Cincinnati, Ohio – About a week ago, it was impossible not to feel excitement in the air. Mitt Romney of the Caymans, it was whispered across the social media platforms and cable outlets, had chosen his potential successor, should he become our next commander-in-chief. It was one Paul Ryan of Janesville, Wisconsin – the most physically fit human being since Joe Piscopo, the scourge of waste in government, an up-from-the-bootstraps American dreamer.
Or at least that is the way his elevation from congressman to vice-presidential candidate has largely been covered, particularly among what is known as the conservative media “echo chamber”. It’s actually been pretty funny to watch much of that media complex in Washington swoon over this guy like they’re forest wolves and he’s St Francis of Assisi. I know Jay Leno once said Washington was “Hollywood for ugly people”. But it also often seems that Washington can be Hollywood for people who think discussing tax cuts is a form of foreplay.
So instead of pieces reminding people – as Social Security’s 77th birthday was recognised last week – that this guy released a plan in 2004 (and I use that term ‘plan’ loosely) that would have taken half of every US citizen’s Social Security cheque and put it in the hands of people who thought collateralised debt obligations were just groovy, we’ve been briefed on Paul Ryan’s punishing P90X training regimen.
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In lieu of discussion about how he seemingly believes that life begins after the first pickup line, we’ve been enlightened regarding his big love for Led Zeppelin and Rage Against The Machine.
Of course, as Rage guitarist and activist Tom Morello wrote in a piece for Rolling Stone: “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against The Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved The Beatles but didn’t understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn’t understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favourite band, Rage Against the Machine.”
Yes, thinking of Ryan rocking out to “Killing In The Name Of” or “Over The Hills And Far Away” is enough to make me picture “The Geek” (Anthony Michael Hall) in 16 Candles providing his rendition of “You Say It’s Your Birthday”.
Let’s be clear: just because a politician gets Charles Krauthammer to only mildly frown for 4.5 seconds and renders Jonah Goldberg incoherent (not much of an achievement) doesn’t make him that charming or cool to people who can’t see K Street in their rear-view mirror.
Now don’t get me wrong: I understand how, standing next to Mitt Romney, Ryan might seem like Barry White. But Ryan is nothing like his portrayal as a smart, genial guy, as thankfully more pundits and journalists are beginning to explain. Perhaps it’s because the American people have spoken – and, to put it mildly, they’re not big fans. Or maybe some in the press corps stopped gazing at those mesmerising blue eyes for a moment and finally read some of his ideas.
Like that plan for Social Security, so radical that the Bush Administration called it “irresponsible”. Yeah, the guys who publicly pondered how our troops in Iraq would be buried under chocolates and Hallmark Cards from the locals thought Ryan was being daft. It’s kind of like being called a parasite by the characters in True Blood.
Then there’s the fact that his tax plan would make things just so darn convenient for his running mate – namely by turning the United States into one big Swiss bank. Ryan would end all taxation of capital gains, interest and dividends, lowering Romney’s tax rate in 2010 (the one year of returns he publicly released) to less than one per cent.
How kind of him to look out for the likes of poor Jamie Dimon.
Whether Ryan is dreamy or not, works out while sweating to the oldies, or likes to bungee jump from the Moon in his spare time – none of this really matters. What US voters need to know to make this important decision is just how radical Paul Ryan’s plans are, and perhaps some insight into why he has often not behaved in a manner consistent with the lofty rhetoric he burps up on a regular basis.
For this to occur, those in the media who have not already done so need to get out of 16 Candles mode for a moment. He’s not Jake Ryan. He’s Paul Ryan. And there’s a big difference.
Cliff Schecter is an author, pundit and public relations strategist whose firm Libertas, LLC handles media relations for political, corporate and non-profit clients.