WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney’s selling points are that he is a skilled administrator and a successful businessman, a cool analyst and decider who can put this nation’s tangled economic affairs in order.
The Republican former Massachusetts governor has now made his first choice as a national chief executive officer. What does it tell of Romney’s skill set and his concern for the long-range good of the nation?
His pick for vice president is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Right out of the gun came GOP talking points that Ryan was just like the late Jack Kemp, the nine-term congressman from New York and former housing secretary.
An heir, a successor, even a protégé, PBS and the Wall Street Journal said. Not quite. Really, not at all. The preposterous notion stemmed from a 2009 floor speech Ryan gave after Kemp’s death. Ryan said Kemp inspired him when he worked for him as a speech writer.
They’re very different in style, objectives and character. By today’s standards, Kemp was a blue-collar moderate. Determined, yes; but teamwork taught on the football field was Kemp’s method. He partnered with Bronx Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia to reintroduce former Sen. Bobby Kennedy’s bill on urban enterprise zones.
Because of long-standing friendships with black football players on both sides of the scrimmage line, Kemp brought a deep respect for minorities to all of his dealings, public and private. Compromise, not brute force, was how Kemp helped win the votes of Democrats for his sweeping income tax cuts three decades ago.
By contrast, Ryan, with his ally, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is a key leader of the most arrogant, openly hostile and obstructionist cabal to run the House since pre-Civil War days. Ryan and Cantor personify why the place has become so disreputable. Kemp was tough, but never mean.
Kemp was a labor leader, a co-founder of the American Football League Players Association. He took hits from fellow Republicans for refusing to support so-called right-to-work laws that effectively bar unions in states with those laws. Ryan, on the other hand, enthusiastically backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s successful campaign to dilute public employee job rights. In turn, Walker was Ryan’s strongest public backer for the vice presidential tap.
Finally, Kemp was an unwavering fundamentalist Christian, a faith considered too lowbrow by some GOP leaders at the time. Ryan, long before his opportunistic 2009 floor speech, said his inspiration was writer Ayn Rand, an atheist and homewrecker. Her philosophy scorned teamwork and cooperation to reach a goal. Life was entirely about self.
To reach to a person like Ryan, Romney had to reject Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who could have drawn desperately needed votes from blacks and Hispanics. Romney passed over established administrators such as Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a former White House budget director; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
With the Ryan pick, Romney has won the rabid support of those already constrained to back him, including hate radio. Gallup says Romney got no bump in the polls. For this, Romney scorned Rice, Christy, Portman and Pawlenty, who are better prepared to take over in the event of that heartbeat, for a comparative lightweight. And now Romney has to struggle to distance himself from Ryan’s radical – and to some, frightening – passions to change Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and crop insurance and protect the wealthy.
If Romney didn’t like Ryan’s ideas, why on earth did he choose him? The decision doesn’t speak well for Romney’s probity or sense of stewardship.