Clarence Page: Paul Ryan's magical thinking

BY CLARENCE PAGE Published: August 17, 2012
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Among other “awesome news” about Paul Ryan, as my son would call it, we have learned that Mitt Romney's running mate was voted prom king and “biggest brown noser” by his high school classmates. Obviously, he was destined for success in politics.

Let's give the Wisconsin Republican a break on that dubious achievement award. Ryan was a good-looking athlete with good grades, an impressive list of club activities and enough popularity to be prom king. Of course, he had haters. It was high school, the cruelest time of life, perhaps second only to running for national office.

That's the life Ryan faces as Romney's running mate. It's an odd marriage of convenience between the fiscally conservative Ryan, a darling of the tea party right, and Romney, a serial flip-flopper determined to prove his conservative credentials with his own party's right wing.

That's why Ryan's choice brought glee to the right and relief to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign team. In picking Ryan, the deficit-hawk chairman of the House Budget Committee, Romney decided to start from the right and swing even further right, further from the moderate swing voters who bring victory in November. That's an indication that he has not firmed up his base, even in August, right before the National Republican Convention.

Now, at a time when Romney has been trying to make this election a referendum on Obama's performance in office, Obama can run as a defender of popular but financially troubled government programs like Medicare, against Ryan, who has programs like Medicare in his deficit-cutting sights.

In other words, Ryan brings to the Romney campaign the tea party's style of magical thinking, a blissfully simplistic, ideologically driven worldview that seems to think candidates can win votes by promising to reduce popular government services.

Or, at least that's the message Team Obama can be expected to hammer again and again in its ad campaigns, speeches and sound bites. There's no question that the financing of Medicare and Medicaid, which funds nursing home care and other health care for the poor, is not sustainable in their current form. But Ryan's plans make the Romney-Ryan team so vulnerable to attack that even Romney was quick to say he didn't entirely agree with it.

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