When I heard that Mitt Romney had selected Paul Ryan as his VP running mate, I did a little dance. In my head at least. On the outside, a smile burst over my face. I literally exhaled in a giant sigh of relief. On the inside I was spiking the ball in the end zone and doing the funky chicken. I was leaping through fountains of champagne. I was reciting the 'hardest' Kanye West lyrics I could think of to the kitchen table, which was a stand-in for Romney.
BALL SO HARD!!!
"Suicide doors on the private jet/Ya know what that means: I'm fly to death."
I rarely write about politics on this blog. I know who I am voting for in the 2012 elections: Obama and any Democrat. Seriously. You got a Dem? Put on the ballot. It doesn't matter whether they're dead of alive. They have my vote. There is no question about these last two elections and it's not because I'm Black. My confidence is based on having a pretty good memory of GOP policy in the 1980s and what it did to most Americans and what Bush's policies did to the nation and world at the turn of the millennium. But I respect other people's beliefs. Furthermore, I don't really have a desire to change other people's minds about politics.
But the Ryan announcement brought out the old news/politics wonk in me. I grew up consuming CNN and the NYTimes. My favorite show as a kid wasn't "The Simpsons." It was the British House of Commons "Questions to the Prime Minister" on C-Span every Sunday night. On more than one occasion my sister had some choice words for my turning the channel away from Sunday evening shows to sights of old cantankerous British men sitting on 1970s lime green shiny seats bellowing at each other in, often in sarcastic football cheers and shouts that followed surly exchanges...
I could wake up to that in the morning and it would still make me smile. It's the low rumbling sound of democracy and discourse. It is the music of freedom and the bombastic boom bravado that each person has a right to in a free society.
And all these years of watching and consuming politics has given me an instinctive feel for certain political maneuvering. I don't always have that gut, instant reaction but when I do it's often right.
I remember being in my friends car in LA in 2000 when Gore announced Joe Lieberman as his running mate and me slapping the dashboard in frustration. My friend asked what my problem was and I blurted out 'GORE JUST LOST FLORIDA! AND THAT MEANS HE LOST THE ELECTION." Three months later on election night I just shook my head as the whole thing boiled down a fundamentally flawed campaign and bad decisions.
In 2008 I was driving back from Miami and listening to newcomer Sarah Palin on the radio. Without the visual, I just paid attention to her words and delivery. The gut reaction kicked in...
Small, mean, empty. Vicious 'bully' pleasure in attacking, but probably can't take it.
When I got home the pundits were praising Palin based on how she looked and performed on TV. Everyone was ensorcelled by the instant image. She cast a 48-72 spell over the nation. But the delivery of the words stuck with me. Even on the radio, I could feel her smiling with delight at the small-minded mean jabs written into the speech. This wasn't presidential or even vice-presidential. This was a high school cheerleader with a platform to stick it to the 'nerds' and 'non-jocks.'
So the dance I was doing in my head over the Ryan selection was also another instant reaction moment. This time it was joy and relief. It has nothing to do with Ryan as a man.
I've only heard Ryan speak once on TV and my instant reaction was:
Doesn't get out much.
Talks to people only in his circle.
And there was another image that popped in my head when I thought of Paul Ryan: a hydroponic plant.
A living thing sustained by artificial means, growing in the basement, but utterly unable to handle the natural elements. Ryan's mind has been locked in the cellar of some conservative think tank, being fed history through an artificial tube, and mistaking the hot lamps of Fox News from the bright August sun of national presidential campaign that will be nothing short of relentless.
I don't think he'll managed the attack dog role with as much unbridled glee as Sarah Palin. And he seems like a clean-cut professional. But Ryan also comes across as incredibly sheltered and naieve in his opinion on how things actually work outside of his immediate life and existence. When you think about great leaders -regardless of the party affiliation- they've usually faced some huge challenge and were forced to go outside of their comfort zone.
Rich old white guy selects younger, whiter-looking Midwestern guy to appeal to...
Women? Hell no!
Older voters? Not with his budget plans.
The Ryan pick shores up the GOP base at the expense of all other voters. It's a catastrophic mistake that almost gift-wraps the election for Obama. He just lost women and older voters and, without that, the GOP can't win any of the swing states. In fact, Dem politicians might be able to win a few House seats back on the Ryan pick.
Instead of the election being a referendum about Obama's middling economic performance, it will be about Ryan for a few reasons: 1) we're sick of talking about Obama and the economy 2) Obama's actual policies are very mild 3) most people still blame Bush for the economic collapse so Obama attacks on go so far 4)Ryan is the new story, the media will focus its attention on over the next month. And this is bad, awful, very terrible, not good news for the GOP.
Paul Ryan's politics represent the bottoming out of a delusional think tank fantasy. They are not only impractical but downright scary when applied to reality. He lists Ayn Rand as a hero. I loved Ayn Rand too. When I was 13 years old. I was immature, rebellious, and had no concept of social structures. Ryan is 43. What's his excuse?
To understand how bizarre and scary his 'deregulate social services' idea can be it takes a bit of a perspective. You have to go back to before Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid existed. You have to look at the poverty numbers for elderly and remember the stories of senior citizens eating dog food and dying from perfectly treatable disease because they couldn't see a doctor. To know what America was like before Social Security you need to just think about that seniors went from being at the highest risk for living in squalor to being relatively stable and middle-class within a few generations. This didn't happen by accident. This happened because Americans said 'that's enough. I don't want my mother to work her whole to be eating Purina One out of a can in a slum house. Do something!'
Government did do something. Tremendous and drastic to address a serious problem. And, for the large part, it has and continues to work. That doesn't mean Social Security is perfect and couldn't use tweaks. But deregulating it would leave people at the mercy of the financial market and trade. These are the same markets that bankrupted entire continents in a matter of hours in 2007. These same markets evaporated billions of dollars in college funds, endowments, and grants in a cloud of numbers. And these are the same markets that were bailed out, never apologized, rolled over, and continued making billion-dollar bonuses. These are the markets that Ryan thinks will 'fix' Social Security.
Of course, Ryan will be given better coverage this first week before people start really digging in. But then they'll turn and begin digging into his beliefs. This will be around September, which is when the public opinion will solidify about Rep. Ryan. October will be the debates and then November is the election. So pretty much there is one strong month that will focus on Ryan. September was the month that broke Sarah Palin. And September will be the defining month for Ryan and Romney. Dem operatives will probably let Romney/Ryan have their convention and post-convention bounce. Because that's as good as it's going to get for the GOP.
In September Bill Clinton, Obama, and every friendly Dem politician will be sprinting across the country talking about Romney's tax returns, Bain Capital, and Ryan's budget. Congressional Republicans will be be responding to tax return and economic fairness questions. These are not the questions the GOP wants to focus on.
GOP operatives are going to try to define Ryan in a strong light. But they've been trying to do that for Romney for the past year and look how far it's gotten them. What makes anyone think that image/myth creation work the GOP couldn't do for Romney with a 12-month head start, they can pull for Paul Ryan in 6 weeks?
Long-term the Ryan pick is equally promising for Dems. The GOP base is shrinking. It needs a desperate restart before it loses the next two generations of Americans. Ryan's pick is a crowd-pleaser for Fox News and a non-starter for most voters. The only thing they'll remember about him is his Rand-style budget that's a hatchet job on the middle class.
Congratulations Romney: you just made a game changing move. Unfortunately it's for Obama.
And although the White House is too cool and professional to admit this, I bet I wasn't the only one doing a touchdown dance in my head this weekend.