On the surface, Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate is both daring and smart. It’s daring, obviously, because Ryan’s budgetary vision of a drastically reduced federal government presents such an existential threat to liberalism that it may unite Democrats in a death-or-glory stand behind President Obama. But it’s smart because Ryan has been one of the only Republicans since Ronald Reagan capable of inspiring the right while reassuring moderates.
It seems an historical accident that The Washington Post op-ed page—home to George F. Will, where Henry Kissinger comes to muse—gave birth to one of the great underground comics. But the legendary curator of that page, Meg Greenfield, had a rare (for an editorialist) streak of adventure that occasionally pointed her in the opposite direction of bow-tied bloviating.
The clichéd phrase “debate season” is inescapable. There was a Republican debate on CNBC Wednesday night. Tomorrow will see another shootout, this one down in South Carolina. But these events seem to have won few fans. They are being mocked and denounced by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to MSNBC contributors.
The Republican Party has never been confused with a nonprofit charity, but it was not so long ago that elements of the GOP enjoyed displaying a little human tenderness. Jack Kemp, the former football star and vice presidential nominee, is probably best known for his supply-side philosophy, but as a Congressman and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he brought what The New York Times said was “more zeal to America's poverty problems than any national politician since Robert Kennedy.” Then there was George W. Bush.
By the very nature of political journalism, the attention of those covering the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest tends to be focused on areas of disagreement between the candidates, as well as on the policy positions and messages they are eager to use against Barack Obama. But there are a host of other issues where the Republican candidates are in too much agreement to create a lot of controversy during debates or gin up excitement in the popular media. Areas of agreement, after all, rarely provoke shock or drive readership.
Over the past decade, both Democrats and Republicans have pushed major initiatives to restructure our health and entitlement systems, arguing that significant changes were necessary in order to keep them afloat. So far, their proposals have consistently lurched too far either to the left or to the right of the median voter, and they’ve paid for it dearly each time at the polls. But both parties are right about one thing: The status quo is unsustainable.
Buffalo—Democrat Kathy Hochul bounded to the stage of a union hall in Amherst, just northeast of Buffalo, late Tuesday as the newly elected congresswoman from the ruby red congressional district that brought us Jack Kemp, Bill Paxon, and Tom Reynolds. After all the requisite hugs and thank yous, she mentioned her plans to fight to close corporate tax loopholes and make millionaires pay their fair share. “We can do all that,” she said, “and not decimate Medicare.” Hearing that single word, the crowd erupted with the mantra of the Hochul campaign. “Medicare! Medicare!
The most interesting thing to come out of Paul Ryan's budget-reboot speech today is that he's toning down the debt-hysteria angle and returning to his supply-side roots. The speech is full of lamentations about class warfare, optimistic talk about the future, and even a shout-out to original supply-sider Jack Kemp, "my mentor." And if you're looking for news value, I think this passage of the speech shows how hard it's going to be to get Ryan to support any Bowles-Simpsonesque grand bargain: See, right now, we’re finally having a debate in Washington about how to address our fiscal problems.