What we thought we knew about Mitt Romney changed forever at 800am central time yesterday. The number of people who think they should be President of the United States is immense, but the number of people who actually have projected beyond the proverbial plea to ‘pick me’, to articulate why the nation should give uniquely them such responsibility- well, you can count them on your fingers. With the naming of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has shown himself to be far from the madding presidential crowd. Mitt Romney turns out to be one principled, dead serious candidate for President.
President Roosevelt’s Vice President John Nance Garner was once quoted as saying the position of Vice President “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit”. This unpleasant analogy for many years defined the process by Presidential candidates of viewing the Vice Presidential candidacy as a ticket balancer or a sop to alternate factions of the party, then basically ejecting the Vice President, once elected, to the administration’s wilderness. The Vice President exemplified by Garner was a hand shaker, a funeral chaser, and a yes man with remotely no significant interactions with Presidential policy formation. When another Roosevelt Vice President, Harry Truman, became President with the death of Roosevelt in 1945, he stated “I felt as if the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me” as he was thrust into the Presidency, having been completely out of Roosevelt’s inner circle, and thoroughly out of the loop as to any of the current issues, directives or secrets of a nation in perilous war. The considerations regarding Vice Presidents have evolved, however, and some modern Presidents have looked to their Vice Presidents as more of a secondary counsel, then a ‘one heart beat away’ threat. The most profound example of this was George W Bush’s selection of Dick Cheney, who offered him no identifiable electoral college advantage, but a lifetime of experience in matters of state he could mine for sage advice.
Paul Ryan is the uber Cheney. In selecting Ryan, Romney had to know he was opening himself up to possibility that America would see the election as determined by the nation’s comfort with the Ryan plan to save America, not the Romney plan. Paul Ryan has over the past four years positioned himself as President Obama’s primary philosophical nemesis, the intellectual counter to the idealistic vagaries of Obamacare, Obamonomics, and permanent restructuring America as an Obamination. This is crystal clear anytime the two men are in the same room together – Obama has a profound dislike for Ryan because no one can continue to pretend Obama is the smartest one in the room. Ryan has worked his way under Obama’s skin so deep that Obama has gone out of his way to upstage him, denigrate him, and destroy him. As Obama’s foil Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner stated, when confronted with Ryan’s crushing arguments regarding the administration’s stunning lack of any conceptualization of dealing with the spiraling debt they were creating for future generations, “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long term problem. What we do know is that we don’t like yours.”
The selection of Paul Ryan says more about Mitt Romney then almost any other action he could have taken. It shows Mitt Romney to be a man very comfortable in his own ego and intelligence to allow such a transcendent mind to be constantly compared to his own on the campaign trail, and potentially, into policy discussions at a Romney White House. It shows Mitt Romney to be considerably more principled than the initial glossy version presented to the public in the primaries, a candidate willing to make this an election of hugely stark contrasts, of two diametrically opposed, competing visions of America. It shows Mitt Romney after all to be a man of fundamental values – free market vision, results oriented governance, constitutional clarity, and willing to take on problems no dominant nation has yet to solve coherently without public turmoil. The process by which Romney selected his running mate turns out not so much about the elevation of Ryan, but instead a profound focusing of what has been a blurry Presidential candidate in Romney. In a game changing decision, the questions and doubts as to the core presence of a Romney as principled conservative are gone forever. He has made the 2012 election, and risked his entire lifelong ambition to be President, on the notion that he is actually who he said he was.