US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryanby Omar Khasru
Representative Paul Ryan, Congressman from the state of Wisconsin, is articulate, young and energetic, as well as politically tried, tested and savvy. He is extolled within the Republican Party for his leadership skills and intellectual knack. He is immensely popular in the conservative circle where he has been regarded as a rising star. He is 42 years old but has already been elected to the US Congress for seven consecutive two-year terms.
As the chairman of the Congressional Budget Committee and as a vocal critic of Obama healthcare and fiscal policies, he has made his mark. Backers have described him as a policy wonk, statistical whiz, financial intellect with a strong penchant for limited government and fiscal responsibility. Detractors, especially from the rival Democratic Party, describe him as a right-wing ideologue who will drive Medicare, the government run elderly health care program, into the ground.
Paul Ryan has just been nominated as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate in the upcoming November 2012 presidential race against incumbent Barrack Obama. The striking declaration was made on August 11 at Norfolk, Virginia on the deck of USS Wisconsin, one of the largest battleships ever built for the US Navy, now used as a museum. The venue has some significance because the ship is named after the home state of Ryan.
It was an archetypal ceremony where Romney declared Ryan as his running mate with fervor, intensity and fanfare. He was all set to announce Ryan as the next US Vice President, as is customary. The enthusiastic announcement, however, displayed an amusing faux pas. Romney mistakenly introduced Paul Ryan as “the next President of the United States.” That may seem like a classic Freudian slip. The mistake was instantly rectified amidst laughter and lightheartedness.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, supposed frontrunner previously, Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, all of whom were said to be in active consideration for the Vice President nomination, were informed earlier that they were not chosen. According to news reports, Romney called each in his short list the day before his announcement.
Ryan has been viewed by Republicans as a game changing pick for the Romney campaign. He is a Republican wunderkind who has been praised as a conservative brain thrust. Perhaps more notably, Ryan and Romney genuinely get along. Prior to the April Wisconsin primary, the two campaigned together for a week and they seemed to interact naturally well. One potential snag may be that the eloquence, vigor and spontaneity of Ryan may occasionally overshadow the more restrained, subtle and down-to-earth Romney.
Before the announcement, it appeared that Romney campaign had lost the flair, vibrancy and zip somewhat. It seemed that the inertia had set in to some extent. Choosing Ryan is an unusually bold step by the generally cautious campaign. This is the kind of intrepid decision insiders say is needed to shake up what was perceived as a sluggish campaign and to defeat President Obama in November. But it also sets up a few potential tripwires.
Ever since Mitt Romney secured the Republican presidential nomination in late May, he has been rather vague and imprecise about what he hopes to achieve should he become the next president. He has vehemently criticized Obama’s handling of the economy and his legislative record, in particular the Affordable Care Act regarding expanded healthcare.
But, seldom has he offered specifics about what he would do, even downplaying his own record as Massachusetts Governor including his healthcare program, referred to as Romneycare, viewed by many as the forerunner to Obama’s national healthcare plan. He has recently backed away from his private sector experiences following the relentless attacks from the Obama campaign.
Before picking Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney had typically framed the election as a referendum on President Barack Obama. The calculation is that Obama failure and the state of the economy were enough for him to run and win. He just hoped to be the beneficiary of anti-Obama sentiments without offering distinct options.
It is as if the electorate does not have to vote for him or his programs, proposals and pledges as long as they vote against Obama. This is very similar to the broad BNP plan to win the next election here riding on the failure, spite, intransigence and ineptitude of the ruling Awami League.
With the selection of Ryan, Romney has reframed the election into a clear choice between the policies of the Obama administration and the fiscal restraint and small government policies of the Romney-Ryan ticket.
Paul Ryan is a political lightning rod. As the House Budget Committee chairman, he introduced The Path to Prosperity, commonly referred to as the Ryan budget, the Republican party’s alternative proposal for 2012. It is controversial. The Ryan budget may be dynamic and politically gutsy but it contains potential pitfalls for the Romney campaign. The rivals now have something specific and contentious to sink their teeth into and degrade it to nightmarish mush for the Republican ticket.
The last two presidents, Bush Jr. and Obama, picked older running mates, neither of whom stirred more popular interest than the candidates themselves. But Paul Ryan is different. He has been a Congressman for a third of his life since the age of 28. As the more forceful partner of the Republican ticket, his every move, every proposal, every action and every utterance, past and present, will be probed, scrutinized and dissected at least as closely and thoroughly as those of Romney.
It is accepted that Ryan can dish it out but can he take the criticism and badgering with dignity, good humor and grace? Unlike the past two Vice Presidents, he potentially has a long and significant political career still ahead of him. How this seminal event will affect him and significantly shape his political future will be for everyone to observe, ponder and analyze.
No one would ever accuse Ryan of lacking in ideas or confidence. The New Yorker magazine called the House Budget Committee chairman the leader of his party’s “attack-and-propose faction.” Rather than obstruct the Obama legislation in the Congress, he presented alternative budget, strongly advocating deficit reduction. And he was very explicit about how he would accomplish his goal.
The potential hazards in his proposals are the top tax rate would be cut from 35 to 25 percent, all taxes on capital gains, interest, and stock dividends would be abolished, and, most debatably, the plan would privatize Social Security and Medicare. Changing Social Security and Medicare may be bold and even necessary. But both are potential political minefields. Romney now has to constantly defend or explain his differences with these divisive Ryan proposals.
Ryan’s plan, which Democrats claim would effectively finish Medicare, was first advanced in 2011. His proposals include the provision that government approved private insurers would compete with traditional Medicare on an exchange. The opponents say that would increase the financial burden on senior citizens.
Republicans heralding their party's vice presidential candidate say that Paul Ryan’s proposed overhaul of Medicare would be a boon to their chances in November, rather than a liability. They, however, quickly add that Mitt Romney would advance his own budget policy as president, not totally reliant on Ryan’s policy proposals.
Ryan has never lost an election. His record in the private sector, however, is iffy and slender, having entered Congress at an early age. His resume of past job experiences is not exactly the “real world” business experience to which the Romney campaign has staked its reputation and prospect.
The Vice Presidential nominees is a prolific fundraiser. Ryan’s ability to raise money is tied to his status as the party’s leading deficit hawk. But as a vice presidential nominee, he may be required to bargain his fiscal purity for the good of the ticket. The question is whether that would negate his initial appeal. Also, Ryan has never campaigned for himself outside his own congressional district. And Ryan’s reputation for fiscal austerity would likely be challenged by Democrats who will point to his “yes” votes on the bank bailouts.
President Obama beat John McCain by 14 points in the Wisconsin primary in 2008. Ryan could help keep his home state in active play. A traditional pro-democratic state in the presidential race, Obama would have to spend time and money to campaign there even if Republicans do not win the state. But then, people vote for the president and not the vice president. It is unlikely that on election day, many voters leaning toward Obama will hop on the Romney bandwagon just because native son Ryan is in the ticket.
So there are positives and probable negatives after the inclusion of Paul Ryan. Ryan may prove to be the distinguished, principled, intellectual, policy-driven part of the ticket, offering strategic and ideological basis of Romney’s election effort. This exalted position is traditionally reserved for the presidential contender. The vice presidential candidate usually works as the second fiddle and the primary task is to attack rival candidates. This time around the role is somewhat different.
The presidential election is now a stark choice between two visions: the Ryan vision has now become Romney’s and it is in contrast to the middle-class centric populist pledges of the Obama-Biden ticket. Romney, considered by some critics as a perennial flip-flopper, the politician who has been on every side from every angle of every issue, has now found the ideological compass to guide the way to snatch possible victory.
Paul Ryan, supporters say, has proposed viable and tangible solution to a bloated federal debt and has come up with sustainable fiscal path to take care of the out of control health care spending problem. Whether voters would buy this appraisal or look at the Ryan provisions too risky and uncertain will likely decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. The issue is will the voters consider him a right wing ideologue out to favor the rich or will they think of his ideas as creative and innovative that will go a long way to solve the pervasive problems.
Past vice presidential candidates rarely have played such pivotal and decisive role in influencing the result of an election that would set the specific course for the future of a strong democracy in the most powerful country of the world.
Certain facts and figures obtained from CNN, Yahoo and other news sources
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