Last week, under intense lobbying from friends and family, I finally broke down and registered to vote. I consoled myself by thinking that at just because I am registered doesn’t mean I actually have to get off my comfy couch and drive to the polls, nor even sit through televised debates in order to discern which politician tells me prettier lies.
Then, to my surprise, I learned that Governor Romney picked Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate.
I lived in Ryan’s Congressional District of Janesville Wisconsin from 2006 to 2008. The Midwest was a big culture shock for me, more than Europe or the Deep South; I felt trapped in a Garrison Keillor novel. It was a period of my life when I was happily disengaged from politics but would still occasionally vent my cynicism, casually referring to politicians as whores and thieves and whatever other terms of abuse came to mind. My neighbors, however, would gently but frankly correct me (as only Midwesterners can do) saying “Well, maybe some of them are, but we have a pretty good guy, Paul Ryan, here in Janesville.”
At the time I chalked that up to Midwestern naivety. After all, I am from sophisticated New England where we are well aware that our politicians are crooks and frauds and yet vote for them anyway because, well, uh… that is just what you do. I always figured that the only other option to voting for a clown is not to vote at all since, to steal a famous line, voting only encourages them. Still, Ryan’s name stuck in my mind, especially since 2010 when Wisconsin politics took center stage in America.
There are two things I’ve come to like about Mr. Ryan: first, unlike Romney or Obama, he seems to have a grasp of basic mathematics and speaks of things like taxes and deficits in real numbers rather than vague slogans. (I am always mystified at how the President can say he will raise taxes by half a trillion, spend another 1.5 trillion, thereby solving the 5 trillion-dollar deficit, and no one asks him if he isn’t some kind of moron. When did we come to expect to have our intelligence insulted?) Second, unlike most Republicans, Ryan does not plan his budgets according to the touching faith that tax cuts always and everywhere lead to predictable revenue increases. He may have privately drunk the kool-aid, but he does not bet the nation’s future on it.
That does not mean I’m giddy about the choice. It is no secret that there is a disconnect between the Republican Party and Republican voters, with the GOP machine cranking out candidates on the basis of blandness and seniority rather than talent. The Tea Party movement is frequently portrayed as a manifestation of the atavistic resentments of the unwashed masses, but it is more accurate to see it as Republican voters daring to hold their own party accountable, much to horror of the ruling class. My guess is that the Ryan pick is meant to placate the base without upsetting the party machine.
I cannot say for certain whether Ryan’s ideas for America are the best out there, or if as Vice President he would have any appreciable impact for good or bad on the policies of a Romney administration. But I hope he can force a debate about how to handle the nation’s abysmal finances. At the very least he cannot be any more of an ass than Joe Biden.
So, does this put me firmly in the Romney/Ryan camp? Nope. It is still a long way to election day, and my couch is still real comfy.