they’re won by the candidate who gets higher turnout from voters always inclined to support him or her.
The Ryan selection seems to endorse and put stock in the second theory. The severity of his budget proposals and his intellectual romance with Ayn Rand don’t strike me as big turn-ons for a large number of independents and moderates, many of whom will deem him—and maybe, by extension, the nominee who chose him—as too callous: as the man in that political ad who pushes grandma in her wheelchair all the way off the cliff. But true conservatives? Many are doing cartwheels right now.
But Ryan hurts Romney when it comes to Medicare (Ryan wants to turn it into a voucher system). That hurts the GOP with seniors. And suddenly, the toss-up state of Florida looks a little bluer (it's not like the Latino voters are going to swing to Romney).
Putting it numerically, Obama has 237 of the needed 270 electoral votes locked up. That means, he needs only 33 to win. Florida gives Obama 27 of those 33. And the Ryan pick moves Florida closer to the Obama column. (And now, it doesn't take Wisconsin, where Ryan is from, out of the blue column. Vice Presidents don't take their states necessarily).
Now, of course, it is still too early to see what lasting impact, if any, Ryan will have on the election outcome. There are still the debates. And many many many ads.
But let's give kudos to Romney for not picking a Sarah Palin. At least give him that.
By the way, if you want to know more about Ryan, Ezra has you covered. The big takeaways is this:
”If you know about Paul Ryan at all, you probably know him as a deficit hawk. But Ryan has voted to increase deficits and expand government spending too many times for that to be his north star. Rather, the common thread throughout his career is his desire to remake the basic architecture of the the federal government.”
This is a very good out-of-the-gate Obama ad: